Author Archives: katrinatrinko

Mourning, in the Time of McCarrick

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St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, D.C.

Last year was the first time I heard about the tradition of kissing a new priest’s hands.

Twenty-nine years of practicing Catholicism, and I had never been to a just-ordained priest’s first mass. (Or to an ordination itself, for that matter.) So when I heard the tradition was for Catholics, following the mass, to go up to the front of the church and kiss the new priest’s hands, I was … grossed out.

I listened to the explanation: the new priest was now consecrated, able to recite the words of Christ as he held the bread, as he held the chalice of wine, and make them the Body and Blood of Christ.

So I steeled myself. To give you a sense of how distasteful I found this, let me backtrack. There is another Catholic tradition of, on Good Friday, having a large cross in the front of the church and asking the faithful to come up and kiss the statue of Jesus, crucified.

I really, really hate this.

It’s not a required thing, by any means. But on Good Friday, I make myself do it. I remind myself that I am soul and body. That in the act of bending down and kissing a statue—which to be clear, I fully understand is not God—I am showing physically humility and love.

But even once I am up to the front and it is my turn, I have trouble. A couple of years back, I chickened out and did not kiss the actual statue, but gave an air kiss a couple of inches away. It was so clear what I had done that that the person holding the cross didn’t even bother to wipe off where I had kissed before the next person bent down—because I hadn’t touched anything.

But when it came to the first mass, I wanted to do better.

The funny thing is, after all this lead-up … I don’t absolutely remember what happened in the end. I’m pretty sure I did actually kiss the new priest’s hands, but I can’t positively remember.

Regardless, I have found myself thinking a lot of that tradition in the past few weeks, as headlines have blared about Theodore McCarrick, as essays and blog posts and news reports have indicated that Church leaders may have failed to protect seminarians from predatory behavior from those appointed to be their spiritual fathers, and that perhaps quite a few priests aren’t being faithful to their vows of celibacy—and the commandments of our faith, which restrict sex to marriage.

And I have thought not just of myself, but of the long, long, long line of other lay people waiting to kiss the new priest’s hands. Of heads bowed, of eyes shining. Of their love, their excitement for this new baby priest, and their obvious delight.

And: I have grieved.

In the weeks since, I’ve sat through plenty of masses (in different churches), both on Sundays and on weekdays, largely in the diocese of Washington, D.C. I’ve listened to readings like the Sunday one from Jeremiah a few weeks back:

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.

And with the exception of one priest, bless him, at one weekday mass who prayed for McCarrick’s victims, I have heard nothing at mass about any of this. (I have heard from others in the area they have heard priests mention it, so thankfully, it’s not a total silence.) There has been the odd statement. Cardinal Wuerl has now issued a letter.

The Church’s response seems … lacking, to me. I know some more familiar with Church politics than I say the Church works at a different speed. Perhaps. But it’s hard, thinking of my own response to this situation, to understand what seems to be a lack of urgency to purge out the rot and make clear paths going forward for whistleblowers so the bishops themselves are not the only option—and to be clear with seminarians from the get go, they should never be afraid to report those who act inappropriately.

And although this is a low bar, I am at least grateful that from everything we know now, the Church did act, and publicly, once credible allegations of abuse of a minor occurred.

But at least for now, I’ll defer to others who are writing about what should be done, how the bishops and clergy ought to act.

So: the grief.

I think part of the reason it’s hit me so hard is over the years, living in Washington, D.C., I’ve seen McCarrick say mass a number of times. He’s not some abstraction. He’s someone who, just last year, decided to spend thirtyish—perhaps forty–minutes on a homily at a mass I was at, where I vividly remember trying to pay attention—and wondering if he would ever be quiet. (Because his voice was falling and rising in that halting way older people’s voices can, it was also impossible to catch key points. The only thing I can recall is he talked a lot about the 1980 US-Russia Olympics hockey match.) He once said the Ash Wednesday evening mass at the church that was most convenient for me to go to after work. I’ve probably met him, although I can’t recall for sure—although I have seen him make the kind of speeches, charming and a smidgen political, that make me understand why he could be such a mover and a shaker in Church politics.

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A picture of then-Cardinal McCarrick in 2017. (Blurry because it was taken a quite a distance.)

But he’s also woven into the daily life of this diocese. When I listen to priests at mass, I find myself wondering: Did they know? Were they involved? Were they preyed on? Did he ordain them? Are they in shock, too? Or relief that this is finally coming out? Or concern that there’s a chance new accountability may occur?

I have no idea.

Of course, I knew priests sin. And between reading the Bible and tomes about Church history, I know God often chooses and allows horrible men to be in positions of religious power, some who repent and some who seemingly don’t. (See: David, Peter, Judas, the Borgias.) I know that ordination doesn’t mean you become, by any means, a perfect person. God chooses to act through imperfect vessels.  I also know that I certainly don’t envy bishops and clergy the prudential decisions they must make, the grief and judgment they are sure to get from some no matter how they act.

And, too, I have been thinking of the homily that was delivered at the first mass I went to. At first masses, it is apparently also the tradition that another priest delivers the homily. In the case of this mass, a priest, who is not known for possessing an upbeat temperament, fiercely urged people to pray for the new priest, to remember that the devil would always be going especially after priests, and that priests needed all the prayers they could get. It was not exactly a terribly festive homily, but it lingered with me—particularly in these days.

And yet … there’s been such an emotional wham to be going down this road again.

Just watching “Spotlight” a couple years ago, I felt such terrible sadness. How could those who were supposed to protect their parishioners have allowed this to continue? Where was the love for innocent children?

And then there’s Legion of Christ, too. Like many conservative Catholics, I encountered the Legion: in my case, I volunteered for a youth group with them for a couple of years, and as a teen went to a couple of retreats they held.  Sometimes my parents had Legionaries seminarians over for dinner. After the second Legionary retreat I went to, I remember being troubled by the Legion, particularly by their devotion to their founder, Fr. Marcial. He wasn’t dead yet, I reasoned. How did they know he definitely was such a good man? Shouldn’t they focus their energies on saints, and wait to revere their founder until he, too, was dead and canonized?

I had no idea at the time what we’d later find out, although through the grace of God, I was uncomfortable enough by that and their overall pushiness to distance myself at that point from them.

And now … here we go again.

In some ways, I have hope. Maybe this is the rot we need to uncover for true reform to occur.

Or maybe we’re just going to slide back into the status quo.

I really don’t know.

But I think of my interactions with priests over the years. I think of the priests I’ve sobbed in front of, who have said kind and helpful things. I think of ducking into confessionals across the country, and even internationally, bowing my head and saying out loud what I’ve done wrong—and hearing, in a wide range of accents, the words of absolution: I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I think of laughing as priests work in total dad jokes in their homilies. I think of the gazillion times I’ve shaken a priest’s hand after mass, as he greets the parishioners.

I think of all the different personalities of priests I’ve known over the years—the corny one, the cranky ones, the sweet ones, the sharp ones. I think of watching seminarians play ping pong at a recreation night and seeing one hitch up his cassock so he didn’t trip on the skirt length. I think of hearing a rumor once that confessionals in one church were stocked with red bulls, so the priests could have the energy to hear confessions for hours. I think of the stories of the great-uncle I never met, a priest who reportedly crammed himself into a trunk for hours so he wouldn’t be found by the Nazis and dealt with pain for the rest of his life as a result of how long he was in that tiny space.

And I think of us, too: the laity. I think of the long lines for communion, and the long, often languorously-moving lines for confession, waiting faces largely somber. I think of parents holding up their newborns for baptism, of parents beaming as their children trip up the aisle, awkward in their fancy attire, toward the priest to receive the Body of Christ for the first time. I think of men and women, before a priest, pledging their lives to each other, and I think of the sick and largely still, getting anointed by the priest for their great journey. I think of how a few weeks ago, when a priest announced he was retiring from the parish, we all started clapping as he took his last walk down the aisle, a clapping that echoed long after he reached the end of his walk, a clapping that was somehow our way of saying “thank you.”

All my life I’ve struggled with God’s silence, thinking it would be easier if He just sent emails or occasionally said something directly. I want clarity. And a few years ago, it occurred to me—or perhaps I read somewhere and it resonated—that confession was in a way my getting my wish. That instead of making the act of forgiveness something silent, it was something said by one of God’s deputies, said in words I could understand, said by a human I could question and ask for advice of, and get an audible answer from.

And maybe what I’m trying to say is: this is why we want clarity, this is why we, the laity, want to be part of the process.

Because not only are we part of the church, but our lives are woven in with the priests’ lives. We trust them. We are vulnerable with them. We are grateful to them. We try, and no doubt fail a fair amount, to support them, financially and otherwise.

And perhaps even more so this goes for the bishops.

That picture of McCarrick at the top of this article? That’s not a photo I took. It’s a photo someone else took, using my phone because their phone wasn’t working, and they wanted to capture an image of the cardinal.

And that’s kind of automatic respect you get from a lot of Catholics for the bishops and cardinals. I remember, shortly after a relative died, I happened to see a bishop. I asked for prayers for this relative of mine, and then was enormously touched when this bishop not only said he’d pray for the relative, but wrote a note for that relative’s spouse. Other relatives were touched, too: a note from a bishop!

Ultimately, of course, all this is because of God, not because of these men. It’s God who chose to work through these men in the sacraments. At the end of day, every single priest in the world could be corrupt and a failure—and still be able, through the power God has given him, be able to forgive sins and consecrate the bread and wine.

And yet …

Pope Francis has stressed the power of accompaniment, of being with someone. He has also stressed that of priests, calling for them to “shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’”.

And yet, as the revelations roll out, not just of alleged misdeeds, but also of rumors that seemingly generated no or little action or even inquiries, it raises questions about how much accompanying was occurring. Were the priests, charged with helping the laity become holier, always striving to do the same themselves, to be true to the tenets and commandments of their faith? In these years, where at least in the western world so much of Catholic teaching is in conflict with cultural norms, were we all walking down the same narrow path together?

Of course, plenty of lay people are holy. The saints of the Church are numerous—and hardly limited to clergy. And again, I know the history of the Church is littered with bad priests. And ultimately, whether Catholicism is true is not dependent on the character of any individuals or groups of individuals. (I’m not going anywhere.)

But–priests, bishops, cardinals, Pope Francis: do you remember when you held out your hands and they were kissed? Do you remember the trembling voices in confession? Do you remember the people who fished in their pockets and maybe gave what was truly a widow’s mite for them in the collection basket? Do you think of the moms and dads who excitedly sent their sons to seminaries? Do you think of the Catholics in the world, who have heard joke after joke, crack after crack, about Catholic priests and have tried, while not excusing any wrongdoing, to stand up for the good priests?

Do you think of how after mass how people come up to you and want to talk to you? Of how when you’re walking around wearing the collar of a priest, people reach out—even sometimes those who aren’t religious? Do you think of how this doesn’t happen with others, this happens for you because you represent Christ in an especial way?

That’s a lot of trust. A lot of love. And it’s often given unquestioningly, without a period of testing and observing or interviewing first.

That’s a lot of responsibility.

I’m praying for you all. And so are a lot of other Catholics. The kind of Catholics you see in the pews at mass, in the chairs in adoration chapels, in cars reciting the rosary as they commute to work, in soup kitchens doling out food

And we need you. To give us the Body and Blood of Christ. To hear and forgive our sins. To prepare us for death, and welcome us into the life of grace. To represent Christ.

So please: take action. Don’t wait for public knowledge of misdeeds. Make it clear that the priesthood is a place for those striving for holiness, not for those coasting and perhaps not really worried about commandments. And make our seminaries places of prayer, not of predators and inappropriate behavior.

And: stop fearing transparency so much. Catholics might rather find out directly, for once, about the bad news, instead of hearing through the media. I don’t think most Catholics expect perfection from priests. Every organization so large has its bad ones. At stake here, however, is whether the Church is an organization with enough good guys and prudential judgment to put the bad ones in their place, when their deeds are known, or not.

That’s no light matter.

I don’t exactly know how to close this. But when I was praying tonight, including that I make the right judgment on whether to publish this, I kept thinking back to an anecdote a friend told me recently.

She was praying in an adoration chapel, a place where the Eucharist—the body of Christ—is displayed and people generally quietly pray. She said a woman came in and began crying. Crying, my friend explained, isn’t unusual in adoration. But this woman began crying harder and harder, and it seemed that she was perhaps on the cusp of hysteria.

And so a man got up, and looking at the seven or eight people in the chapel, said to the rest that they must start praying for her, in whatever language they knew. He knew French, he said. So people started praying out loud, in a babble of languages–at least French, Spanish, and English–and two brought the woman, still sobbing, closer to the Eucharist. Sometimes, my friend said, the woman’s sobs would lessen for a moment, and then she’d start up again, and everyone would start praying, in all their languages, louder once more.

Finally, someone got it out of her what was wrong: her sister had been deported. And then in that moment, apparently a person present gave the unhelpful response of saying deportation was nothing—why, her sister was alive. This second person apparently had seen their own brother die before them.

To me, this seemed like such a quintessential Catholic story. The vulnerability. The good intentions. The awkwardness. The total, jumbled mixture of human nature and divine presence.

My friend ultimately had to leave before everything was sorted. The chapel, she said, was already supposed to have closed by the time she left. Normally the priest came and indicated it was closing time, and people left.

But that night, he never showed up.

I have no idea why. Maybe there was an emergency elsewhere. Maybe there was some other plan in place that night. Maybe he came, saw the commotion, and thought the lay people seemed to have it under control and this woman could use some more time to pray.

But it seemed a little sad to me he just never appeared. That there was a chance for a man given the vocation to be in person of Christ, to be with, to accompany a woman  facing her own form of crucifixion, and he never made it in.

And this strikes me as another opportunity. I have no doubt many priests and bishops are genuinely grieving, particularly those who knew and loved and trusted McCarrick. (I suppose I should acknowledge he’s either been silent or denied charges.) I’m sure they are grappling with their own concerns and sorrow.

But I hope they look outward as well, more and more, and are there with us saddened sheep–and doing whatever they can to make the representatives of the Church worthy of the trust we put in them.

 

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Wanting It All

The past month has been … more downs than ups. (Referring to my commitment to changing my eating habits, not my weight.) I’m not really sure why. It might be because my birthday is this month, and in recent years, I feel a severe dissatisfaction around my birthday, caught up in coulda/woulda/shouldas—exasperation at how quickly time flies by, and frustration that I haven’t done more.

But at any rate, I’ve been in desperate quest for motivation, hoping for one thing that will somehow be strong enough to overpower all my cravings and weaknesses and impulses. And today, amid my usual checking of the Drudge Report, I came upon a link about obesity and cancer.

“Carrying excess weight has been shown to boost the risk of 13 types of tumors, including cancers of the esophagus, thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus, colon and rectum,” reported AFP.

This summer, a doctor found a lump in my thyroid. When she told me I needed to get it checked out, I waved her off, saying if it was so unlikely it was cancer, it’d be fine to just monitor it for now. She told me no, I needed to get it checked out. So I did.

The doctor also told me thyroid cancer was the best kind of cancer to get. (I opened my mouth to argue, being the descendant of Irish people forever getting patches of skin cancer they get removed, and then realized it was probably absolutely idiotic to argue with your doctor about what the “best” kind of cancer was, and shut up.) Fifty thousand or so google searches later, I was fairly heartened: the odds of a lump being cancerous were quite low, and the odds of that cancer, if it existed, being fatal were extremely low.

Yet it was still sobering to be in a hospital for an ultrasound, and later, a biopsy. (Nothing like being told to most definitely not swallow for thirty seconds while a long needle is plunged into your throat.) I’m 29, I kept thinking, somewhat angry. Wasn’t I supposed to have a few more years before I was forced into tiresome health concerns and worries?

The biopsy came back negative: I’m fine.

Reading that news article today, I wondered how would I feel if I did have cancer—if I would have thought it was my fault, that I had failed to take actions to change my life. It was sobering—sobering enough I bought lite popcorn instead of more substantial junk food when I had to pick up a prescription at CVS tonight.

Bu I also wondered if fear was really motivation enough for the long haul, and I thought of how tired I was of shame and anxiety.

I’ve also been thinking about St. Therese of Lisieux this week, since her feast day was Sunday. St. Therese is one of those Catholic saints who seems insufferable from her short bio: pious French girl turned pious nun who died at 24 of tuberculosis. But she’s an absolute delight in her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.” She’s neurotic, she’s anxious, she’s emotional—in short, she’s very human. And I found myself thinking of this scene she recounts from her toddler years:

One day [my sister] Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” [My sister] Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.

Dieting can feel like the opposite of “I choose everything,” even though I try to remind myself of all the positives coming, try to make the “I don’t choose this Ben & Jerry’s” to “I choose having more energy someday.”

At any rate, I suppose in part this passage has always appealed to me because one of my first (and most vivid) experiences of shame was when I was in kindergarten or first grade. Armed with some kind of fake money earned through doing shomework or some such, I was allowed to reimburse the “money” for things sold one day at the school, and so on that day, I went to make my purchases.

But I was still hazy on the whole math thing, and when I showed up to cashier—probably a sixth grader I was completely awed by — I was told the pile of items I’d selected far exceeded the amount of cash I had. I remember feeling horribly embarrassed, thinking that I’d revealed a terrible amount of greed by showing I thought I should be able to get so many items.

And sometimes it seems the same way to me about overeating—so much of the shame is that you’re not supposed to want to eat so much, especially if you’re a girl. The desire, even if not accompanied by actions, seems somehow shameful.

I recently stumbled upon an essay (via a comment from a friend’s friend on Facebook) that discussed appetites and women in a way that lingered with me, particularly this passage:

There’s a YouTube video I’m fond of that shows a baby named Madison being given cake for the first time. The maniacal shine in her eyes when she first tastes chocolate icing is transcendent, a combination of “where has this been all my life” and “how dare you keep this from me?” Jaw still dropped in shock, she slowly tips the cake up towards her face and plunges in mouth-first. Periodically, as she comes up for air, she shoots the camera a look that is almost anguished. Can you believe this exists? her face says. Why can’t I get it all in my mouth at once?

This video makes me laugh uproariously, but it’s that throat-full-of-needles laugh that, on a more hormonal day, might be a sob. The raw, unashamed carnality of this baby going to town on a cake is like a glimpse into a better, hungrier world. This may be one of the last times Madison is allowed to express that kind of appetite, that kind of greed. She’s still young enough for it to be cute.

Or in other words: Still young enough to be allowed to desire “everything.”

What does binging do for you? What do you get out of it? Are the kind of questions you seem to confront ad nauseam if you read self-help books or do therapy, and yet, they are still questions I struggle to answer. Because so often the answers didn’t seem to make sense, didn’t seem to be compelling enough to explain why I kept choosing the eating over health.

But the more I think about it, there’s a kind of expansive freedom in eating too much of what you love—a chance to rebel, to choose it all, instead of telling yourself once again, you’re satisfied with what you have, even though you’re not. A chance to pick the ice cream and the candy and the cookies, not just be sensible and pick one. A chance to have a credible foretaste of having-it-all.

And yet: the costs. Imagining being back in that hospital room where I had the biopsy, staring once again at the ceiling with a cut-out rectangle showing a photo of a tree’s leafy branch just as fall began to happen, and thinking: maybe this could have been prevented if I had changed my life.

I don’t know, in the end that I have faith I will someday have to this journey, whether it will be more motivated by fear or by hope. No doubt, in the end, it will include some of both.

But what I have learned is I don’t want to get to the end by having a smaller appetite. I just want to get there with an appetite directed at so much more than Reese’s and Oreos.

Believing Things Can Go Right

Soo … I wasn’t intending to be gone so long. But it’s been a crazy past couple of months–or at least it’s felt that way to me. I was gone from D.C. six weekends in a row–and given that I cherish the slowness of weekends, the chance to take a breath and get caught up on everything, it’s felt a little intense.

But mostly in a great way: I’ve been traveling galore, which I love … it’s such a joy to see places I’ve read about or heard about in person, and pick up on all the atmosphere no book or movie can perfectly, wholly convey.

One of the places I went to was Orange County, California, which despite going to college in Southern California, I’d never been in this part of my home state. (Except, upon reflection, for a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was delightful. Even though we were broke college students literally in the very backest row you could be in.) I was there for a work conference, and decided to arrive a day early to see a dear college friend.

A post shared by Katrina Trinko (@mymessymiddle) on Jul 25, 2017 at 7:12pm PDT

(At Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Lake Forest, California.)

But I also knew I should try to do something healthy … because traveling is generally some of my worst times for eating and working out. With all the stress of new places and weird schedules, I’m often quick to justify not striving to lead a healthy life.

I’d love to say I was a New Person during my travels this summer, but well, I wasn’t.

However, I did decide I should try to go hiking before heading over to the work conference, just to see a bit more of California and get in a work out.

So, after googling to make sure I wasn’t super likely to get eaten by a mountain lion (ironically, the way you’re supposed to scare mountain lions off is by looking big, so it occurred to me that the more weight I lose, the less safe it’ll be to hike in California), I settled on an Orange County park that reportedly had a Grand Canyon-evoking rock ridge.

And saw my first rattlesnake.

(A stranger’s rattlesnake pic–mine was coy and also I wasn’t sure it was the smartest idea to get close enough to get an iphone shot.)

Mind you, I almost blithely walked right by it. The only reason I even realized there was a rattlesnake was the guy in front of me stopped and basically went: there’s a rattlesnake.

And it still took me a moment to get what he was saying, because I was just happily listening to Pandora’s Broadway show tunes station.

But in that moment when my ignorance did cease, I decided that, my mixed feelings about whether I really needed a guy to hold open a door for me when I was fifty feet away be damned, I was a staunch believer in chivalry.

(And yes, I did spend four years of my life, thanks to the wonderfully chivalrous guys of my college, actually getting doors opened for me when I was fifty feet away from them. And whatever my mixed feelings about the fifty-feet distance are, I’m all about it when you’re right at the door.)

https://giphy.com/embed/fFKHBdgt7kcJWvia GIPHY

(I have no idea what this is, but I can’t stop watching it.) 

So I stayed several steps back and waited for the guy, who I had never met before in my life, to handle this situation.

Then, from the other side of the path came a couple, who looked like some kind of outrageous, glowing, fresh-faced REI ad. (A little later, a guy would take a look at me and go hot day, huh? I felt embarrassed that I was so visibly sweaty–only to learn later that no, it wasn’t in the 80s like I thought, it was 105. Have I mentioned how much better dry heat is than humidity?) The four of us murmured vaguely. The original dude tried brandishing a stick in the rattlesnake’s path.

Ultimately, the rattlesnake decides to slither off. The REI couple bounces off, no doubt to do cross fit or spin class or drink kale smoothies, and the guy ahead of me heads forward.

(This kind of couple.)

I hesitate.

I think about what I know about rattlesnakes, and it is … not much.

I know you’re definitely not supposed to get bitten if you can help it. I vaguely think you’re supposed to throw a rock at their head if you think you’re in danger. I think about how fast I can run (hint: not very) and wonder if I have any idea how fast or slow they slither (I don’t).

I’m also pretty sure I had people on the Oregon Trail (computer game, of course) die from rattlesnake bites.

It occurs to me that the beginning of wisdom at this moment might be hitting up google.

So I do … and discover my internet no longer works, so deep am I into this McMansion-rimmed Orange County hiking patch.

The sensible decision, I think, would be to head back. If one rattlesnake is around and bold, others could be too.  And I have no clue what to do if I do get bit. Do I move? Do I definitely not move? Do I have 15 minutes before death? Do I have hours before death? Is there a period of lucidity before I go insane?

I have no answers….

No internet …

And I generally make the sensible decisions. (See: the fact that I buy Naturalizer shoes even though I’m still in my 20s.)

(Photos blurry because my iPhone decided it just wasn’t into taking non-blurry photos most of that day. Seriously!)

But for some reason, I’m feeling really stubborn about wanting to see this rock ridge I didn’t even know existed before I googled Orange county hiking paths.

So …. I keep walking. Forward.

After all, I was just half a mile away from this faux Grand Canyon. I’d keep my eyes on the ground. I’d stop listening to music, so I could hear if there was a suspicious rattle.

So I kept on walking, keeping the guy in my sight. (My affection for chivalry extended to the point that I was willing to let him first face any more rattlesnakes, just because I wouldn’t dream of emasculating him.)  But at a certain point, I lost him–I wasn’t sure if he was still on the same path or not.

And that’s when I started to hear a lot of rattling.

I stopped. And reflected on whether it was the rattling of a snake, or just plants rustling. I looked around at the rocky landscape, catci springing up everywhere. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of rattling-prone vegetation. I looked at the rocks, saw all the nooks and crevices adjoining the dirt path.

Again, I tried to google–and my phone remained willfully, recklessly determined that I would lead the internet-free life for a while longer.

I wondered how fast rattlesnakes could move. (I wondered how fast I could move if I thought my life was in danger.) I wondered if they traveled in pairs, or if they sometimes had broods of baby rattlesnakes, perhaps in quantities to rival the von Trapps, that could helpfully corner an idiot like me, because teamwork makes the dream work.

I wondered if crickets or some other insect could be making that rattling sound. Maybe, I figured.

So I walked onwards. And saw the red rocks …. Which were nice.

On my way back, I realized I couldn’t remember around which bend we’d seen the actual rattlesnake. So I ended up walking the whole half-mile path in a mild panic, wondering if every bend was the bend, only consoled by the thought that if I died of a rattlesnake bite in a hiking trail, at least people would think that my cause of death meant that I was the kind of cool, active-living person who did hikes and was connected to nature and all that jazz.

What can I say? I’m clearly a hopeless optimist.

(If you squint, it looks exactly like the Grand Canyon, no?)

I’ve taken other believe-things-can-go-right risks since. Like parking in an ambiguously marked spot that I was 90 percent sure was kosher, but had 10 percent doubts about. (Washington, D.C. seems to think the best way to encourage a car-free life is with parking signage so ambiguous you become convinced the only place you’re definitely allowed to park is a $24 garage.)

Easter hit me hard this year. Normally, it’s Lent that does, but this year, thankfully I’d overcome that whole sinning bit and just cruised right on through it. (As if. Although I did cruise through the latter half, but that was more about, um, some rather unremedied traits.) At some point, I read something or heard something demanding whether I lived like the Resurrection had happened. And in the months since, it’s lingered with me.

Working in news, it’s easy to drown in all that’s going wrong: you’re inundated with it. (If it bleeds, it leads … ) And somewhere along the way, I started forgetting more and more what’s going right. Which isn’t to say there aren’t real problems in our country, and world–there certainly are, and it’s why I want to stay in news. But it’s a reminder to me that, if I truly believe my faith, I’m assured the final ending is a happy one … and trying to mediate on that, live that, has been a way of quelling grief, including the kind of grief that makes it feel like the only way to restoration and peace is through inhaling a whole lot of Reeses.

Oh, and as you might have guessed from the fact that I’m writing this post, I didn’t get bit by a rattlesnake.

And since I never stumbled upon a corpse, I”m also hopeful that chivalrous dude made it out, too.

The Half-Full Plate

So I went to bed at 7:44 last night.

(Yes, I realize that I’m really not setting myself up as the most marketable author for a book on how to live your best life in your twenties.)

Originally, I was only going to rest for thirty minutes and then get on to working out and running errands, and then I realized that I could barely keep my eyes open–and actually, I was done with work, had no plans with friends, and could in theory push off everything to tomorrow. So viva la procrastination it was.

Plus, I’ve been trying to listen to my body lately–which is not going so well.

One of the things I’ve often heard recommended when you struggle with binge eating (and yup, I do) is trying to eat only until you’re full.

Now if you have a healthy relationship with food, that might seem like a duh. But in my case, when eating is too often about other factors (enjoyment! escape!) it’s honestly been a bit tough to get accustomed to thinking ‘Am I full now? Is this what being full is?’

Because a lot of the time it feels like an irrelevant question, either because I’m following Weight Watchers and it doesn’t matter how hungry/full I am, I have X amount I can eat today, or because I’m just eating whatever I want, and it’s really not about being not hungry.

And one of the areas where I struggle the most with eating in accordance with Real Hunger is restaurants.

I love going out to eat. All the flavors, none of the work of needing to mince your own garlic or cube your own veggies. And: no cleanup!

But I also find it almost impossible to not eat my entire meal at a restaurant, no matter how many times I’ve read that current portions in most American restaurants are oh, 16 times the recommended amount of food or whatnot. (OK, it’s not 16. It’s like two, or three, or maybe, at Cheesecake Factory, five. I’d google it, but I’m lazy, and I don’t get paid for blog writing, so: google it yourself.)

(Because of course, you should not have to decide between mac and cheese and a burger.)

In theory, I get that it makes total sense to cut up your meat into multiple portions, and to cleave your rice into two or three piles, and just eat some of it, but oy vey, in practice, it just feels so darn sad to me.

And while it would be convenient to blame my parents, I tragically have absolutely zero memories of being told I had to finish my food at dinner or I wouldn’t get dessert or anything like that.

So maybe I was just born this way, thinking that leaving food on a restaurant plate–even when I know the plate contains enough food for several meals, and if I was debating how many rations I could fit into my wagon on the Oregon Trail, and aware that too much weight in the wagon could result in the premature demise of my oxen, I absolutely would not let anyone count this as one portion (90s educational computer games for the win!)–is just the saddest.

Which brings me to how I spent Father’s Day.

So for an embarrassingly long time, I’ve wanted to go to a nice steakhouse. And somehow I never successfully conned anyone into taking me. (Mind you, before you start to think I’m basically equal to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl, I somehow conned my way into one job, airplane tickets, musical tickets, a free hotel stay in Rome, etc., etc., during this same period.)

So I asked my brother, who has some kind of business gig I can never understand but does involve occasionally hitting up nice restaurants, if he could recommend a steakhouse and go with me.

And somehow the only night we could both make it work was on Father’s Day, which makes perfect sense as our dad lives 3,000 miles away (and would pick Chinese over a steakhouse).

(The first shot of our meal, all demonstrating why I am not about to start a food photo Instagram empire.)

So we ended up at Ruth’s Chris in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, because you can see the Potomac River wind past and watch the planes take off at Reagan Airport. Now if you’ve never been to Crystal City, you might wonder if this neighborhood was some whimsical Disney environment, a rip off of that ice castle in “Frozen.”

You would be very wrong.

The biggest motivation behind the construction of Crystal City seems to have been an abiding belief that there is nothing office workers hate more than being exposed to the sun. It is a bunch of clunky office buildings, and below them is a maze of basement restaurants and bizarre shops selling landscape art or fashion that seems to rely heavily on sequins, and almost all of it is in the ground and connected by tunnels lined with yet more shops. Last time I went to Crystal City, I saw the carcass of a dead bird in the underground tunnel leading to my parking lot … and I thought: this fits the vibe.

But yeah, Ruth’s Chris itself is on top of one of the clunky office buildings, so it did have a lovely view. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but when I saw the interior of the restaurant my first thought was ah, we’re back to hotel basic: everything looks comfortable, in bland colors, and there is no hint of a color or shape that would ever impress itself upon your imagination enough to be recalled a day later. Inoffensiveness maximized.

(In my defense, I kept finding myself in hotel ballrooms in 2011-2012, and amid taking notes and tweeting out politicians’ latest warblings, I had an inordinate amount of time to contemplate what exactly hotels were trying to achieve with their decor.)

So in between trying to help out waiters who were unsure whether to wish my brother a happy father’s day (and for that matter, a toll worker wished me happy mother’s day this year, which sent me down the path of a good, long meditation about how I am doing my hair these days), we analyzed the menu–and went for broke.

Cocktails. Calamari. Steaks. Mashed Potatoes. Brussel Sprouts. Creamed Spinach. Wine. And yes, we assured our attentive waiter, we could probably cope with a refill on the bread basket.

Given that I had been wanting to do this for oh, a decade or so, I had already decided I wasn’t going to try to eat healthily at this one meal.

Then the crisis struck: after I’d had about four bites of my steak, I realized I was … full.

I was stunned.

Genuinely!

I ate a few more bites of the ribeye steak, which was amazing (although maybe a smidgen over salted?). I ate a few brussel sprouts, and some potatoes, and some creamed spinach … and just felt fuller.

And then I noticed, as amazingly delicious as every mouthful was, I honestly didn’t want to eat anymore–that somehow the discomfort emerging from being full was truly worse than the sadness of a barely eaten steak on the plate before me.

It was like the bizarre feeling I experienced when I first saw the Parthenon in person after having looked at a poster of it in my college dorm room all four years: the shock of recognition when you encounter something you’ve never known first hand, but have often contemplated..

(OK: I have been full before, so I might be exaggerating a little …)

So ultimately, I asked for a box for my steak. And to both my and the waiter’s stupefaction, the default box size was too small for the amount of steak I had left. So he somehow procured a larger box, and yes, I ate the rest of it as a delicious weeknight dinner the next night, along with some of the leftover sides.

One of the things I learned in therapy is if you have a bad habit that you can’t break, it’s probably worth contemplating what you get out of the behavior (the idea being that in the long term you can try to see if there’s another path to get that reward sans the bad habit). So as I have struggled, time after time, to leave uneaten even a few bites at a restaurant meal, just to try to get acclimated to the idea of not eating it all, I have gone full-on self-centered and pondered why exactly I, who was born in the 80s and have never faced a food shortage in my life, seem to think that leaving oh, even three fries uneaten on a plate, is akin to sinking into a food shortage situation straight out of the Depression.

Which brings me to Pinterest.

So I have a very not cool fondness for cliches and motivational sayings, and sometimes I scroll through Pinterest to hunt for them. One of the Bible verses I encountered that way, probably set to a background of a field and someone’s sandalled feet, was “The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly,” which is apparently from John 10:10.

(I do anticipate my future life, post weight loss, will exclusively involve sunrises.)

It’s a verse I’ve thought about it often in the past few weeks, because I’m pretty sure the bleakness of not finishing meals is, for me, a rejection of abundance. And in my own life, it often feels like my faith is a source of negation, not abundance. Don’t do this, or that, or oh, most definitely not that.

Which, if I was the type to embrace personal responsibility, I might concede that my own focus is partly to blame for this, that maybe if I slowed down and savored a little bit more the amazing things God has done for me, my mindset would shift … that I would not just intellectually believe “the rules” were there to liberate us from affections that can’t lead us to true happiness, but would emotionally believe that as well–and also cherish the gifts from God I so often take for granted.

But at any rate, I’ve been trying to think more of the paradox that God both wants us to live abundantly and that He also wants to lead healthy lives … which means my ultimate abundant life might mean a lot of uneaten french fries.

(Side note: I’m never sure what to make of the fact that I have almost no angst over accepting things like, oh, the Trinity, but I do struggle to understand things like the above.)

(I have no idea who this person is, but I can pretty safely say I’ve never left a fry uneaten at Shake Shack.)

I can see, sometimes, that lack of overeating could lead to other kinds of abundance: moving more easily, being able to do more, not getting tired so easily (and er, um, crashing at 7:44 at night).

But oh, I want it all: the energy and the food. I want somehow to be in a world where we can both afford a lot of food and where our stomachs can magically process it all without having to expand.

Yet that’s not our world.

So … I keep trucking on. Since that dinner, I’ve managed to not eat past fullness at an Ethiopian restaurant, an American restaurant (where I left behind a lot of fries!), and even at a Baskin-Robbins, where when I realized I didn’t like a flavor that was advertised as peanut-butter tinged because I couldn’t taste the peanut butter, I let the rest of the scoop fall into a liquid state.

Of course since then I have also managed to eat a full portion of take-out pad Thai as well (which I’d roughly guess counted as four Weight Watchers portions of pad Thai), soo … no worries of me becoming an annoyingly perfect role model any time soon.

In case you were angsting about that.

The Little Things

This is it.

That’s what I thought to myself on Thursday, sweaty-faced enough that I had to keep swiping away hair tendrils latching on to my cheeks and forehead, as the escalator carried me out of the metro.

It seemed absurd that it was so darn tough to not buy and gobble down a chunky peanut butter cookie (or two, or well, three).

It shouldn’t be this hard.

That’s a thought I’ve had a zillion times. Over and over again, as I struggle with cravings and binge eating, there is a detached part of me that cannot believe it’s actually this painful to just not eat something.

After all, the downsides of being overweight are always there: breathing hard, knees that strain and a back that seems overburdened. Vaguely, because now it is more than half my lifetime ago, I can remember not feeling so, well, weighed down. I can remember not noticing my body as I did things.

But already I am irritated by this craving, tired of it. I don’t want to deal with this, I am thinking. I’ll just get the cookies and start again tomorrow.

And that’s when it hits me: I’m never going to get to the tomorrow I want until I can handle this kind of now, the kind where I’m swamped with cravings and yet somehow don’t give in.

Oh sure, there’s been times when I ate too much because I had real sadness or genuine difficulties. But too often for me it’s the little things, the mild prickings that I somehow cannot just shrug off or accept.

After all there is nothing seriously wrong this Thursday. I am unpleasantly hot, and my decision to wear a long-sleeved dress—because how could it matter? It’s breathable fabric and a dress, what’s a few extra inches of fabric?—was a mistake, but even more so, I am grumpy about this muggy, swampy humidity that seems to want nothing more than wheedle its way into my skin, sucking out all the moisture and bringing it to blend with the atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be this way, I think once again: if you are going to live in a humid climate, I recommend not having spent your entire childhood and college years in California. Because then you know it doesn’t need to be this way, that the summer sun can beat, and yet not demand offerings of every scrap of moisture everywhere.

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Summer solstice is for s'mores

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(A Weight Watchers-tracked summer sweet.)

I know that among all the things I ought to just let go, that this is one of the most obvious: I can move or I should learn to accept it. I am not going to change the climate of Washington, D.C. And yet … it baffles me. What good is served by humidity? Why must anyone ever in any part of the world live this way? (and yet I know there are people who strangely prefer humidity to dry heat!)

I am also tense because I am about to start the busiest part of my workday: one of the strange components of daily journalism is that it’s the afternoon and early evening hours where it’s the most urgent. I’ve spent my whole adult life accustomed to this reality, and yet there still seems to be a bit of shock, that in the waning hours of the sun, it’s suddenly time to be the most on, the most focused, and to have the shortest amount of time to solve what problems inevitably arise.

And I’m irritated because once again I’m dealing with an annoying eyes problem. I have a disease called Kerataconus, which I’ll probably go into detail about someday, but anyway for now here’s the gist: it’s made it so my non-corrected sight is horrible. And while I can see fine with contacts, there is the maddening reality that there is no way to cure or improve Kerataconus itself, except if you have a corneal transplant (which apparently is something your eye has a lot of drama about and aside from the general ick factor, is not a good idea until you’re much worse than I am). Oh, and doctors can’t predict how fast or slow your disease will progress.

So for someone like me, who is a little overly fond of having things controllable, this is a real bugbear. And now today I am picking up the latest test pair of contacts and I find out that there is a twist: there is a slight mark on these contacts and I’m meant to put that mark in a very specific place in my eye, presumably to maximize the vision I get from the contacts.

Here’s the twist: I can’t see the mark.

So, that’s great.

So I’m in the doctors’ office—which is a strange, slightly trendy, very sleek-gray-dominated place that also seems to be marketing glasses with a pushy intensity that always strikes me as a little embarrassing—and I’ve got my contacts off and people are assuring me, yes, there is a mark, can’t I see it, and it’s occurring to me that now I’m at the point I can’t see well enough to get to the point where I can see well enough because apparently that involves finding this darn mark.

This is a new twist in the eyes saga (and guys, I’ve had to tell to the doctor that sans contacts, the only letter I can make out is the top “E” on the chart, so believe me, I’m no stranger to facing my lack of sight) and finally I resolve it by putting the contacts on with rampant disregard for where the mark is and figure I’ll sort this out at some later juncture.

Right by my doctors’ are an abundance of bakeries and coffee shops selling cookies and pastries and everything decadently sugary; I march past the lot, descend into the metro.

But now, coming back up, I really, really want something to take the edge off. Something to obliterate my worry about how I am going to find this mark, and something to make me forget how muggy it is.

I know I have a Greek yogurt back in the office, a Greek yogurt that doesn’t taste bad and in theory, has 15 grams of protein, although I’ve never had the kind of fullness with this yogurt I feel like ought to occur after ingesting its massive amount of protein.

I know the fact that I do want a cookie and I don’t want the Greek yogurt means this isn’t about Real Hunger.

I know that I really do want to lose weight, to be healthier and feel lighter.

But oh, how I also want to take the edge off.

And then I realize: I can’t count on some mystical future where something like this will be easy for me. I can’t just get the cookies now and assume it’ll be easier tomorrow. It might be easier tomorrow! Some days I really don’t have much in the way of cravings.

But at some point, if I’m going to get to a healthy weight, I’m going to have to make it through the slough of cravings. I can’t talk myself out of this. I know it’s ridiculous. I get that I have a million things that make me #blessed. (Sarcasm aside—I do!) I know I have my yogurt and dinner coming up and I am not hungry, nor will I be.

I know, I know, I know.

And yet …

I still want the solidity of those stupid peanut butter cookies, that mixture of peanuts and flour and peanut butter and sugar. I want the brief escape; I want to not be reasoning with myself but to just simply feel OK, no brain exercises needed.

“I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life—more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time—well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic,” writes Carrie Fisher in “Wishful Drinking,” a book I was reading on the metro in commutes this week.

OK then.

Ultimately, I don’t buy the cookies. I don’t know why. I’ve certainly had this same dialogue before and gone the other way, plenty of times. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to pray to want to be healthy. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to remember more why I want to be healthy. Maybe it’s because part of me is so darn tired of failing too. Maybe it’s all of these things.

I don’t eat the yogurt. But I do stop at Chipotle, get a burrito bowl I can justify on Weight Watchers, and bring it to my office. I don’t eat it until six. But it’s halfway compromise—something I want to eat that is there. It’s not the most healthy, for sure. But unlike a handful of chunky peanut butter cookies, it has some nutritional value—and is acceptable for dinner.

So that’s that.

I’ll go into more details later about what I’m trying to do with blogging about weight and weight loss—some kind of glorious manifesto that won’t sound too stuffy, but will also show I am Very Insightful—but in the meantime, I think my reasons here are two-fold: (a) I wonder if being more open will help me be more steadfast in my dedication to changing my life and (b) I love weight loss stories online, but I’m always annoyed about how they generally only arise when someone’s done or close to it.

Well, I’m in the trenches of the messy middle now. It’s often not pretty. It’s a lot of mind games about thinking about what it would be like to feel different in December or next June. It’s a lot of faith, and it’s a lot of trying to find some kind of strength within myself—when I sometimes feel there is nothing more to plumb. It’s a lot of bad days mixed in with the “good” days.

And oh, it’s really hard.

That fact often shames me. It shouldn’t be hard! Not eating piles of junk food every day is something loads of people do all the time.

But for whatever reason—genetics, personality, bad habits, etc., etc., — it’s tough for me.

So … yeah.

And welcome to My Journey.