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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.