Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Straddling the Abyss

I've been away for a long weekend in Newport, Rhode Island. My friend bought a little summer house there in 2003, and I've been going there for rest time ever since I entered the community. I actually lived in Newport once, a million lifetimes ago. It's always just a little weird to go back.

Most everything has changed (for the better) but the sight of old buildings, wrought iron fences, sailboats in the harbor... all jog memories of my first attempts at homemaking and child raising. My older son was three weeks old when we moved into one of three converted chicken coops in Middletown, RI. Later we moved to an upstairs apartment in the Portuguese section of Newport, just off Thames Street. We found that apartment, but never could locate the chicken coops. They must have torn them down.

This trip there were four of us, (all team members from the last Cursillo weekend) and they all knew me "before". They all work: one is a lawyer, another a school principal, another a creative consultant, coordinating communication packages for corporate benefit plans. I was once a member of their hectic and hassled lifestyle. Now I'm different. My body clock is hardwired to my monastic schedule early to bed and early to rise... and that made me a party pooper most nights. It also meant I was generally the first one up.

The ritual of quietly padding down the wooden stairs in my bare feet to turn the coffee on... that was lovely. The stairs are quiet, (unlike our convent stairs that creak and groan) so the only perceptible noise was my ankles crunching. If I step carefully the sound is deceptive, but when I move quickly the rhythm matches that of those little rice-filled eggs we shake at our drumming circles. My rice-filled ankles made me smile.

I did things, ate things, enjoyed everything that is no longer part of my life as a sister. I read novels, stayed in my jammies all morning, didn't make my bed. I ate fried clams, lobster, hot pastrami sandwiches. I went shopping. At the same time, my internal censors were on keen alert this year... everything from not composting garbage to soft toilet paper to sleeping in a way too comfortable bed: all a blended tapestry of delightful and guilt-ridden. Where was I in all of this luxury? I lost the edges of myself trying to reconcile it all.

I am the odd girl out... and what I love so much about these women is they cut me slack. They knew me when, but they support me now. And that means a whole lot more than just letting me duck out to bed early while they stay up to play. It means putting their money on the line. A vow of poverty is a tricky piece of work when you're trying to maintain girlfriend relationships with women who still have to earn their own living. They have bills to pay and budgets to maintain. As pathetic as my income is (we receive a $25 stipend each month), it's all discretionary. The community puts the roof over my head, pays for my food and dental bills, buys me new shoes when the old ones wear out. I am a kept woman. (Claire Joy—Kept of God.)

But any vacation, even the most modest, takes money. Two of us were out shopping and found the most wonderful tee shirts with a cartoon of four women and the caption "Girls' Weekend—Newport, RI" They were so perfect. They were also expensive. My friend bought four: one for each of us. FOUR. Now that's something I probably would have done three years ago, but I can't do it now. I couldn't even buy one. Then there was the dinner party we hosted Saturday night... everyone was chipping in and I felt like the widow in Jesus' parable... with my mites. I did what I could. I cooked. But Jesus never mentioned how embarrassing it is to be the cheapskate of the group. It's my issue. And I'm having a furball of a time dealing with it.


Kate said...

Hey there, I just started reading your blog a few days ago. Found you through Prodigal Aspersions.

Anyway, just thought I'd throw my two cents in. I really enjoy treating my friends to things they can't afford themselves. Some of my friends from college have almost crippling student debt and it's wonderful to be able to take them to dinner or gift them with something frivolous they've been wanting. If your friends thought you were a burden, they probably wouldn't invite you in the first place.

I'll soon be on the receiving end of this formula myself as I will be heading off the seminary while trying to maintain a car payment on only 10 hours of work a week.

Janet said...

"Kept of God"- I am laughing out loud. I don't want to be too blase about CJ's inner turmoil with this money issue, but what CJ didn't mention was all the other things she offered us this weekend, besides her fabulous cooking. It was the happy dance that made us laugh when we said we were going for fried clams. It was her compassion when I asked her read a eulogy written by someone neither of us knew for my brother whom she never met- and yet she said the exact right things about him and the eulogy that took away a chunk of my pain. It was her quiet (or maybe not-so-quiet) presence around us who were in various stages of suffering of all sorts that allowed us to to tell our stories in ways we never had before. She made us feel safe and loved enough to open our hearts and in my book, that's certainly worth a tee shirt or two. She also gave us the gift of time- we slept in until we could smell the coffee ; we got a free hour to read or make phone calls while she prepared dinner. She packed up the picnic lunch while we primped and also packed the food for the ride home. So here's how I see it: fun and thoughtful tee shirts: $18 each; our share of food for the weekend $50 each; love between Christian sisters who can go from laughing out loud to crying to praying to getting crooked sunburns because we never noticed 5 hours passing on the patio: Priceless. It's time to cough up that furball, my dear friend and recognize the gifts you give us endlessly.

cgssis said...

One of the hardest lessons to learn is how to receive. Giving is pretty easy and makes the giver feel so good. But receiving takes a whole lot more from us. Allowing somwone else to experience the wonderful feeling of being generous is very hard to do. But is seems as though you have learned this lesson even though you are unaware of it.

Claire Joy said...

Okay Janet, now you've made me cry. Thank you, dear friend. Oh, by the way, did I mention I tried out your hot rollers the morning I vegetated in your apartment? Big hair is definitely not me.

kpjara said...

OOH...I wish there was a picture of the "Big Hair Sister!" Could that be a new rock band perhaps? Big Hair Sistas!

I'm glad the trip was good and the time with friends priceless...how was the book?

Claire Joy said...

Book was okay... not as good as the ones I've read before. Am now on to a couple of secular novels... Time Traveler's Wife and The Kite Runner.

Pilot Mom said...

" I am a kept woman. (Claire Joy—Kept of God.)"

I love it, CJ!

And, after hearing Janet's version of the weekend, I would have to agree with her. So get over the furball--Sistah! ;)

4501 Safari said...

You have NEVER been a cheapskate. A little mental mineral oil will clear out that furball!