-- photo by Jerome Clarysse
I have a good life. I have a cozy little apartment with lots of character. I have enough food to eat--really good food like veggies and fruits and nuts and eggs. I can afford coffee in the mornings and chocolate in the afternoons (and--let's be honest--evenings). I have an old Toyota that runs well and reflects my quirky personality. I have a job at a good organization with truly incredible people. I have excellent yoga teachers, access to a gym (well, usually!), and health care. I live in a safe(ish) neighborhood and I don't have to worry about bombs being dropped on me. I have long-time friends that know me well and love me anyway, and a few new ones who make me laugh. I have my dogs and the joy they bring. And most of all, I have a deep connection with our God. What more can a girl ask for? "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Luke 5: 8).
Still, I would be lying if I did not admit that deep down--way down--I am unhappy. I want to be a Roman Catholic priest. I have the education, the experience, the skills, and I also have the call: every single day I hear God asking me to do this. And every single day, I respond, "Yes, Lord, I will do this for you." We share a moment of tenderness as God whispers, "I know." God appreciates my yes, knows its cost. Because although I would make this commitment to God and to God's people, the institution prevents me from obliging.
So, unable to endure any more time in an institutional Catholic environment, I now spend my days at a secular job. It's a good job--I really can't complain. I believe in the organization's mission, the people are fantastic, and I get a decent paycheck for my effort. It's a good set-up. We should all be so lucky. But, the truth of the matter is that it's not really where I'm supposed to be. We do not pray, we do not worship, we are not even allowed to speak God's name. It's so...unsatisfying. I try to remain positive but, truth be told, it's more and more challenging, and each day my spirit dies a little more. I am weary of banging my head against the wall.
The truth is I would be able to accept my exclusion if, say, I wasn't suited for the role--if I didn't have the skills or education or the gift for it. But none of these things are true. Instead, the reason offered is that I don't have the right body. It is pure prejudice, rooted in the age-old belief that there are just some groups of people that are innately superior to others, and that God intentionally designed it this way. This idea of superiority is persistent, and it is the most powerful tool that evil uses to create hell on earth. It is the thing that needs to be rooted out of all human hearts if God's hopes and dreams for creation are to be actualized. And it is the thing that the Catholic Church must confront within itself if the Church is to survive. Yet, the magisterium has shown no real will to do this--to do what we all know in our heart of hearts is right.
Why the hell do you bother, you ask? It's a reasonable question. I stay because there is something in me, down even deeper, that still hopes. Hopes in the steady stream of whispers from God's Spirit to mine. Hopes in the Church's call to be that which it proclaims. Hopes in the Lord's promise of justice for all people. So, while I take time each day to offer thanks to God for the steady stream of blessings I am given, I also kneel at God's feet unabashed and ask for more.
One aspect of my call to ministry is to rescue senior dogs with special needs and provide them with end-of-life care. I rescued Border in late June of 2017. She was ten or eleven years old--sweet, smart, loyal and always ready for an adventure. I obliged: I adopted her in San Diego and three days later tossed her in the car and drove to Tacoma, WA to start a new life.
Those were good days. Border and I did everything together. She came with me on errands, to friends' homes--even to the office every single day. She cared about one thing, and one thing only: being by my side. We were close. Like two peas in a pod. And it's been that way since...up until a few months ago.
Border developed cognitive disorder earlier this year, a condition similar to dementia. What does it look like in dogs, you ask? Dogs with cognitive disorder stare at the wall, get trapped behind open doors (staring out between the hinges with uncertainty as to how to escape), get stuck under furniture like kitchen tables and futons, forget commands, start going to the bathroom in the house, stop playing with their toys, give up sleep for relentless pacing, and--eventually--even forget how to eat or drink. It is heartbreaking to witness, and it becomes a challenge to determine when the end has arrived.
These months have been difficult but the thing I did not anticipate is the almost total transformation of her personality. Where there was once a sweet, snuggly girl, there is now a snarl-faced grump who no longer likes affection. She doesn't allow me to pet her. She doesn't sleep with me. She snaps at me if I get too close. The girl I once knew is gone.
I miss my friend.
All this being said, I feel honored to walk with her as she approaches the end of this life. I give her the best care I can under the circumstances. She gets lots of time outside to sniff all the interestings left behind by passersby. We play a bit of fetch at the park, which she loves though she struggles to track the stick. I hand feed her at mealtime since she usually cannot figure out how to get the food out of the bowl. It's all precious time for she will be gone soon, and I will be left with my broken heart.
Border has been the face of God for me. I pray that now I, too, can be the same for her.