We Are A Work In Progress

I started this post prior to the Freshly Pressed attention, but it seems even more relevant in the wake of all the buzz. Yesterday was my first Ash Wednesday Mass in probably about six years. I’m a cultural Catholic (a term I prefer to cafeteria Catholic or lapsed Catholic), someone who attends church intermittently, who never quite makes all the holy days of obligation and who is never quite fully versed in all the rituals and practices, despite being the valedictorian of my CCD cohort.  Even with all of my Catholic baggage, I was particularly moved by the relevance of yesterday’s sermon.

As a child we were encouraged to see Lent as a sacrifice of something pleasurable, a way to appreciate suffering on a smaller scale (deprive yourself of chocolate or Saturday Morning Cartoons) and as a teenager we used this as a time to work on lapsed New Year’s Resolutions (lose ten pounds or give up smoking). When I went to college, we had a pretty cool hippie priest who had a social justice interpretation of the Bible and encouraged us to perform acts of community service. I preferred this interpretation and I wish that I had a great story to share about the process of becoming a more altruistic person, but I don’t think I ever fully gave of my time in the way that Father Bob intended.

When I was at Mass yesterday, I contemplated what I would give up for Lent and interrogated each choice, fearful that I wouldn’t be able to fully live whatever I chose. The sermon took an unexpected turn when the priest suggested that we look inward for Lent and to sacrifice our time by letting go of an all consuming trait…jealousy…sloth…guilt. When he said guilt, he had my full attention. I may not be a perfect Catholic, but I have the guilt part down pat!

He encouraged us to remember that we are all slow works in progress and perhaps this Lent we should resolve to live without regrets.  By not consuming ourselves with guilt, we would open up our time and allow for a more productive existence. We can’t be kind to others, until we are kind to ourselves. It’s the notion that if you experience a loss of cabin pressure when you are on an airplane with a small child, your first duty is to  put on your own oxygen mask. You won’t be able to secure the mask of your child, unless yours is fully fastened.

One of the things about aging and about becoming 30 that so many of my friends discuss is the desire to be secure, to be fully formed in the shape of whoever they thought they’d be by 30. Thirty, I am realizing, is a rather arbitrary number. There is just an overwhelming sense among my friends, of all ages, that the goals we have set for ourselves seem quite impossible to realize, maybe more so now in the particular economic climate than at any other point in recent memory.  When my parents were 30 they had the careers that would sustain them to retirement; they owned a home; they were starting a family. Not any of my trentaginarian friends have all of those balls lined up. It’s not that my parents were smarter or more privileged, it’s that they were living in  a different time. Even in the illusion of fully formed perfection, they were still a work in progress.

As a child of the Clinton years, I watched Tuesday’s PBS documentary on Clinton  to both relive my childhood and to better understand the events of that moment in history. What shocked me about Part 1 was how little I knew about Clinton’s professional background and how many times he had lost local elections before the presidency.  At 30 he was far more successful than most people that I know, but he was also failing at various things, at a significant pace. If you took a screen shot of Clinton at 30, you wouldn’t have imagined his future successes. In his own way, Clinton was aware that he was a work in progress, by self-identifying as the Comeback Kid.

So for those of you who have been reading and commenting on the trials and tribulations of aging, remember: We Are A Work In Progress, at any age. Be patient with others, but most of all, be patient with yourself. This is what I will be trying to do over these next forty days.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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15 Responses to We Are A Work In Progress

  1. asoulwalker says:

    It is incredibly hard to really love others when you don’t love yourself… I don’t really pretend to fully grasp this… I only know that it is a huge shortcoming of mine that I have only recently become aware of.

    • Yes, but the thing to keep in mind is that we are al just a slow work in progress. Don’t rush the process! Enjoy it. Thanks so much for following along!

      • asoulwalker says:

        The phrase “enjoying the journey,” is one I used to hear quite a bit… funny how you don’t always listen when you should and realize years later that something was great advice coming from someone you just couldn’t take it from (for one reason or another). I’ll try not to expect a rushing sort of progress. Good reminder. Cheers.

  2. mellesque says:

    G! So glad that your blog successes have led me to your writing. I was excited by your post, as my own frustration at the twisted American take on Lent have fueled me to write angry posts year after year. For Lent, I’m trying to write every day and share something I find inspiring. I find it my own way of trying to battle one of my inner demons – call it cynicism or despair. Anyway…thanks for sharing your own take.

    M

    • I love it! That’s such a great idea. Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, it’s a tradition that conjures up such strange visceral reactions. Yes, the Eug always found me particularly confused when it came to this issue. Thanks for reading and following along!

  3. sarahsss says:

    Thanks, Gina, I needed this post this week. Having just turned the big 3-3 while feeling like a particularly slow 22 year old (as I’m about to get kicked out of college forever) brings up all the emotions you describe. The other good advice, I think, is not to compare one’s work-in-progress self to others’, which is particularly hard for me when I see so many friends seemingly hitting those “grown-up” milestones.

  4. A great post, with great truths, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! That’s how I found your blog. I am planning to do the Coast To Coast walk this year too! I actually live on the edge of the Peak District National Park, (Yorkshire/Derbyshire border), which is also where I grew up – blessed am I! There are some great walks for preparing to cover the 190 miles.
    I wish you all the best for your trek, and yes, buy a Kindle for your travels – they’re incredibly convenient. Are you going east to west or the other way?

    • Thanks for finding me and for following along! We’re going from West to East to keep the wind at our back. I wish you lots of luck on your trek, as well. Will you be blogging about it? If so, I’ll be sure to follow along. How lucky you are to live in that magnificent region!

  5. Thanks for sharing the wonderful homily of Father Bob together with your beautiful reflections. Right now, I’m having troubles choosing my true vocation in life. I think I need to discern more and be less critical of myself. Again, thanks!

    • Thank you! Remember that you are not alone. So many, of all ages, of all walks of life, feel the way that you do. Take the next 40 days (or more) to fill the self-critical time with something more enjoyable. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  6. This post seemed to speak to me in very profound ways. I ache for an anchor, a home- a choice that seems particularly ironic considering the nomadic lives of many within the academe. If life is a continual process of becoming, then why do I crave to settle like sedimental matter? Are Clinton’s failures the same as ours? Does a mediocre existence (a phrase that hopefully conveys a happy acceptance of the fact that one is never going to be Preseident of USA or even a small island nation) not deserve a blissful plateau of known and loved work, routines, and habits?

  7. Pingback: You Are Not Alone | 30 Ways of Walking

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