Monday, March 07, 2011

Things I know

OK. I’ll let y’all in on the secret. A few weeks ago, I started to see various doctors because of a set of somewhat ambiguous symptoms that, as with many of these things, could turn out to be nothing of great import, or could as easily turn out to be something potentially life-threatening. I’ve known since January that something is up and I’m “that age,” as my doctors have repeatedly reminded me, where things start spontaneously going wrong.

Now, before everyone starts having fits (or starts sending out invitations to the celebration) the answer is that I still don’t know. There have been “tests” the results of which should be available at the end of this week. After that, awful things might begin to happen which may end up complicating my life to the point where nearly all internet activity gets suspended. So, in case you were wondering why things have been a little thin here, and with my offerings on LifeSite, now you know.

(That, and the rather mundane technical difficulty with my mobile internet stick… the Italian company I have an account with keeps saying the problem, that is interrupting mobile internet service all over the country, will be “cleared up soon.” Thanks guys…)

Enough people in my private life know about all this now that I thought I might as well come clean to readers as well. Y’all have been so great over the years, I thought I owed it to you.

I am also turning 45 next week, and am having the thoughts one tends to have when in the middle, looking toward the second half.

Of course all of this has been putting a little bit of a strain on my black-sense-of-humour resources but it has also made me do some pretty big thinking lately, as you may imagine. Not much of the results of these thinks have been suitable for publication, but I’ll share a bit, if you can stand it.

Remember that fad in the 1970s for the Elizabeth Kubler Ross “Five Stages of Grief” thing? She identified a psychological process people often go through who have a terminal disease: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Well, in contemplating my mortality in the last few months, I seem to be working through the Hilary Stages of Grief that seem, so far to include, in order of appearance:

Rejoicing - “Yay! I’ll finally be quit of this horrible planet! Woo-hoo!”
Annoyance - “I’m busy. This is interrupting what I’m doing.”
Perspective - “I just can’t seem to make myself care about politics any more.”
Worry - “What? I can’t go to heaven like this! I’ll be all cross and I won’t be able to enjoy it properly.”

One thing has popped repeatedly into my mind. When I die (if it’s tomorrow or in 40 years) who is going to get the things I have? I don’t mean the material things. I mean all the incredible riches I have been given by the people who have taught me things. These are things that I have been given by others. I can’t claim they were mine, except for the time I had them, but I have finally come to understand why I was given them. I was supposed to give them to someone else.

As you know, I have no children, never having figured out until much too late how life was supposed to work and what it was supposed to be for. That window is now closing, one way or another.

And I have few other relatives. I am an only child; my father, also an only child and my mother divorced when I was very small, (back before it was what all the cool kids were doing) and while she had close relatives, she had nothing to do with them most of her life. So I have no siblings, nieces, nephews or cousins, no posterity to pass anything on to. This may be where the urge to write has come from most of my adult life. I don’t know. That and a large dollop of egotism, I suppose.

I was discussing this the other day. It seems a waste. Everything I know, all my experiences, all the things I’ve learned how to do, are going to pop out of existence and will never become the rightful property of anyone else.

All my life, I have been filled to the top with interesting information, background, culture and whatnot. When I was in school, my report cards always said that I had a simply astonishing quantity of “general knowldege”… in other words, I was thoroughly “acculturated” from a very early age. Through my early life, I always assumed that everyone knew the things I knew, came from the same deep cultural roots, and when I was growing up, with the friends I had in school, this was more or less true. But as I went out into the world, I was more and more astonished at the incredible trove of ordinary things, the cultural background of our daily lives, that many, if not most people know nothing about. People are poor, and I was rich. It didn’t seem fair.

And the horrible thing is that we have done this deliberately to ourselves, as a society.

A long time ago, I had a good friend, an atheist, who was raised in the fashionable ways of the 1960s. His parents decided that they would not “indoctrinate” their sons into any particular religion, saying that they should be “allowed to decide for themselves” when they were old enough. So they gave their sons no information whatever about religious things. Well, the result was that my friend, who was brilliant and ended up as a robotics engineer, and his brother were total religious ignorami as young men. But more than this, because our culture is founded upon a particular religious heritage, they knew nothing whatever of the cultural foundations of the society they lived in.

My friend, as he got older and further away from the cultural bubble of his childhood, has learned more, but I remember a conversation I had with him once that shocked me. I can’t remember what we were talking about specifically, but at one point I mentioned Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.

“Who?” he said.

“What?” I said, not quite understanding his question.

“Who’s that?”

“What do you mean, ‘who’s that’?”

“Who you just mentioned. And what’s the ‘parting of the Red Sea?’”

“You’re kidding right?”

“Are you trying to make me feel dumb?”

“You really don’t know who Moses is…”


“You’ve never seen the movie?”

“What movie?”

“Chuck Heston… ‘Let my people go’….? Nothing?”

I explained and he thanked me, but it was an interesting and educational moment for me too. I had assumed for years that my friend was a great deal ahead of me in education, and in math and science this was (and remains) true. But the world of cultural knowledge I was rasied in, that I had assumed was common to everyone, has become, I realised then, a rare and precious thing.

As I have gone along learning more and more stuff, I have come to understand better what happened to our society and why smart people are so ignorant, and how much damage this withholding of cultural knowledge has done to them. In some cases I think it has been a primary contributor to the development of what I have called “nice evil,” the general moral malaise that is so common among otherwise ordinary people. I have observed that this moral malaise is often founded in a particularly iron-clad cultural ignorance, one that quickly becomes willful.

Why was I able to figure out all this stuff about the value of human life? Why was I able to reason my way into the Faith? (And back into it again and again, despite a multitude of sins and failures?) How was it that I’ve been given this treasure? And what was I supposed to do with it? How am I going to make it increase in whatever time I have left?

This little episode of medical distress has reminded me that I had duties in life. And has made me wish I had fulfilled them better.

(Oh, and a warning. Anyone who starts getting "sympathetic," lugubrious or in any way nauseating in the commbox will quickly be getting the business end of my Smite button. Please carefully re-read the commbox rules posted to the sidebar and be assured that the rules against annoying me are, as ever, in full operation.)



Unknown said...

Keep thinking girl. (is just one x too sympathetic? )
If I was in Rome I would bring you for a Guiness.

Kate Bryan said...

Honest and beautiful article, Hilary. You have no idea how many lives you've touched this far and what God truly has in store for your life :) God is good.

Michael Chorney said...

Thanks for the heads-up, kiddo. I was starting to wonder if I should consider being concerned.

"all the incredible riches I have been given by the people who have taught me things. These are things that I have been given by others. I can’t claim they were mine, except for the time I had them, but I have finally come to understand why I was given them. I was supposed to give them to someone else." - yes, exactly so. This is our duty in life. Well said (as always).

Dave said...

We will do our best in the Saskatoon office to keep brows unfurrowed and the well-wishing to an absolute minimum.

Don't have malaria.

There. Cheers!

Dave :)

Anonymous said...

Dittoes. For me to go into detail as to just how much I can "relate to this" would be to nauseate, I'm sure; and so let me just thank you again for your writing. You have helped re-direct this fellow fortysomething back to the good stuff more times than I can count. Keep bringing the gelato back to the 'lypse.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I was pleased to come away from my visit to the Gemelli Ambulatore last Tuesday, and be able to say to myself, "Well, so I haven't got necrotising fasciitis. That's a relief!"

Anonymous said...

There is a Ralph Stanley song for just about everything you say. Or to paraphrase Pieper, one day you look at the world with all its glamours and it looks like a carnival site the day after.
Hugh McDonald of Niagara
brother of illustrious Paul
(verification word alsedle)

BillyHW said...

Skipping lunch today for you.

Mark S. Abeln said...

- Eat nothing for two hours before going to bed.
- A glass of red wine before bed is helpful.
- Take some Tums or other calcium carbonate tablets before going to sleep.
- Trust in the Lord.

I sympathize with you. I went through a similar thing about 10 years ago.

BillyHW said...

Definitely understand you on the "rejoicing" part, BTW.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write some empathetic drivel and say how well you've articulated nearly everything I felt last year during my 47 year-old bout with the male version of what I think you're writing about. But since you've set down such heartless rules and have threatened to "smite" me and stuff, I won't do that.

You mean much to people you've never even met. Heaven will not go unstormed.

Oh, and if you REALLY want children, you can always take mine!

Mary said...

What should you do to pass on your riches? Really, you don't know because it's obvious to me. You need to write a good book and find a better editor.

I'd say you have been an inspiration but that would just embarrass us both so consider it unsaid.

HJW said...

Mary, the trouble with that suggestion is that the internet has destroyed my attention span. I can't even read books these days, let alone write them.

Anonymous said...

The sisters and I here in Cambridge shall remember you and your intentions in our prayers during our time of Adoration throughout this week, Hilary. Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

In Our Lady,
Sister Elizabeth Marie, SOLI

J D Carriere said...

My dear Miss White,

I love you, etc., and am concerned deeply and so forth.

But on this matter of looking forward from 45 into the second half of life, even taking an unseemly liberality with your fractions, I wonder if you aren't just a tiny bit late for that.

I hadn't thought you such a shameless optimist.

I wish to assure you that as one with offspring, the little blighters don't listen to a single bloody thing you tell them and that, at that, a father is given to wondering if he mightn't have done something really useful otherwise. Everyone wonders now and then.

The point, Miss White, is that you are a spinster of truly singular quality and contribution, and you should not doubt it.

If such sentimentality may be let to stand.

Anonymous said...

I wish you could come live with me and teach my children things and let them destroy your concentration for awhile, and also teach me to dress better. Don't die, and if you do, can I have your hats? - Karen

Paul Smeaton said...

Worry - “What? I can’t go to heaven like this! I’ll be all cross and I won’t be able to enjoy it properly.”


This is funny. I really didn't have you down as the sort of Catholic who thinks they are going straight to heaven! There is actually an in-between stage, but you are not allowed to talk about it :-)

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I am very pleased with you all. You're all being very well behaved. Biscuits all 'round.

Anonymous said...

Really great post, Hilary. So thought-provoking that I shared the main point with my 14yo daughter "what you are given is meant to be handed on." Just brilliant! I hope all goes well and will say prayers.

God bless

Anonymous said...

The best thing about this post was reminding me how rich I am and how grateful I should be to all those good people who have taught me so much. Including you.

Anonymous said...


I have been reading your blog for years but never commented, perhaps I should have. Your internet presence and writings have enriched my life. I believe you still have many gifts yet to give, and you may not realize what a benefit you are to others.

I think I can relate: I am single, childless and an only child. I had endometrial cancer at 49. I had surgery, and made it through. That was ten years ago. If I can offer any moral support as one who has "been there", please let me do so. Of course, I will pray for you.


Gary said...

"This little episode of medical distress has reminded me that I had duties in life. And has made me wish I had fulfilled them better."

I can relate to that. I'm eleven years older than you and in recent years have lamented the many mistakes and negligences of my life.
There's a beautiful prayer by St. Teresa that's helped me. I've copied it below.
God is in the business of redemption and restoration. He wants to and is able to make everything right in our lives in His own wonderful way. Nothing is truly lost.

Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:
O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in "wedding garments." Amen.