In Pursuit of Happiness, #3: Games, Sightseeing, and Home Cooking

With it being the holidays, as well as first Christmas I’ve spent with more than two other members of my family under one roof, I’ve had a lot to be happy about this past week – but I haven’t had much time to write about any of it, because…well, it’s our first family Christmas since 2009!

While this week’s edition of In Pursuit of Happiness will be short but sweet (like everyone in my family, with the exception of my six-footer brother-in-law whose extra height just means more space for total awesomeness), the rest of the good things that I’ve experienced during this holiday will provide more than enough material for the next few posts I’m working on.

Have a great and happy week!

***   ***   ***

Playing games with my family: All of the adults are over twenty-five and the child among us is eleven-almost-twelve-but-really-going-on-forty, but in this family age has never been an acceptable reason to stop playing. My nephew taught my oldest sister and me how to play Ticket to Ride this afternoon, and as I’m writing this he’s reading through the instructions for Risk in preparation for a family showdown. My brother, nephew, and I have been packing Nerf heat all around the house to defend ourselves against ambushes from one another.

As an adult, I think play is a refreshing and integral part of my vacation routine – especially when my version of a vacation is hauling off to the middle of “flyover country” to spend time in suburban Ohio with my nephew, middle sister, and brother-in-law. Good, clean, wholesome family fun that makes memories for when we’re old and grey is always an excellent way to pass the time on vacation, especially if it’s been raining buckets all day.

City tours with my brother-in-law: Ever since our first family trip to Montréal in 2001, my brother-in-law’s skills as a tour guide have been indispensable to our family fun time on any trip we’ve taken.   This guy is an excellent tour guide, and even during today’s bout of rain he managed to make a car-bound tour of downtown Cincinnati and Hyde Park pretty interesting. What makes his tours so special is that he knows exactly what to say about the city that will interest the passengers in his car, which means nobody has a chance to doze off to some long litany of census information.

Home-cooking, sister style: My favourite second sister is a complete and utter magical genius fairy in the kitchen. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram will be well aware of this fact by now, but I can’t resist tipping my hat off to her here.

Eating while on vacation is something that tends to affect most people by causing either complete abandon or paralyzing fear, especially when it comes to going on holiday to the United States. But whenever I come to Cincy to see my sister and her family I know that, with the exception of literally only a couple of restaurant options, the food I’m going to be eating under her roof will be wholesome, homemade, and perfectly aligned with my diet. I never have to worry about sacrificing exceptional food for the sake of my food plan, and I never have to worry if my annoying food photographs will turn out, either.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #2: Parody, Comedy, and Sisterhood

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and Monday saw me dashing through the rain from one job to the other with no time in between for anything but a granola bar – a thankfully rare occurrence – which means this week’s dose of happy is a day late.

I’ll have to work on sticking to my self-imposed writing schedules in the new year.

 

1. Yelping with Cormac: After two years of having The Road by Cormac McCarthy recommended to me by a friend, I finally bought it a few months ago. A few weeks ago, I finally got around to reading it. The recommendation came with a disclaimer – “Don’t read it if you’re even just remotely moody; it’s so bleak and you’ll be depressed” – that went largely ignored when I sat down with a cup of tea to read it.

This friend will tell you that my catchphrase is, “Trust me, I know things,” and I would have probably listened to his disclaimer if he had quoted me at the end of it. And yes, this is me trying to shift the blame a bit because it’s rare that I’m challenged so much by the atmosphere of a novel that I can’t read it in a straightforward and timely manner.

About halfway through The Road, I stumbled upon an unexpected trove of humor that made getting through the second half of the novel so much easier: Yelping with Cormac.

Those of you who are familiar with any of McCarthy’s works will know that “hilarious” and “light” are not adjectives found anywhere near this writer’s name, but as a spoof-homage to him Yelping with Cormac is a hilarious and light parody of Cormac McCarthy’s distinctive style. It’s a fantastically accurate mirror of his particular way with words, and yet when the Cormac Touch is applied to a review of Urban Outfitters or the Apple Store it becomes a new kind of magic altogether.

Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.

2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: I’m really picky with my television shows, especially when it comes to comedy, and I don’t own a television – which is why I’m always rather late to the party for any show that started its run in the last five years. However, thanks to Netflix, I’m fully on board (and caught up) with Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

I pay close attention to the credits that roll over the opening scenes of an episode, and when I saw Phil Lord and Christopher Miller right there in the pilot I knew I would enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They’re the guys behind Clone High and The Lego Movie, to name my two particular favourite Lord Miller projects.

But it’s not just the Lord Miller touch that makes this series highly enjoyable. In a knee-deep morass of New York cop shows that are heavy on the dark drama of big city crimes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a much-needed step up onto the dry ground of fresh perspective and new storytelling. If you were to find a Venn diagram of cop shows, ensemble comedies, and real-world farce, you’d see Brooklyn Nine-Nine right at the middle where all the best bits of each genre come together.

3. The Following Quote and My Oldest Sister:

“From the earliest times, the custom of breaking bread together has been symbolic of sharing and accepting and loving one another. A ‘companion’ is one with whom we eat bead…to eat together is to love. The Noche Buena feast, after going to Midnight Mass, ought to be one of the most beautiful Christmas symbols. We pray together and then we eat together…because we love each other.”
– Father Galdon, SJ

Of course there’s a story here. Because of my work schedule and company policies regarding vacation time during peak periods, I’m actually stuck in Montreal until Christmas morning. It was rather upsetting at first because this will be the first Christmas in many years that most of my family will be under one roof for the holidays, and I was faced with the prospect of spending a very quiet and very lonely Christmas Eve on my own.

With our mother away since American Thanksgiving and our schedules taking us all over the place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my oldest sister and I haven’t had the opportunity this year to decorate the family nest or even come together over our beloved Advent wreath once a week. Add that to the fact that Montreal is still waiting for a proper holiday snowfall, and you can probably see why Christmas Eve this year was starting to look like a scene out of The Road.

That is, until my favourite oldest sister told me she would fly out with me on Christmas morning.

So, while I might not get the magic of Christmas Eve with my nephew and the rest of my family, I won’t be alone during Christmas Mass and I won’t be sipping a lonely cup of hot instant coco in a strange hotel room at the airport. I’ll be welcoming the Holy Child at Mass and then sitting down at our old, worn dining table to toast His arrival with my sister.

An Epiphany of My Own?

If I had a dollar for every time somebody exclaimed, “Wait — you’re Catholic?” I would probably have a tidy nest egg by now. When I, in turn, ask why it’s a surprise, I usually get a response along one (or any combination) of the following lines:

  • “Well, I guess because it’s weird? I don’t know anyone who still believes in God.”
  • “Because religion is ridiculous.”
  • “Oh…well, then, that actually explains a lot.”
  • “You don’t really seem very Catholic..”

While I could write a post for each one of those (and probably will one day), in light of the Feast of the Epiphany today I’ll just address the last one.

What is it to “act Catholic,” exactly? The modern secular world seems to have an archaic view of Catholicism that resembles a mish-mash of all of the human Church’s less-than-spectacular moments in history and the way popular media has misrepresented Catholics over the years. But even though we real-world Catholics are aware of how we are misrepresented — even though we know the truth of how our faith works in the real modern world — why is it that so many of us are afraid to show what we truly are and profess what we truly believe?

I grew up in a small town in the Fraser Valley that had no shortage of Christian followers: between the Roman Catholic parish to which my family belonged and the nomadic evangelicals who moved from family to family in my best friend’s congregation, there was a slew of trinitarian Baptists, Latter-Day Saints, Episcopalians, Anglicans, and numerous Protestant denominations. I certainly wasn’t the only practising Christian or even the only practising Catholic in my high school when I started out, and though there were fewer of us when I graduated I certainly did not stand alone on the religious front at the end.

But adolescence is rife with insecurities, and if left unattended those insecurities cross the threshold with us into adult life. As practising Catholic teenagers, my brothers and those few Mass-attending classmates were different from the other Christians because church on Sundays was never optional, and if we knew ahead of time that we couldn’t make it on Sunday we had to go on Saturday. We were different because our faith included rites and rituals and sacraments that were foreign to other versions of Christianity. We were different because practicing our faith outside of church didn’t involve youth mission trips to third-world countries over the summer, but rather spending time outside of Mass in prayer, reflection, and contemplation.

We knew what to do and what to say at Christmas and Easter Mass. We didn’t know lines of scripture by heart but could talk your ear off about catechism. Our summer camps were gender-specific, and involved daily Mass, faith formation, and prayer time. We wore Saint medals and scapulars; didn’t eat meat on certain days of the year; and said grace in the cafeteria.

After any amount of time of having these differences pointed out to us, in our own ways we stopped being so visibly Catholic among our peers. We found ways to keep our Catholic lives separate from our school and social ones, and gradually some us even abandoned it altogether. Some of us abandoned the Cross for some time before returning to stand at its foot.

Having experienced all of that, including a crisis of faith and a reaffirmation of my beliefs, I should be able to stand in front of you and be unmistakably, unsurprisingly Catholic. I am a daughter of God and have embraced that, so it should come out in how I express myself and conduct myself even when I’m not talking about beliefs.  It shouldn’t come out in a pushy or overbearing way — I don’t believe in throwing certain things in people’s faces — but it should still be evident that I profess faith and practice it, too.

Alas, it is not the case, and that needs to change.

The Feast of Epiphany recalls the journey of the Three Magi from the Far East to Bethlehem in the wake of the Star, and celebrates what they found there: the new-born Christ in his lowly manger bed. It is used in the New Testament and in the Liturgy of the Word as a precursor to the spreading of Christianity throughout the world, for the Wise Men did indeed travel from countries far from Israel to celebrate the birth of the Holy Child and pay homage.

Our parish’s head pastor, a wise and down-to-earth Irish-Canadian Monsignor, told his congregation today that the Three Magi had great faith indeed, for only great faith in prophecy and scripture could account for how closely they watched the night sky and then followed the Star from so far away. They had no idea where exactly they would find the infant Messiah and they had no idea how long it would take — they did not even know when the signs of His birth would appear. But they kept faith that they would not only see the signs, but also that they would eventually lay their eyes on the Holy Child.

A little over two thousand years later, there is no need for Catholics to wait for signs and to wonder if Our Lord will come — for we know that He already has, and that He has already died for us. There is even no need for followers of Jesus Christ to follow Him in secret. We acknowledge His birth, we greet him at the manger, and we trust in His second coming. We are secure in this, so does it not also stand that we should be secure in living our lives in ways — at all times — that bear witness to this?

It is easier said than done, and it is a lifetime struggle at that, to live in the real world in ways that makes us unmistakably children of God and followers of His Word. But that is where the strength of one’s faith is truly tested: in the real world, in the mundane and repetitious tasks of every day life. I spend most of my human life outside of the comfort of my own home, but my entire life and all aspects of it should be spent in the presence of God. And if I truly am secure in my faith, I should not let the adolescent fear of being different keep me from being unsurprisingly Catholic.