My handwriting is terrible. It’s like someone tied a pencil to the tail of a pomeranian and let it run wild across the page. The ‘I’s look like ‘Z’s, the ‘g’s look like ‘s’s–it’s a comical mess, a Jackson Pollock font. Essay exams and handwritten letters are the bane of my existence.
As I begin a new semester, I’m re-noticing this – shall we say – quality of my handwriting. And my spelling? It’s of a similar, ahem, quality. Most noticeably, my consistent misspelling of two words: commitment (spelled with two ‘t’s after the ‘i’: committment) and judgment (spelled with an ‘e’ after the ‘g’: judgement). As I just typed them, autocorrect fixed my errors. I watched it happen.
Commitment, the anti-hero of millennials everywhere. Judgment, that which many fear the most. Sloppily writing and spelling them are one thing, but there’s no autocorrect for them in real life.
For eight years, I stumbled through a discernment process that eventually led me to the Society of Jesus. It was a good discernment. But, I’d be lying if I thought there wasn’t a destructive path behind me when I walked through the novitiate door. Mistakes were made.
I was (and hope to remain) a decent human being — passionate about my work, committed to the people I love, fun-loving. But, I’d stare into the night sky wherever I was, half-drunk and in-between, and I’d say to myself, to God: “You know what I want. I need to decide.” I probably told hundreds of people about these quiet moments, these tiny points of clarity in an otherwise tumultuous interior life.
On the one hand, I liked the attention — a person in discernment is inspiring. On the other hand, I didn’t know how to make a decision. Or, perhaps I was scared. I convinced myself that telling anyone and everyone would lead to some sort of resolve, but the effect was quickly buried. In either case, I did not act.
People would offer support, would be patient, would listen, but only for so long. They started getting married, having kids, growing older. At the risk of being left behind, I looked for the same. I found amazing partners whom I loved, and who fell victim to my failure to commit; I’d cite desires to set the world on fire as an excuse to end the relationship, and then waffle for another year. It was a harsh way to live.
I helped lead a student retreat at Creighton University in the fall of 2010. During the retreat, I received letters of support from loved ones all over the country. They sang out in chorus: you’re a great friend, a good man, talented, faithful, energetic, compassionate and kind. I was grateful, but unsettled. I didn’t believe it. I had these people fooled.
But one note was different — handwritten in playful, clean, feminine loops, but with judgment dripping off the pen of its author and onto the page. It was well-received and scribbled in love. “Eric,” it said. “Quit wasting your time. Quit wasting my time. Apply to the Jesuits.”
She was on to me. I felt totally naked, robbed of the safety of my bumbling life, called to the plate after years of riding the pine. But, I felt free and light too. It was the invitation I sought, the nudge (or shove) I needed. It was not a mistake. It was time. I had been rightly judged, and the only response was to commit.
Decisions create commitment, and with commitment comes judgment. That note, legible and lucid, pointed to the real judgment: I was a worthy man, but my failure to commit led me down dark paths. I was carrying on as if things were normal, but within, there was fear, grief, anger, despair, shame — a recipe for desolation. I wanted too much, or perhaps the wrong things, which led to a full life that left me feeling empty. God called me back to consolation.
A prayer penned by Bishop Ken Untener and inspired by martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero says this: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.” We can’t do everything. We can’t be everyone, either. In commitment we lose something; but in this loss is the freedom to do fully the thing we’ve chosen, to be fully who we’re meant to be.
I was free to commit; saved through judgment, and offered a life and vocation that bore with it the possibility of joy. I still misspell ‘committment’ and ‘judgement.’ But, things are looking up.
I still struggle with commitment. I judge and am judged. Mistakes are made in my life of penmanship and apostleship. For better or worse, those mistakes are a part of me. But, there is always more: A friend and a note. People who don’t give up on me, generous people who helped write my story and know how it is meant to continue. A God whose love is boundless, who is infinitely committed, and who judges me to be good.
As Chardin says, “I bless the vicissitudes, the good fortune, the misadventures…my faults, my blemishes. I love my own self, in the form in which it was given to me…” I carry on, as I am, with chances upon chances to look back and see the true gifts of the mistakes.
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