Alone on a Twin Sized Bed

I have a small confession to make. See, for the most part, Jesuits get their own rooms. But every once in a blue moon, we’ll have to share a room when we travel. And if the beds are different sizes, I will always graciously offer the larger to my companion, pretending as if it’s some minor sacrifice for me to take the smaller. But that’s not true. The fact is, I hate sleeping in anything larger than a twin bed. The only thing all that extra space does is remind me how empty that place will be next to me, for the rest of my life. 

Celibacy hits all of us in religious life in different ways. Yet we all, in one way or another, at some time or another, have to deal with the loneliness that it brings up in us. That’s not to say the gift of our celibate chastity isn’t truly a wonderful thing (more on that later). But as I said to a spiritual director, “Yes, I know I’m in a relationship with Jesus. But I can’t hug God. Hold hands with God. When I wake up in the morning, I’m lying by myself in my bed.”

You look so defeated, lying there in your new twin sized bed

With a single pillow underneath your single head

I guess you decided that that old queen was more space than you would need

Now it’s in the alley behind your apartment with a sign that says it’s free

When I first really listened to Death Cab for Cutie’s song, “Your New Twin Sized Bed,” I was with my vow classmates in rural Alaska, the summer or 2018. The villages, though far from the conveniences I had grown accustomed to, offered a boisterous joy and a persistent hope. Further, I had not seen my vow classmates for several months and was delighted to share space and jokes with all of them again. I was with people I loved, doing work that was rewarding, and learning from many elders (Jesuit and indigenous). And then I heard this song one night as I was trying to fall asleep, and I just began to cry.

You used to think that someone would come along

And lay beside you in a space that they belong

But the other side of the mattress and box springs stayed like new

What’s the point of holding onto what never gets used?

Grief, too, hits us in different ways. In an unexpected moment, I felt myself grieve for that particular joy of romance. For years, I had been holding onto this little hope that I would somehow meet the person of my dreams. It wasn’t because I was unhappy or unfulfilled as a Jesuit; it was just that dream that I think all of us have carried in one way or another. To meet that one special person that I would grow old with, who would always be by my side, who would know me completely and love me unconditionally. And I would be the same to them. And I finally had to let go. As my spiritual director told me, after I shared about my loneliness, “You will never be the most important person in someone else’s life.”

One of the first lessons I’ve learned as a Jesuit is not to run away from those experiences. Part of me quickly went to rationalizing my grief away: “I’m just tired.” “I just miss my family.” And another part of me threw up those great barriers of denial: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” “I’m actually happy, so this can’t be right.” And then, once I stopped the circumlocutions, I realized I had just said goodbye to that little dream I had carried in the back of my soul for quite a long time.

It’s like you’re in some kind of hurry to say goodbye, say goodbye, say goodbye

You look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed

You look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed

Yes, sometimes I lie defeated in my bed. The loneliness doesn’t disappear. But, a little more each year, I’ve become comfortable in that bed. I’ve spent my grief, and have found incredible communities who understand that pain. And I still continue to fall in love.

People often think that because I’m celibate, because I will wake up alone for the rest of my life, I have to say goodbye to that part of me that loves. And I’m willing to bet that would be simpler. But I don’t want to live my life that way. My vow of chastity means that I will hold onto and use my love properly, not bury it and pretend it can’t hurt me anymore.

Since that night in Alaska, I haven’t stopped falling in love. But I have stopped grieving for that dream. I’ve said goodbye to what won’t be, and have begun looking at to what can be. I won’t find intimacy falling asleep next to the person I love. But it’s still there. I’ve found it in my community, over late-night milkshakes. I’ve found it in a friend’s kitchen, as we discussed politics and marriage and how we’ve grown up together. I’ve found it playing chess with a man desperately trying to get off drugs and off the street. I’ve found it in the armchair near my bed, looking out over the city, as I ask God to let me see the world with the eyes of Christ.

The love I’ve always wanted is around me. It just doesn’t look like I dreamed it would.

 

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