A Week in Cow Country

A weekend is all that remains of my spring break.  Two and a half more days and I will be back in the fray of teaching, pushing hard toward the end of the year.  And what a year it has been.  I have to admit here, to the ether, that I am not looking forward to it.  I’m feeling very weary.  Worn out.  Thin.  And I’m worried about what will happen when I go back to teaching.

But break was very lovely up to a point.  I spent a week driving here and there through the rolling hills of Missouri, where I met the boyfriend’s parents in turn, as well as the boyfriend’s father’s cows.  Many cows.  But I guess I’m kind of getting ahead of myself.

The BF’s dad bought a beautiful parcel of land near Jefferson City awhile back, and he was gracious enough to let us roam wild on the ranch for an afternoon–indeed, it was the highlight of the trip.  In some ways, Missouri looks like Wisconsin (my home state) on its best day.  It was warm, and sunny, and full of rolling hills.  The land is mostly given to cattle instead of crops, so everything was green as far as the eye could see and full of living things.  That kind of sight leaves me with a gnawing feeling in my stomach, like I want to dig into something.

At one point we were chased through a field by twenty cows.  True story.  We also spent the afternoon catching catfish, which I did with the vigor of a sniper at target practice.  Mwahah!  C’m here b*tch!  was shouted by myself when I caught my first, which the BF had a good laugh at.  (It’s funny what makes a person endearing to others, and apparently my boyfriend is fond of maniacal laughter.)

Some people think of Paris as the Capitol City of Romance, and I guess I see why.  But friends, I’ve lived in Paris, and so I feel like I speak with some authority when I say it is nowhere near as lovely as central Missouri.  Paris is ornate and well-worn and full of people who know about love.  Everyone who is there is an authority on the subject.  They sell love next to the post cards off vendor carts in the streets.

But Missouri is full of good earth and open land, and there is nothing more romantic than that.  The hills give you the idea that what you want most is just up and over the next succulent incline.  Or if you felt like resting, you could just dig yourself into any spot you felt like slowing down in.   In short, it is a land full of potential, and that puts a spark in my heart more than the City of Love ever will.

After a weekend of playing nice and visiting the BF’s family, we wandered south into the Ozarks and spent a few days being lazy and listening to the rain come down on the roof of the cabin.  I will spare you the details of that.  But we got back to Tulsa last night, and again I will say that it was a lovely spring break, my only regret being that I forgot my camera.  There was a moment on the ranch when we were driving backwards on a souped up four-wheeler, fleeing from twenty head of cattle who knew we carried delicious cow treats.  I would much rather have a picture of the BF driving backwards, while I throw fistful after fistful of cow pellets at the encroaching stampede, than a picture of myself at senior prom or graduation.  These are the truly fleeting moments that matter :)

I’m back now, back in Tulsa, where the streets form a familiar grid.  I was supposed to spend the afternoon getting my life back in order, doing things like cleaning and filing my taxes and grading papers.  But I’ve done nothing like it.  To be honest, I’ve been pretty down recently.  Like I said, I feel spread thin, like one tiny jab would send me flying to pieces, and considering I go back to work with challenged and challenging eighth graders in a couple of days, I’ve got to get my shit figured out, and quick.

This blog has long been my meditating place, so I won’t apologize for the internal ramblings that follow.  Honestly, the lack of writing I have done this past year speaks much to the challenge I am currently facing.  Even with all the lovely and purposeful things in my life these days, I’m barely thinking and rarely writing, and that explains why I feel so hollow.

To explain what I mean in a tiny bit more detail, my week in cow country has left me with a few small realizations I probably already knew before I even left.  The first is that I love my boyfriend and the whole life that has been given to me in the last year or so.  Teaching, Tulsa, and all that, etc.  I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.  No, really, I’m unnerved by how lucky I feel.  Not only am I well-loved, I also spend every second of the workday doing something truly meaningful for others.  No one could argue that my current profession is not brimming with purpose.  And honestly, I don’t feel like I deserve this experience.  I feel like every prayer I ever prayed for connection and meaning has been timely answered, and that makes me scared.  When you feel like fate has given you everything, suddenly you become profoundly aware of how much you have to lose.

Which leads me to my second realization I already knew.  Everything I have in the world right now, and everything that I feel is coming on the other side of the next so-called succulent incline, means very little if I do not take the time and make the effort to stay connected to the source of all blessings, big and small.  All the love and purpose in the world could never make up for losing touch with that.

I guess what I’m saying is that even though I have everything in the world going for me right now, what I really need I had even when I was back in Madison, seemingly stranded, working a crappy job and feeling lonely and without purpose.  Call it God if you will, I don’t know.  To me, it felt like… like an internal stillness.  A peace I honestly cultivated to keep myself from going insane, wondering what my next step in life was going to be.  I had to put my future into higher hands simply to keep myself from losing hope in myself.

And goodness, it paid out!  Just like when I walked my pilgrimage in Spain, I learned that when you clear out everything unimportant in your life, focus on what you really are being called to do, trust that the “powers that be” will take you where you are meant to be, and have the courage to seize opportunity when it comes to you, you will be rewarded with a hundred times more of what you hoped to receive in the first place.  But now that I have it and my time of lonely, patient waiting is over (for now), how do I stay connected to that.. power?

I’m not a religious person.  I like going to mass now and then, but honestly the lack of female leadership and the “contemporary, feel-good” vibe most churches give off tends to leave me feeling more annoyed than spiritually fulfilled when I am there.  I love the saints and the traditions and the deep spiritual life the Church can provide, but somehow it gets entirely obscured by the surface-level reality of the modern “worship experience.”  I want to go to church to meditate on eternal things, but when I’m there I have no time to think.  One minute we are reading the Gospel, and the next we are hearing speeches on how Obama is ruining the country and depriving us of our spiritual rights.  It’s not for me.

I’m feeling frustrated.  My work is losing its meaning and I am losing my interest because I have lost my connection to why I joined this organization in the first place.  A year of struggle–with the students, with the administration, with Teach For America, and with others in my personal life–has taken the fight out of me.  It’s a strange twist, that receiving so many blessings should cloud my ability to connect to God, and that those same blessings should cause me to need that connection all the more.  My students wear me thin.  And all the love and the farm fields and the catfish and the in the world can’t make up for the fact that I have lost touch with something I need to find again.

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~ by Rachael on March 23, 2012.

5 Responses to “A Week in Cow Country”

  1. Like butter scraped over too much bread?

    I guess this is why the approved way of getting in touch with God is to go live in a hut on a deserted island in the silence of the wind and waves. If you reject or defer your blessings, do you think you get “store credit”? I mean, can you tell the universe to hold onto your blessings until you’ve re-forged your connection with the divine? Obviously, you can’t take a month out of school for a reason like that, but maybe you can find tiny ascetic spaces in your life to treat as a monastic cell.

    “Ah, to be all alone, in a little cell, with nobody near me. Beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death. Singing the passing hours to cloudy heaven, feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring. That will be an end to evil, when I am alone in a lovely little corner among tombs, far from the houses of the great. Ah, to be all alone, in a little cell, to be alone, all alone; alone I came into the world, alone I shall go from it.”

    (This probably doesn’t help at all, but I always remember looking at this song with you.)

    • Oh Natalie, your response says everything I didn’t say. I can’t even really comment, but, yeah, please accept this inarticulate response as thanks for saying exactly what I mean.

  2. 1. by pilgrimage in Spain, do you mean the Camino de Santiago?
    2. Just in my experience, seeking spiritual fulfillment is a good way to go in circles. We are ravenous and won’t ever be satisfied. Undergirding spirituality there has to be a self-emptying impetus – not a seeking, but an offering – and for that to happen, there has to be this idea of “duty.” Something done not for ourselves but out of obligation to God. It would seem like the quickest way to kill love is to make it an obligation … but (and once again, this is my experience) the heart is truly at peace when it binds itself.

    I think before when you trusted God with your future, that was a sacrifice and an offering you were making. Putting your life into Divine hands. And peace flowed from that. When I was in the convent, I would hear myself thinking “if only I had more time to pray!” This despite 6 hrs of daily prayer and most of all my waking hours spent in silence! The reality was that at Mass, at Divine Office, in meditation, I was seeking the presence of God for my own fulfillment, for my own peace and ease. Honestly sometimes I did not think I could pray the Canticle of the 3 young men one more freaking time. I determined the value of whatever manner or style of worship by how much benefit I could see myself getting from it. Of course I did not think of it in those terms. I said “this or that does not FEED me. This or that does not make me feel that connection with God.” Which was really just a nice cover up for the fact that I wanted to use prayer and use God. But God is no tool.

    This is something I have struggled with a lot this year — given that I’ve been feeling tired and in need of connection more than ever, and therefore not being happy at all to “waste” time and energy doing my “duty” instead of what I know I like. After all It’s important not to ignore my own inclinations or to just refuse everything I find spiritually delightful. But I know there also has to be that sacrifice, that “offering”, that sense of duty at the center … or else it just becomes a frustrating exercise in indulgence and I am restless again and again.

    so I don’t know what my point is really, ha. I guess its that if you find what your duty is in your relationship with God and then do that … that will give you a grounding in peace.

    • Thank you Betsy, I think this comment speaks much wisdom. I won’t even respond with words, I’ll just try and live it a little more with actions. I guess the sadness I’m feeling has a lot to do with the desire I have to trust God again.

  3. I agree with what Natalie said. In having a relationship with God, I often feel like I’m not close to Him. Every time I come to a deeper understanding in my faith, I am thrilled for the breakthrough, but I still desire more. I don’t know that there will ever be a point where I feel content with how close I feel to Him. I mean, there are times where I feel closer to God than others, but I have to remind myself that my faith does not depend on my feelings. It’s incredibly frustrating for me to go through those periods of not feeling close to God, because I feel like I’m doing something wrong or losing my faith, or that I’m not deserving of His love or grace. I was speaking to a friend the other day, and she said that those times of feeling farthest from God can actually result in the most growth because I’m not relying on what I’m feeling, I’m relying on what I believe, and persevering. I don’t know that I ever feel deserving of the blessings that God gives, because, really, do any of us deserve them? But that’s the beauty of God’s grace, that it does not depend on us. And I think we just have to try to live a life of gratitude for those blessings, because they are because of His amazing and awesome love.

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