i remember when i was newly ordained and assigned to live and minister in san marcos, texas. in retrospect, it was like moving to another country. the claretian community with whom i lived was amiable and supportive. the ministry at the university was new for me and challenging as well– perfect for my 32 year old self.
after several months, our provincial at the time, ralph berg, visited our claretian community. in my one-on-one conversation with him i remember blurting out, “it’s so hard to make friends here.” in this new place, i was only seen as father art; i wanted to be seen as just art gramaje to those i wanted to befriend. ralph helped me see the dynamic that was changing in me: my public self as a claretian priest and the personal life as arthur gramaje as i understood myself. at the risk of compartmentalization, these are really just two aspects of the one person– me. but i had to grow in understanding how others see me and the changes in relationships that would necessarily be a part of my commitment as a public figure.
i am still trying to figure out the nuances of this dynamic to this very day! celibate loneliness differs from marital and singles’ loneliness.
in this dynamic, like all of us, i continue to learn relationally about personal loneliness, friendship and faith. the one thing that i do know: loneliness changes over time at different points in my life.
these are all part of the great question: who am i? this quest is intimately related to the question; who is God? our responses to these primal questions are unpacked little by little through experience. ultimately, i am a mystery unto myself– how much more mysterious is God?
so, just when i think i have a good harmony between my public and personal life– i need to move back to seattle to help my mother. my identity has shifted–for the vast majority of the week, i am just my mother’s adult son. i am still trying to adjust to my mom being like a three year old who kind of knows who i am but rarely remembers my name. time with her is both mind-numbingly mundane and highly emotional.
and since moving back to my hometown and renewing old friendships, there are more people in my life who primarily know me as art gramaje. this new seattle chapter has been good for me in my personal friendships. and since i do not have to live in the public life in ministry so often, change continues.
in our society, social media plays into the public-private dynamic and has forever altered how we relate with one another and ourselves. it can be a tool for good such as connecting with those who are far away. but it can also negatively change how we see ourselves. comparing our lives to others will inevitably creep into the equation. often, we can define ourselves by how we see the lives of others. self absorption can flourish when we allow technology to define us. it can all lead to a tainted self image as well as loneliness.
i recently read an article about japanese culture and a grow industry there: rent-a-friend. because of a variety of factors, the japanese struggle in social relationships. for personal, familial, and social reasons, they will pay others to do the things a good friend would naturally do– listen, hang out, grab lunch. a big part of it is: how do i look to others. the author of the article rented “friends” three times to understand this phenomenon.
when asked why there’s such a demand for renting a friend exists in japan, one response was, “Why? Because this is all a lie…There’s a real me and a masked me. We have a word for the lonely gap in between that: kodoku.” and finally, “Harmony and helping each other was the national spirit. Now we’ve got selfishness instead. Not even people looking out for their own families, just themselves.”
cultural expectations plus uber-technological influences equals a lot of lonely people which changes their society greatly.
in the metropolitan areas in the usa, perhaps a lot of money can be made with renting out friendship. businesses respond to the needs of the people. it seems to me that loneliness is growing here too; people will pay good money to alleviate loneliness or to look good to others.
who am i? who are we? where is God?
let us pray:
Lord, you have probed me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I stand. You understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know the whole of it. Behind me and before, you hem me in and rest your hand upon me.… You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know Psalm 139 1-5; 13-14
What a conundrum this would be!
This is another example of how wonderful Fr. Ralph Berg is.
He has been a bug blessing to our Legion of Mary and the home bound members of our parish and community.
This new chapter you are currently living with your mama has to be difficult.
We stayed with her in her home for 6 months before she passed . She was adamant about not leaving her home.
She did not have dementia, she had lymphoma she refused to seek medical treatment for and it eventually went to her brain. For her several last weeks on this earth she called me mom.
It’s was difficult to deal with and odd cuz my sister lives across the street and we took turns caring for her. She never called her Mom.
I guess we are always changing, evolving into just a little different version of yesterday.
Hugs to you and your seeet mama.
I will never forget my first co cession with Fr. Ralph.
His final words to me were
Please always remember Jesus loves you!
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becca– thanks so much for your words and your understanding. it brought a tear to me eye as i read it all
peace through mary’s heart to you, your family and all in your wonderful ministry
Boy did I have fat thumbs typing that 😜.
Have a beautiful day!