artful cussing

i cultivated my cussing on the playground basketball court.

inside the classrooms at st paul school, we learned about the good things we ought to do. but on their outdoor basketball court during recess and after school in the 70s, there was a more organic education–cussing. the older kids were the teachers. salty language was common playing hoops.

when i got frustrated on the playground, an expletive would fly. a missed shot, a turnover, when the kid i was guarding scored on me. these were all occasions to let loose my tongue.

bad language to this day does not bother me. in fact, i admire one who can drop a well place expletive when it fits the occasion. over the decades, i have learned to suppress cussing when frustrations occur. i became somewhat civilized. people should not hear bad words– especially from a priest’s mouth. clerical cussing is scandalous.

at home now as my mother’s son, i cuss regularly.

i have cussed more in these past four years since returning to seattle than my vowed years as a claretian missionary. i took my vows in 1990. i am not proud to say that my reactive language could make a sailor blush.

i am still in “reactive mode” while taking care of my mother. when i get frustrated, i cuss. these are situations that happen, that i cannot control or i think should not be happening. yes, i know about the fifth commandment of honoring father and mother…

yesterday was a cussing day for me.

at times, my mother gets it in her mind that we have to go somewhere. i am not sure where– i don’t think she really knows either, but feeling is real for her. when i try to explain that we do not have to go anywhere, it falls on deaf ears. so my mom incessantly pleads, “we have to go, we haven to go, we have to go.” all in ilocano– her native dialect.

then it ramps up. i try to ignore her imploring. but then mom’s supplications change to begging. and then the begging is amplified with a whining tone.

then, i react. my frustration hits the boiling point. i cuss

expletives flow from my lips. i am ashamed that my own mother is the object of my filthy mouth. after the fact, i realize that my fiery, angry eyes accompanied the harsh words. it is too late, the reaction cannot be erased.

i am thankful that my mother is not really listening to my words– she is still pleading her case. but i know that my hurtful gaze is a clear message of my anger and frustration. this does not escape her.

when i cool off and realize my sin, my heart sinks. how many countless times have i tried to react differently? why do i get so irrationally emotional? why can’t i control my angry words and glaring?

i want my mother to hear my logical explanations and understand. but she can’t. her mind is in a different place than before her stroke. but i cannot remember or accept it in the heat of the moment. my negative reactions are proof. my frustrations are not her fault. my frustrations and anger are my own.

in writing this admission, i taste my contrition. in tasting my contrition, i hate this part of my being.

when i confront my sinfulness in prayer, i remember the words from luke 18: 13

“the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'”

i am learning about God’s mercy in new ways through my mother. lessons in humility are thrust upon me in my sinfulness. is God’s healing grace really enough to carry me through this?

on the basketball court, the game ends; my frustrations are left there. today, i wake up in the same situation, within the same four walls. will i react differently or do i just bring my old self to the new frustrating situations before me?

as we had just celebrated pentecost, i ask myself, “do i really act in accord to the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding and right judgment?”

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