Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Letter

Before I get to the subject of this post, I have to offer a thank you to Chevy Rose for the advice the other day when I was particularly down. Well, my bathroom only has a shower, so a bath is out; I'm out of tea, but even if I wasn't, I'm trying to cut back on caffeine (trying is the key word - I sometimes need it to stay awake at work...spreadsheets are boring!); and I have horrible writer's block. But I took a nap and then I felt better...or at least less tired.

The good news is that the year old, expired antibiotic ear drops are working, and I don't seem to be dying (though I did have a fever today). I can touch the side of my face without screaming in agony - I count that as a victory. If the nurses I work with knew what I was doing I would probably never hear the end of it. Of course, if the DEM (who is a nurse) would just hire me, pay me more than $9 an hour, and let me have benefits, it would be a moot point.

Not going to go there today.


If you've been reading my blog regularly, you know that a while back (too lazy to search and link) I said that I was going to send a letter to teh director of pastoral ministries at the church I worked for so that I could finally find closure. Well, I never sent it, and in fact thought I lost it until today. I was looking for a floppy today to save a couple writing samples to (for a job I'm applying for) and I came across the floppy I saved the letter on. I've decided to post it here, and let all of you tell me if I should send it or not. No names are included here, but they are in the letter.

Dear C,

I’ve been struggling with whether or not I should write this letter for some time now. I couldn’t decide if it would give me the freedom to move on or if it would be picking at wounds that are starting to scab over. If you are reading this, you know what decision I made.

I haven’t been able to leave behind my experiences there because I was really hurt by a lot that happened in my 18 months there. I have been hurt by things that have happened since I left. I expressed some of what I felt to Fr. B back in January, but I find that I have been holding a lot of anger toward and frustration with you, and I don’t think I can let it go without expressing it.

First let me say that the reason it has taken me so long to get to this point is because I am so conflicted over my feelings toward you. You have to know that at one point in time I respected you like I have respected few other women in the Catholic Church. I viewed you as intelligent, compassionate, and spirit-filled. I thought you were passionate about your work, and was impressed by your ability to achieve balance between work and home. I thought you were everything a professional lay minister in the 21st century Catholic Church should be.

As time went on, however, I saw another side of you. I saw someone who needed to be in control of everything you were even remotely involved in. I saw that even though you professed to care more about a person’s gifts and their, “piece of the wisdom,” you were far more impressed with a person if they had money, power, or influence. And I discovered that, because the adults I worked with had all three, I matted far less to you than they did.

I don’t even know if you are aware of your need to be in control and to have everything done your way. But I became aware of a pattern in my conversations with you. I would come to you with a problem, or an idea, or a suggestion, and you would subtly manipulate the conversation so that I ended up agreeing with whatever it was you wanted, whether I thought it was a good thing or not. How did that happen? Because I knew of your reputation and I respected it. That’s what makes me think you are not even consciously aware of what you are doing. I’ve seen it happen in staff meetings as well, and I am not the only person to make this observation. What makes it even worse is that your opinion (and occasionally MB’s or K’s) is the only one Fr. B pays any attention to.

Now, I want you to know that I think your longevity has earned you the right to have more weight placed on your opinions and ideas than on those of someone with less seniority. But C, you have to know that sometimes other people have good or even great ideas that differ from your own. Listen to them. Don’t dismiss what they have to say out of hand. Be aware of manipulating them to your ideas, and avoid doing it.

I really want to believe you are also unaware of the value you place on money, power, and influence. I want to believe that it’s just coincidence that you seem to pay attention primarily to people who give a lot of money to the parish, or who hold or have held powerful or influential positions in the parish or community. I want to think that it’s just because there are so many people in the parish who fit that description. But I have seen you dismiss people who don’t have as much money, or who don’t have powerful jobs, or who are unwilling to play the parish politics game. I myself have been victim of that.

Now, I don’t blame you solely for that. There is a prevailing attitude within the parish that unless you have money or, preferably, come from money, you have no value as a human being. You can argue against that all you want, and hold up the parish’s supposed charitable endeavors all you want, but the fact of the matter is that it is a very real problem.

Do you want some proof that money, power, and influence are all that matters? I came to you several times because of the problems I was having with PC last year. I told you about the fact that she bypassed my authority on several occasions, and that we just seemed to have a personality conflict that I couldn’t seem to get around. I was looking for advice since she managed to involve herself in every ministry that fell under me, and I felt like I couldn’t work with her effectively. I never got any real advice from you; the closest you came to making a suggestion was essentially telling me to grin and bear it because of the amount of influence she had. Now I see in the bulletin that she is coordinator for high school PSR. This woman, who once told me that I pray wrong, who told me that I was an inferior person because I was an “I” and a “P”, who tried to rally other adults against me, and who regularly humiliated me in front of not only other adults but young people as well is coordinating high school religious education. I have to tell you that I take that as a personal affront.

What I wrote about above was not just an isolated incident. I can’t tell you the number of times I was made to feel inferior, by both parishioners and staff. I may not have grown up with all the advantages all of you did. We never had money for vacations, or dances, or sororities, or whatever. Heck, there were times when things were so tight that we were on public assistance. But the fact of the matter is that it didn’t stop my parents from raising me well. They may not have been able to afford to send me on trips or to special programs, or to pay for sorority dues, or whatever, but they went out of their way to expose me to museums, and libraries, and other cultural experiences. They knew I had been blessed with intelligence and a gift for writing (I’m not bragging, just stating a fact), and they sacrificed to nurture it. Yet there were times when you (both you singularly and you collectively, as a parish and/or staff) made me feel like I didn’t posses the intelligence God gave gnats. I may not have the best organization skills in the world, and I may not have a type-A personality, but I know I have gifts and skills that I was never given the opportunity to use.

That’s really what has hurt most about this whole experience. Do you know that at one point during the time since I left there, I felt so worthless that…well…some pretty dark thoughts crossed my mind? No, of course you don’t, but I’ll write about that later. If it weren’t for my friends reminding me that I am a fantastic writer (this letter not withstanding – I’m too emotionally keyed up to pay attention to conventions of standard written English), a terrific teacher, and a person who has intrinsic value as a child of God, I don’t know where I would be. Those thoughts still cross my mind sometimes. This letter is one of the ways of exorcising those figurative demons.

I have to tell you that I am bothered about the way I was dismissed. I felt like a common criminal. Neither you nor MB even looked me in the eye that day, and NW stood over my shoulder watching everything I did like I was going to try to walk away with the computer system in my back pocket. I resent the fact that I was not allowed to return the following day to collect the things that belonged to me. Of the stuff you people dumped on my doorstep that day, only one small box actually belonged to me, and it did not include about six pairs of good scissors, several books, and a DVD and several CD’s that did. If I had been allowed to return to get my things the following day, when I was more composed, that would not have happened, and you would not have had the extra work.

I also have to tell you how hurt I am that no one from that place has ever called to see how I am doing, except for T. You know I have no family and a weak support system, the entirety of which is 1200 miles away. Did it not occur to you, then the DPM and now the pastoral associate, that I just needed someone to acknowledge me? Did you know I spent all of February sick? I had a staph infection that it turns out I was probably suffering from since the middle of November. I was on five different antibiotics simultaneously which left me constantly exhausted and nauseated and barely able to get out of bed. But of course you didn’t know that – or you didn’t care.

Here are some of the things I wrote in my journal when I hit the nadir of my depression:

The only thing this whole mess has succeeded in doing is making me realize just how incompetant and worthless I really am.

I never should have left Pittsburgh. I'd give anything to go back, but I can't. I don't have anyone there. I don't have anyone here. I'm all alone and I hate it and I can't do anything about it. It's just not fair.

I have no doubt that God exists. I have no doubt that He's up there (or whatever) listening. I just have trouble believing right now that He offers any guidance. That he speaks to us. He just lets us fumble our way along down here and we suffer for it.

I don't know.

I'm just so freaking sad.

I hate having to pretend to be happy and content when I'm not. And I hate having to pretend that I think the Catholic church is the be all and end all of churches everywhere. It may claim apostolic succession, but it is anything but the church the apostles founded.

I Hate Myself
I really do. I can't seem to be happy. I have an interview in Houston on Monday, but probably won't take the job because I can't afford to move. A friend offered me a way to get back to Pittsburgh, complete with a job, and I can't take it. I'm sad when people don't care about me, I'm sad when they do. I thought I had a good chance at an awesome job in Connecticut, but the guy hasn't gotten back to me since he asked me for my resume, references, and transcripts, so I probably put him off, too. Then, people profess to give a damn about me, but desert me when I need someone. There must be something wrong with me that makes people humiliate me, hate me, abandon me. I would fix it if I knew what it was.

God, I sound like a damn cliche.

I didn’t share these things with you to garner your sympathy. But you need to know how utterly alone I felt. Unlike you, and everyone else there, I have no family to lean on for support, which you know. All it would have taken to make me feel less like a waste of skin was a simple phone call. I may not have spoken for long, or at all, but sometimes it’s the sentiment that matters more than the action. After all, I am still a parishioner (at least in name). Isn’t it part of your job (or Fr. B’s job) to reach out to people who are hurting?

Thanks to a few good friends and some total strangers I have regained some of the confidence I lost at the hands of that place. I got the job I mentioned above, the one in Connecticut (I got the one in Houston too, but had to turn it down). I had to turn it down because the director had to withdraw his offer of housing and I couldn’t afford to move, but he went out of his way to find a way to get me up there to interview and he told me that I was far and away the best candidate he interviewed, and that he wants me to keep in contact because he may be opening another school next year and he wants me on staff if he does. I submitted a short story / first chapterof a novel (I enclosed it for your reading pleasure) to an online writer’s workshop, and it was rated to be of publishable quality by professional writers and editors. I am recovering despite you (singularly and collectively) and despite that place.

I want you to know that I’m not sure I still consider myself to be Catholic. It took me a long time to find my way back to a mass (at other churches – not there), and the ones I have attended have left me feeling tense, angry, and disaffected. Oh, I haven’t lost my faith in God, or my appreciation for ritual and sacrament, or my baptismal call. But I have been on the inside of the institutional church now. I have seen and experienced hypocracy, disregard for the inherent value of human beings, and selfishness. At the moment, I can’t separate my love of the Church from my dislike of the church (capitalization is intentional). I can’t bring myself to be a part of a church that at best ignores these things when they happen and at worst advocates them with its policy and structures.

Maybe someday that will happen. Maybe someday those scabs will scar over and I’ll be able to return to the Church I was baptized in, the Church I grew up in, the Church I once loved despite its flaws. But for now, I’m just seeking and searching, like so many others who have found the Catholic Church wanting in some regard.

Now, having said all this, I want to make sure that you know that I accept that most of the blame for my lack of success there lies with me in one way or another. If I were less laid back, or more assertive, or more refined, or more organized, or less quiet, etc, etc., I might still be there. But the fact of the matter is that you (and this time I do mean you singular) set everything on the wrong path by telling me to defer to R and the other adults when I first got there. I was never able to work with the leadership to establish a vision for youth ministry from the get-go. I couldn’t implement some of the programs I wanted to implement, and I couldn’t set myself up as a leader as a result. I see that it looks like you aren’t making that same error with S. On one level, I’m glad for his sake. He will have a hard enough time separating himself from the students as it is due to his age. But on the other hand, I resent that I wasn’t given the same chance, and I wonder if it is because I was an outsider – not from the parish, not from Baton Rouge, not from a natinally known college, not from money.

I want to close by saying that I didn’t write this letter to hurt you, although I may have succeeded in doing just that. In fact, if I get up the nerve to actually send it, I will probably regret it later. But I think I need to say these things and have someone there read them in order to gain a sense of closure on that phase of my life.

I don’t expect a response to this letter. If you want to, fine, if not, that’s fine, too. It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m writing it as a catharsis, and I’m only sending it because the significance wouldn’t be as great if I just let it sit on my hard drive.

Despite everything I have said here, I want you to know that bygones are now bygones. I will harbor no ill will toward you in the future. Holding a grudge isn’t worth the energy it requires. Now that I have said what needs to be said I can let it go.

C, I truly wish you all the best in your changing position. I hope that you can provide the kind of compassionate, competent leadership I saw in you when I first arrived. I hope you have learned from the mistakes that were made during my tenure there and that you are able to mentor S more effectively than you did me. And I hope that you find a sense of peace within yourself.

I will be praying for you.


So, there you have it. Of course, I'd have to change the end part and tell her about the Lutheran Church I've been going to and why, but that's minor.

Should I send it, or should I settle for a private catharsis?

1 comment:

Chevy Rose said...

Don't send it. Reason? Because it will be putting yourself under this person's power once more. And for what? So she can show it to others, to reaffirm her apparent opinion of you by telling her how much you suffered? Do you really think she will phone and said she was wrong?
It will be you who will make the final decision, but remember this, YOU first must be your own best friend, and listen to what she (you)advises. She won't tell you to do something just for revenge, or for sympathy. She'll tell you to do what is in the best interest of you, her best friend.
I read a book titled, "Women are Winners", maybe you could get it from the library to read. It helped me clear up a lot of eye-stabbing (scab-picking)I've done at times.
Please post your decision when you decide what to do. And glad to hear the ear infection is better.