Thursday was an good day, to say the least.
Yeah, I know, I’m doing that blogging thing again where I don’t get to an explicitly cultural or political message until the end. Perhaps when my work is published the critics will lambast me for writing like one of those recipe blog websites where I don’t get to the point until the end. I promise to keep it short.
But the story is a nice one, and that’s why we’re here at Prudent Observations, isn’t it? To take a look at the world, and even in our day-to-day find reasons to carry on and learn how to look past the dire straits modernity puts us in. Today I hope that these little tales help us all keep going a little further. I wanted to talk about community, especially that high trust sense of community that many of us these days don’t have the pleasure of enjoying, or enjoy it in some form or fashion like one enjoyed samizdat back in the USSR. I kid, but ever so lightly.
Recently at my parish I’ve taken the time to befriend one of the older women there, she’s taken me under her wing as a catechumen, and I’m quite blessed to have her in my life. We relate in a lot of ways because of our own ongoing medical struggles, plus we used to live in the same part of the country for some time, herself in New Mexico and myself in El Paso, Texas. Our tolerance for spicy food is much higher than our lily white parish to say the least. However, my good friend is a cancer patient. Incredibly petite as she fights off what’s she’s going through. Out of respect for her and of course my life here online as The Prudentialist, her name and her type of cancer will be respectfully omitted.
Given my time in between jobs (this job market has not been good to me) she has been kind enough to instruct me in the prayers and process of writing icons. She is an amazing Iconographer, and her training and the stories of her mentors is a world in and of itself that astounds me in her decades of experience. Recently she asked me if I could take her down to the hospital (the same one coincidentally I go to) for her oncologist appointment. And so that Thursday, we embarked. The lack of traffic didn’t mean there was a lack of idiots as we got closer to the city. However the drive was a real benefit to the fact that we had a chance to talk one on one outside of Church or my instructional time with her as a student. Learning more about our lives, some of my personal details, (along with a vague explanation of how I do all this as a side job,) and just understanding the world that we live in and how we came to the Church.
When we had first started talking there was that sort of mutual “we’ll we can relate to medical stuff let’s see how it goes from there” type of deal of finding things in common to talk about. Of course it wasn’t until this trip that I had the full extent of her situation. I had always assumed, and still operation on the assumption that she’s going to beat this and be fine in the end. After all this isn’t her first battle with cancer, and it was her first that had moved her path at first to the Roman Catholic Church, and later eventually Orthodoxy. Which again, a way that we had certainly connected starting off, my own kidney failure and transplant had brought me back to Christ.
But as we drove down it felt good to have a friend, more importantly someone well lived, (she’s 40 years older than me) and in this time both during the drive to and from it was a good to hear worldly advice that was much more grounded than in the day to day of online activity or even at home. Not that I don’t reject what my folks say to me or anything like that, but soaking up as much wisdom as you can from your elders still holds truth today. It’s lindy like that. I had gotten to know more of the behind the scenes of our parish life, her family life, and how our taste for Mexican food is a little more authentic much to our humorous observations. I had told her a little bit about my love life, the person who I used to be, and life that I’d like to live now as a different man.
If I’m making a big deal out of something that was once commonplace, that probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark. For many men under thirty, community isn’t something that’s readily available to them as I had mentioned before. I had also moved Christmas Day, 2019, had gotten settled into a job in February of 2020, then Covid, then kidney failure, and transplant a year later in 2021. This year is finally when I get the chance to really build something other than just a digital presence. Perhaps that is why I’ve been going off on this personal crusade against digital deracination so much is that I know first hand what it looks like. Although living in small town America surely keeps me grounded I know that is a luxury not everyone else has.
Yet as we got there, we waited in the Oncology wing of the hospital for a considerable length of time. Even then I was shown her original Orthodox parish back in New Mexico, the beauty of its iconography, and her dreams before she passes on to do the Iconostasis of a church, as one of her friends and fellow Iconographers was the first woman to do so. Whatever your take on that may be, understand the prayer and deepening of one’s relationship to God that comes with that process. But at that point it was one of those odd moments in the air where one can tell “this is the passive moment where one talks about what they want to do before they go.” And it certainly was that moment.
I had waited a considerable bit of time while she was at the oncologist, picked up my medication, scrolled through twitter, the usual bits of what you do when you’re on your own waiting for somebody. Thankfully the drive back was met with some optimism. She’s got her surgery planned for next month, and she feels she’s going to get more time than what was originally explained to her. It was at that moment where you encounter your mortality again, something that I had felt before, but as a younger man where I felt that there wasn’t a finality to it even if I did come very close a few times. As I said before, my youthful veil of invincibility was my shield in that regard. But hearing it from someone much older than you, who had came to the logical conclusion about how many lose themselves after retirement, or get so old that their mind just fades, she’s okay with five to ten more years of good life before things go bad.
It was strange how calm she was, steadfast in her faith and knowing that whatever happens next that’ll be it for her and that her race will have been finished and faith kept. We had gotten a late lunch at Chuy’s, listening to her stories traveling to Europe back in the 80s and the food she always orders off the menu. She was celebratory, drinking some kind of margarita as I sat there eating chips and drinking water. We drove home shortly after, dealing with that after-work rush hour traffic.
I dropped her off, with just a simple “I’ll see you this Sunday” as our goodbyes. I don’t know if she knows what a profound impact that whole trip had on me, but I guess that’s why I write it here. We don’t appreciate the connections we have in our communities, especially the religious ones so many tend to advocate for. For those of who do it is important to maximize the utility of them and deepen your bonds, even if your parish or congregation is a bit scattered geographically. This applies outside of religious communities as well. Whether working on “Based Hostels” or just plain old basketweaving (a meeting of the likeminded irl) it is important to facilitate bonds and to provide mentorship and life experience to those who can help the next generation.
One of the things that has recently stuck out to me is that I’m nearing thirty, I can see it getting very close nowadays, and now I find myself awestruck that people want to ask me for advice. I suppose I can tell you a lot of the “what not to do” compared to the “what to do” there’s always Stephen for that. Yet I wanted to share this tale to discuss the importance of our inter-generational communication and try and reshape beyond “fuck boomers” and “The kids are not alright.” To some extent yeah, you can get away with both of those statements because there is a nugget of truth behind the reasons for saying those phrases. Yet at the end of the day there is still plenty to learn from one another, especially in these disparate, struggling communities who oppose what’s happening right before our eyes.
These things were vital for the past, still matter today, and will continue to be vital in the future. The cheesy “your network is your net-worth” is true in ways beyond means of capital. Your network is also good for the soul, and good for the mind in the ways in which you can learn from others.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
Pray that she has many years to come.
Until next time.