The Difference Ten Years Makes

I’m so happy to be home for Thanksgiving break, but today was a bittersweet day in my house. This morning, my family — one grandma, two parents, two aunts, an uncle, two cousins, one me — piled into our minivans and arrived at Mass uncharacteristically early (9:17 for a 9:30 service!) at my grandparents’ church. No, this is not our usual Sunday routine.

Today was the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It also marked ten years since the death of my grandfather.

Perhaps it’s because I’m only 21, or because the aforementioned decade spanned all my hormonal and formative teenage years, but ten years seems like a lifetime ago. As I stood by Grandpa’s gravesite after Mass this morning, I remembered the day of his funeral. I could not convince myself that the little girl of twelve who placed a rose on a black coffin carefully for fear of falling into the gaping hole in the ground was me, had been me. I feel like I don’t know that girl anymore.

Ten years never seems like a long time. It’s a drop in the world history ocean, and when older adults talk about how they’ve been at this job or lived in this place for ten years, our limited human understanding compresses that time into a more digestible span of six months or a year at most. I’m writing this post at midnight, so I could possibly dive into a long-winded theory about how technology and the hyper-connectivity of the world have altered our perception of time, but I’m not going to.

In an attempt to grasp the change that can occur over the span of a decade, I’ve listed a noteworthy event from each year of the past decade of my life. It has been…

Ten years since my grandpa died only a few days before Thanksgiving. Before going up to bed, I called to his hospital bed in the living room, “Goodnight, Grandpa. I love you!” The next morning, he was gone.

Nine years since my parents tore down the tiny two-bedroom ranch house I grew up in and built our current house on the same property. We moved back in after living with my grandparents for ten months. When we first moved in, everything was cold and whitewashed, and I didn’t know if I could ever call that house “home.”

Eight years since my town built a new middle school and I had to leave all my friends behind for eighth grade. It was awful, but least we had our eighth-grade dances on the same night. J

Seven years since I had my first boyfriend for a grand total of three weeks.

Six years since I had the best freshman year of high school. I reunited with my old friends, made some new ones, and had a few teachers who were so inspiring that I go back and visit them to this day.

Five years since I made my NYC theatrical debut … in a tiny theatre tucked into a corner of Greenwich Village.

Four years since I attended an intensive acting conservatory for high school students for the month of July. It was a crazy thrill ride, but I ultimately decided that I wasn’t called to be an actor.

Three years since my disheartening senior year was infinitely brightened with the arrival of an acceptance letter to my beloved college. Sadly, it was not to Hogwarts.

Two years since I became heavily involved in my college’s Catholic community, where I found my second family — my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And in exactly one month and fifteen days, it will be one year since I arrived at the Orly Airport in Paris, loaded down with two huge suitcases and a fever, made the two-hour train ride to Nantes, and met my adored French host family for the first time.

It’s amazing what ten years can do.

Grandpa, I know you’re up in Heaven, and I hope you’re proud of me. Thank you for watching over me. I love you.

À plus!

Vicky

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Loving Regina George

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(Photo credit to shame-full.com)

I’M BAAAACK!!! (in the States, that is.)

Don’t get me wrong; I loved my life in France. But one of the things I missed the most about America was my college’s Catholic community. I was reminded of how much I missed it three weeks ago during our Fall Retreat. Our theme for the weekend was community: what it is, how we could strengthen our bonds of community at our school, and how we could bring that same spirit of community to the rest of the world.

One of the most poignant and challenging talks of the weekend came from one of our new campus ministers. He talked about community through the lens of Jean Vanier’s book “Community and Growth.” Vanier is a Canadian Catholic theologian who founded L’Arche, a community for adults with developmental disabilities that has offshoots all over the world. One part of the book discusses enemies, or people we don’t like for one reason or another. How can we love them as God loves us? Vanier says that in order to build community throughout the world, we have to recognize that every single person has flaws and virtues alike.

During that section, one scene from Mean Girls played through my head. Cady (Lindsay Lohan) demands of Aaron Samuels what good he sees in his girlfriend, queen bee Regina George (Rachael McAdams). Aaron retorts with, “There’s good and bad in everybody. Regina’s just more up front about it.”

I think everyone can name one or two people in their lives who were their own Regina Georges — people who were just so mean and nasty that you couldn’t help but hate them. After our campus minister finished his talk, I realized how much of a grudge I still held for my own Regina Georges, even though hadn’t seen them since high school! I still associated anger, pain and malice with their memories because I had never found a constructive outlet through which I could express my feelings (and no, I’m not talking about hitting them over the head with a croquet mallet.) Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I hate confrontation. I just can’t do it. Even though these few individuals in high school were mean to me and to others, I could never bring myself to tell it to their faces. So I turned to God.

When I got back to my room that night, I wrote in my journal: “10 Things I Admire About ________” I made myself list 10 different things for each person. It was hard! I had to let go of my prejudices and see these people for who they really were: flawed human beings, yet beloved children of God. To each list, I added a bonus #11: “He/She is my brother/sister in Christ, therefore I should love them accordingly.” As soon as I finished, a wave of relief washed over me, as if my heart had just dropped a heavy burden that it had been carrying for many years. Jesus calls us to forgive one another, every single time, every single day. Believe me when I say forgiveness doesn’t just heal the person you forgive; it heals you, the forgiver.

Vanier also suggests that our enemies are a reflection of our own flaws: “Their presence seems to awaken our own poverty, guilt feelings and inner wounds; it seems menacing and brings out in us either aggression or a sort of fear and servile regression…Others bring out our envy and jealousy; they are everything we wish we were ourselves. Their presence reminds us of what we are not; their radiance and their intelligence underline our own poverty.”

When I looked over the lists I had made, the one trait that dominated them was confidence. These people knew their worth, and would walk into a room with their heads held high, talking to anyone and everyone with no trouble at all. These are traits that I don’t have. Therefore, I saw their confidence as arrogance and ridiculed them, thinking “I’m better than them because I tear myself down daily, become a wallflower at parties, and tell myself I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, etc.” That is a false sense of modesty. True modesty says “I am beautifully and wonderfully made, but not more or less so than anyone else in the world.”

So if you’re butting heads with your own Regina George, try making a list of his or her most admirable qualities. If you prefer, you can change #11 to: “This person is a human being, with both flaws and virtues. Therefore, I should treat them with the same amount of respect and love that I would show the person I love the most.” Even if it doesn’t change this person’s attitude toward you, it will change the way you act and think about them, and the world will be a little more peaceful for it. Remember, we are all human, and God loves us all.

À bientôt!

Vicky