Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

August 10, 2009

The Ring of Fire

I told him I wanted to take things slow; he told me he loved me. I stayed silent, pulled away. He pressed me again, saying "I love you," and I only responded, "Yes. I heard you." That obviously wasn't the answer he wanted, so we turned, and continued walking up the dark silent street.

I was confused, excited, flattered, but I don't think I was in love yet. I wasn't even sure what "I love you" really meant--though maybe that was part of my problem. I over-thought rather than felt. I certainly loved being with him; kissing him; wandering and adventuring with him. He was new, different, older, but still silly, light, and carefree. He wore hats, liked Dickens and Johnny Cash, and seemed to know everything about our city. And, he saw something in me he liked. Or "loved," apparently.

But I remember that night very clearly, because, as we walked towards the park, I started to tell him about the mosaics in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, in Ravenna, Italy. We had studied that building in class earlier that day, and it stirred something deep inside me, a passion I wanted desperately to share:
The building was plain brick on the outside, with very few windows. An unremarkable building, except of course for the fact that it was built in 430 AD, and is still standing, it reminded me of old train stations in gritty Pennsylvania towns. But it was like a jewel box inside—covered with the most brilliant shining mosaics. One showed St. Lawrence and his grill, another showed the good shepherd. And the colors! Oh, dear, they were so beautiful. It took my breath away: bright blue, shimmering gold, soft whites, and dangerous reds and oranges. . . I was thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful to study art history? Every painting is a new story, a new life, a new beauty. And I could spend my life studying them—wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I am sad to say, he only scoffed. I can’t remember what he said, but he thought the idea was foolish, a waste, no more than a silly dream of a school girl who had no sense of reality or familial, worldly burdens. I think he even thought it was a waste intellectually. I was crestfallen, dropped the subject, and we continued walking. But for the nine months of our relationship I didn’t let myself consider a future in the arts, and by the time we broke up, and I got over it all, I was on a very different path.

The fact is, I was a silly school girl--but my innocence and my ideals certainly didn’t need to be squashed. Now it has been a long time since I dated him; years since I have seen him. And I am older, wiser, more prudent. I can remember the fire--fire is the usual word for it, though I don’t think it is apt--that made me smother some of my dreams for the sake of the ones we built together. But none of those dreams came to pass; and now my older wiser self looks as that “fire” and rejects it. I remember being moved; I remember passion and thrill and excitement; but I don’t understand it.

At the center of all this stands St. Lawrence, who's feast day is today. A deacon and martyr of the Early Church (he died in 258 AD), he was burnt alive on a grid-iron. He is a favorite of school-kids, since he (apocryphally?) said as he was roasting away, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” He is the patron of firefighters, naturally, and of cooks, deacons, and comedians. (He is also a patron of librarians and archivists, because he was the “keeper of the treasures of the church” while Christianity was outlawed in Rome in his lifetime.) To me, he will always represents the real fire of love: an all consuming passion for Our Lord that drives us to do any number of rash and foolish things, like laughing in the face of death, and finally, giving up our lives for another. Is it possible to have that sort of love for another human being? Is it even good?

He told me he loved me; eventually I told him the same. We were sincere; we were naive; we were honest. But I don’t think either of us really knew what "love" meant.

(All photos of the Mausoleum from Wikipedia or Sacred Destinations.)


Julian said...

I do think that it is good for us to love another human being with that passion. Ultimately, that person is Christ, in Himself and in His Body of believers. Naturally, the virtue of prudence and the use of reason should be used with our passions! :)

I think that you still have a love of art and all that is beautiful, and you exercise it in such a unique way. What a shame for that young man to scoff. In many ways, he doesn't know what he lost!

Edith Magdalene said...

This is a beautiful post....An amazing reflection. It left me thinking "Wow, does Agatha just know how to use words to express the un-expressible!" I second Julian -- shame on him for scoffing, because he did not understand your beauty which the beauty of Christ in you!

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