Sunday Sermon

This past Sunday was the third of the month; in my parish, that means the deacon, rather than the priest, speaks the Homily. For anyone who doesn’t know, in a Catholic mass the Homily occurs after the three Bible readings. In the Homily, the priest or deacon tries to explain or add insight to what we had just heard. Usually, I don’t particularly like when the deacon at our church does the Homily. He’s not terrible, he just utilizes the same writing technique every time, which, as a writer, tends to get on my nerves.

However, this Sunday was different. Saturday night I randomly woke up and felt empty inside. “There is no God,” I thought to myself, not sure where this sentiment came from but believing it nonetheless. The next morning I didn’t feel as faithless, but could not fully trust in my religion, even though I still prayed and sung throughout the Mass.

As the deacon performed the Homily, my mind drifted between listening intently to what he had to say and wondering whether I should apply for that campus job. Fortunately, I tuned in to hear a beautiful comment  from our deacon.

“We seem to focus so much on who we think should be saved. Instead, let’s focus on strengthening our own faith.”

This is a really important idea for Catholics and other Christians to hear in a world where people march against gays and abortion or condemn the use of birth control. Sometimes we spend so much energy, resources and time attempting to persuade others to do “the right thing” when we could be improving our own religious dedication through prayer, service and love. I literally smiled in church, relieved to hear this statement after hearing our priests discuss the evils within our modern society every so often and how we must be the metaphorical light of the world.

Furthermore, this is an attitude someone of any race, gender, nationality, age, and yes, even religion, could adopt. Changing others is difficult, especially when dealing with a) those who do not wish to change, or b) opinions rather than fact. This does not mean abandoning our own beliefs and submitting to someone else’s views. Rather, we should concentrate on enhancing our way of life instead of attempting to change others, because no one can claim they live a perfect lifestyle.

This wasn’t the end of #quotableChurchmoments. During another part of the mass, a lector reads a list of intentions, or things we want to pray for. After each intention, we all say “Lord, hear our prayer”. This was one of the best intentions I have ever heard:

“We pray for all those who are searching for God, that they may be enlightened so that their natural goodness will shine through”. 

Anyone who has studied Classicalism and Romanticism knows most religious institutions, especially the Catholic church, follow many classical beliefs, including the idea people are born evil and must be taught to be good. Contrariwise, this prayer recognizes people are children of God and therefore naturally good creatures. Beautiful.

Though these experiences have not reinstated my faith to its full health, this Sunday sermon made me hopeful for alterations in the attitude of the world and hopeful for my own future. As I look forward to college with excitement, anxiety, and some fear, I know this will be a time of change and self evaluation, of figuring out who I am and what I want. Through my own natural goodness, I can strengthen my faith and achieve my full potential in whatever I’m supposed to do on this earth.

*Note-all comments are paraphrased.

Salutatorian Speech

Just thought I’d share the speech I made almost a month ago [insert gasp here] when I graduated from high school. I decided my theme should be “Time”, since I have had such difficulty with nostalgia, growing up, and preparing for the future. And yes, I did reference Mean Girls and quote Doctor Who.

“Good evening parents, teachers, board of education members, siblings who are wondering why they have to sit out here just for that ten seconds during which their brother or sister get their diploma, and, most importantly, the Class of 2014. Graduation seems to always focus on two things: the past and the future. This fall the Science League participated in the Ocean Science Bowl at Rutgers, and we decided to commemorate this experience by buying a fish for Mr. T’s classroom. We named it Fetch, both because this is a type of wind pattern which causes waves, and because of the movie Mean Girls. So, Class of 2014, you’re welcome, we made fetch happen. All of us, no matter what we have been involved with, have these inside jokes and special experiences with those we are close to. Though I cannot name all of these, because they are your own individual experiences, I really hope these are the things you remember about high school.

As a wonderful friend reminded me while I was writing this speech, graduation is not about perfection; we’ve already passed all our classes and possibly trashed old papers. We’re done. Graduation is about honoring us. Let’s honor our high school adventures and the teachers who have enriched our lives. Sorry Ms. F, there are no Shakespeare quotes in this speech. Let’s celebrate each other. Though I am honored to be your salutatorian, there are so many of you out there who are just as or more qualified to speak to our class. You are experts in political science, chemistry, or theatre. You are incredible dancers and athletes. If you are artistically inclined, I envy you, because five year olds have been disgusted with my drawing skills.

Finally, we look towards the future. Elton Pope, an obscure character in a TV show called Doctor Who, states, “When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much madder. And so much better.” Some people say our high school years are the best years of our lives, but I challenge you to get better and better each year. As we look forward to our futures, I challenge each of you to depart from the norm and create your own strange, mad, better world.

My final advice to all of you is to take time. Take time to figure yourselves out, to realize what it is you want. Go out, live, take risks, make mistakes, come back to square one, try again. Fail as much as you possibly can. Take time to be open to new ideas, and to love and be loved. Take your time growing up, and don’t forget to be a little immature and rowdy every now and then. Congratulations Class of 2014, and good luck, though I know you will not need it.”

8 Reasons I Fell In Love With “The Fault in Our Stars”

(Sort-of spoilers ahead, specifically in #3, 5 and 7. If you haven’t read the book yet, you should be able to read the other numbers or at least the bolded sections. Maybe writing this in depth list isn’t so helpful to people looking for a good book to read if it spoils parts of the novel…oh well.)

Yesterday I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which has got to be one of the greatest modern novels composed, for the following reasons (in a somewhat but not really particular order).

1) Allusions and Symbolism. Lots and lots of allusions. Being a former AP English Lit student, I was able to identify them many of them as the meaning each work brought to the novel. Allusions include “The Red Wheelbarrow”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and of course, Shakespeare. The title of the novel comes from a line in Julius Caesar, in which Caesar says, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves” (Shakespeare 1.2.140-141). Furthermore, there is a smorgasbord of symbols, particularly representations through the characters. There is a ton of water (rebirth, cleansing) symbolism (for example,  Augustus’s last name is Waters and they (Hazel and Gus) travel to Amsterdam, a city famous for its canals).

2) Writing Style. I’m usually a fan of the classical, lots-of-fancy-language-and-run-on-sentences style of writing, but the ideas surrounding the novel are so strong John Green does not need to be “fancy”. Moreover, it just makes more sense the writing style is more relaxed, considering a teenager is the narrator. It includes some script-like conversation between characters (Example: Me: Hi Mom. Mom: Hi there), which I really enjoyed for some inexplicable reason.

3) Themes. There are a multitude of important concepts covered in the novel, the most important being the struggle for immorality and two ultimate life questions: Will I be loved? Will I be remembered?

The novel emphasizes the way even a novel cannot immortalize an individual. For example, John Green states, “Nothing (at least that can be done by humans) immortalizes anyone. The Fault in Our Stars will hopefully have a long and wonderful life, but it will eventually go out of print, and eventually the last person ever to read it will die, and then the characters will no longer live in any consciousness” (The Fault in Our Stars Q and A 5-6).

So that might seem depressing, especially to someone like myself who adores the possibility of immortality promised in writing. However, Green goes on to explain, “Also, that is okay…What Gus in particular must reconcile himself to is that being temporary does not mean being unimportant or meaningless” (TFIOS Q and A 6). Even though one is mortal, the here-and-now of life is just as important as it would be if our lives were remembered forever. Essentially, the novel suggests the meaning of life is to continue to lead significant lives notwithstanding our own mortality.

The novel also describes the struggle of those like Hazel who attempt to refrain from becoming a “grenade”, harming their loved ones with their departure (specifically death). John Green demonstrates through Hazel and Gus’s relationship hurting one’s loved ones, simply by being loved, is okay. As Gus writes, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you” (TFIOS 313).

4) Characters who also love literature, metaphors, and using big words. These are people I can relate to! Not only do these characters make reading more personable (to me at least), it allows John Green to include important literary allusions flawlessly (see #1) in the novel.

5) “Okay”. Isaac and his girlfriend say “Always” to each other as a sugary, romantic way of saying “I will love you forever”. “Okay” becomes Hazel and Gus’s “Always”, which is not a promise of a forever but of real, substantial love. Sort of the kind of thing I find attractive in a relationship (not overly romantic).

6) Realism. Many of the other components of this list could fit into this category, such as writing style and theme, but I wanted to point out just how real this book feels. Its characters and the interactions between them seem pretty legitimate to me. The novel addresses realistic ideals, including the impossibility of human immortality.

7) The novel does not portray cancer patients as overly cheerful, strong, wonderful people, or the dead as virtuous and venerable. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mommom, who passed away this year. But she had many, many flaws. Cancer patients, stereotypically depicted as heroic survives, can be these astounding, angelic individuals. But they are still real people, who experience anger, misjudgments, and, well, all of the normal human emotions. All of the cancer patients in this novel-Hazel, Gus, Isaac and Caroline Mathers-are complex characters with good and bad qualities.  Additionally, when Isaac and Hazel write their eulogies for Gus’s funeral, though they opt for a more sentimental speech at his actual funeral, they poke fun at his life and his shortcomings. Green does not “sentimentalize or romanticize anything in the book” and combats the oversimplification that “suffering is heroic, and that cancer suffering in particular strengthens you and makes you better” (TFIOS Q and A, pg 23).

8) I read this novel at a perfect time in my life. The past year, more specifically the last month, of my life has been encompassed by the question of the meaning of life. More importantly, what is it that I want from my own life? While I was reading the novel, especially in the beginning, I was shocked by the reality of my own mortality, and, in short, would not accept it. As I began to realize I was “temporary”, I spiraled into more depression. I would channel my inner Augustus Waters and ask myself, what is the point if no one will remember us?  After finishing the novel, I have been satisfied with a somewhat answer. Indeed, there is a point in living fully even though we are only mortal. I have yet to discern the specifics of the meaning of my own life, but will and must continue to hope living is truly worthwhile.

I am so excited to see the movie when it is released in theaters, and am very pleased to have enjoyed the “small infinity” contained in this novel.

I Am Invisible

Yesterday my AP English class finished reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (named after Ralph Waldo Emerson).

[Insert happy spaz attack here].

Though I started the novel pessimistic, because it seemed to me just a book about racism, as the plot progressed and the narrator learned more about himself and began to rant more and actually think about things, it was phenomenal. I completely stand by my teacher’s opinion of the book, that every high school senior should read Invisible Man. The discussion of personal identity and invisibility is important for any adolescent about to embark into the “real world”.

That last sentence of the Epilogue…I read it, read it again, and then said (out loud), “…well damn.” No spoilers in this post so I will not display the last sentence-just go read the book!

Invisible Man, because of the deep ideological issues it presents, has forced me to evaluate my own invisibility. And,  to some extent, I am invisible.

In my school, I know of quite a few people, many of which who do not personally know me. I have observed on numerous occasions that, if I sneeze in class, no one will utter the obligatory “God bless you” or whatever. Then, a few minutes later, someone else will sneeze and at least five people bless them. The only exception to this is in AP English-we only have ten students in that class, all girls, and we’re sort of like a little family.

I often will add a comment to a conversation I am having with a few people, and no one will respond to my statement or question or even acknowledge I said anything with eye contact or a small laugh or nod. This not only happens with acquaintances and semi-friends, but my own family, other than my little sister, who is a blessing to me.

In Invisible Man, the narrator, whom we called “E” because one of my teacher’s previous classes adamantly believed Invisible Man was a sort of autobiography for Ellison, believes he is invisible because white society refuses to see him. Does society refuse to see me?

I might not be so invisible after all (or maybe I’m just disillusioning myself like E). On a smaller scale, I have been recognized by my school community for academics and crap like that. I have quite a few friends and my little sister who constantly listen to me, recognize me, and love me. In Invisible Man, though E seems to have some sort of friendship with Clifton, he does not really express love for anyone. Even with Clifton, he simply relates how Clifton is a great leader.

So, is that the key to finding visibility? Love? Maybe not in society’s eyes, but I suppose to combat personal feelings of invisibility one finds those who love them.

Anyway, as far as society goes, I don’t know how to judge how invisible I am. I have never encountered anyone on a television show or movie who seems in any way similar to myself-teenage girls are usually depicted as either:

  • perfect (beautiful, athletic, smart, talented)
  • a physically big bully
  • a beautiful but stereotypical ‘mean girl’
  • beautiful but ignorant
  • a tom-boy tough girl
  • or a quiet, awkward, sometimes pretty nerd/geek

This is why novels are so superior to television and movies. The characters can actually be developed to be complex instead of just fitting one of the above stereotypes. If we are going by that standard, society, though more so pop culture, does not recognize me.

Though this novel does not count as one my 25 books of 2014 (because I had already read half of it before Christmas break), I am very pleased I had the chance to explore Invisible Man with my English class. Once again, this book is a must-read for any of my fellow high school seniors because of E’s search for a personal identity and other ideological questions proposed by the novel.

Poetry Survey!

I will be entering a poetry contest soon, and have to have four different pieces to enter. Hopefully I’m going to be writing more this week; however, out of all the poems I have, which do you like the most?

I realize now how many poems I have written and shared here, and if you need to go back and read through them, go to the sidebar, go to Categories, and then find where it says “Poetry By Me”.

Thanks!

My Inspiration

Lately I’ve been struggling a lot. I’ve had no confidence in myself and have begun to really hate myself because I feel quite incapable as a human being. Furthermore, I see so much more evil in the world and have unfortunately turned pessimistic. In fact, the song “My Eyes” from Dr. Horrble’s Sing-Along Blog has become my mantra.

 

Last night, however, I saw a rare ray of light shining through my television set in the form of Malala Yousafzai. I was watching the Daily Show, and she appeared for an interview with Jon Stewart. This girl is simply amazing, and her beautiful comment about what she would do if  Taliban came to kill her was reminiscent of what one could expect from peace leaders like Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malala showed me there is certainly good left in the world. Like, i want to personally write her a letter conveying how she has helped me. Whenever I am feeling hopelessness, I will try to remember how simply beautiful this young girl is, and how she represents all the goodness of humanity-a goodness I wish to brandish in my own life.

I also listened to some RENT songs that also served as some supplemental inspiration to Malala’s insightful comments. The title song “Rent” is how I’ve been feeling a lot too-how can I leave the past behind when it keeps finding ways to get to my heart? How can I connect in an age where strangers, landlords, lovers, your own blood cells betray? Granted, I am blessed beyond belief, so I don’t know if I deserve to sing this song.

However, they say at the end, “When they act tough you call their bluff”.

I like that idea.

Finally, the song “Another Day”, but specifically Mimi’s part, discusses living in the moment. Leaving regrets behind to find love.  “Give in to love or live in fear”.  Not much else to say other than listen to it.

I am really tired of wasting my life being miserable. Everything feels overwhelming right now, but I’m going to do my best to figure things out.

Favorite Con Air (1997) Quote

“What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?”

-Garland Greene (played by Steve Buscemi)

What is insanity? What is normal?