November 20th, 2008
When I was a junior in high school, I attended a spiritual retreat called Kairos. It was a big secret, and every year, scores of juniors went to the retreat and came back from their week a little quieter, a little calmer, a little changed. Before I went on my Kairos week, I always wondered what happened on this retreat, whose tagline was “The Best is Yet To Come.” Then in the fall of 1985, one of my close friends attended the retreat and returned to tell us that she never really got kicked out of the public school she’d attended before coming to our Catholic enclave. She’d always said she was forced to leave because she smoked pot. Turns out it wasn’t true and she’d just said it to sound cool.
I couldn’t imagine what spiritual awakening Kairos engendered in Anne that prompted this public admission of sins, but I was intrigued and a little scared. What would I be tempted to admit? That I told my mom I hated her? That my friend Dawn and I bought a cache of Harlequin-like comics at a garage sale and traded them like Pokemon cards? I didn’t know, but I searched my brain for something, because more and more people were coming back from Kairos broadcasting their faults, and I didn’t want to be left behind.
But as I watched my friends change before my eyes and even go on to “lead” subsequent Kairos retreats, I knew I wouldn’t be one of them. I never responded to situations the way I was “supposed to;” I didn’t cry at graduations, have fun on New Year’s, or lose my virginity on Prom night. I had my moments in private, always have. And for all my naked honesty, I hate to sob in public. It’s showing a face I’m not completely comfortable with, a face that I can’t control, and that scares me. It’s too real. And sure enough, the last evening of Kairos (it was a three-night affair), I returned home to a chapel filled with friends and family, and with Little River Band’s “Cool Change” blaring over the loudspeakers. My mom had proudly presented me with a little gold cross necklace and then we took our seats as the chapel waited breathlessly for us Kairos attendees to stand up one by one and tell everyone how we had changed.
I don’t even remember what I said. It seemed so engineered to me, that I couldn’t let go in the moment. I’d had some great moments at Kairos, but it’s positioning as the end all be all didn’t sit with me. It seemed false somehow. It was like we were being told to change on command, tell the people what they want to hear, no matter if you were authentically touched by the experience.
Maybe that’s BS, and I just needed to release and stop overthinking. Lately, I’ve wondered if in general, I should. I remember one Kairos afternoon when Sister Ann played Kool & the Gang’s Celebration (never mind that I loathe that song), and told us to just “dance.” We were advised to let go, let the music move through us, and groove. I still recall that feeling of absolute mortification. I didn’t want to dance like a fool in a chapel to a song I hated.
In truth, I didn’t want to be told to have a spiritual awakening. Still, I’ve often thought I’m cracked for not having the “moments” other people do. After all, it took me a full three months to appreciate being a mom after Toots was born. At my own wedding, I didn’t feel more in love or starry-eyed than I did any other day. Instead, I tend to cry quite out of the blue at the most inopportune times or take my moral inventory during a Simpson re-run.
That’s just me. I’m still profoundly moved by births, deaths, weddings, even New Year’s, but I’m processing it all on a delayed cycle. And you know what? I don’t even know what the hell I’m trying to say here…so I’ll just let it go.
p.s. Some may call the above a “typical” about-to-turn-40 post. Damn those afternoon Simpsons re-runs.