The Personalist Project

This morning I woke from a miserable dream.

I was with two college friends—people I loved and always felt happy being around. In the dream, both of them were making clear by their emotional distance and coldness that they no longer wanted to be friends. My presence had become a disvalue to them. I didn't understand what had happened, and pleaded with them to explain, so I could try to make things better. But they weren't interested in making things better. One conceded that he disapproved of my habit of gossiping. I said I didn't think I was a gossip; I always only talked about people in a context of wanting good for them and me. But he just shrugged. That wasn't the real reason for the withdrawal of friendship. It was more like a dig, meant to hurt. The real reason was deeper and had to do with who I am. They didn't like me. There was nothing I could do about it. My heart was seized with pain and sadness over the loss of their companionship, and confusion over its cause.

Then I woke up to Jules bringing me coffee.

A dream like this leaves an emotional residue and spurs reflection. What might it mean? What can it teach me?

Today my brother-in-law turns 50 and my parents-in-law celebrate 51 years of marriage, so that, too, has me thinking about the march of time and the vicissitudes of life. On the one hand, ups and downs, losses and gains, aging and death are part of it, and on the other we experience those as alien and awful. Persons aren't meant to suffer, get old, and die; we're meant to be happy and whole and vital, and to live in an immortal communion of love with others. Our earthly existence is just a prelude to eternity.

But an indispensable one! Wasn't it C.S. Lewis who said that our acts and choices [the von Hildebrandian in me can't resist adding dispositions and responses] in the here and now are continually rendering us better-fit for one ultimate end or another?

Karol Wojtyla spoke often of self-determination as the essential mark of personhood. There is a "given," or a set of givens, about our being. We don't create ourselves from scratch. We come with particular parents and relatives; we undergo a particular upbringing in a particular time and place; we have a body with specific possibilities and limits; we have a temperament we don't get to choose...  And then we have freedom. And in and through that freedom, we shape ourselves and configure our relationships. 

I don't know how it goes for others, but my journey of self-determination has involved the loss of a lot of friendships. Some are lost by "accident"—just because of distance or increasingly incompatible circumstances and priorities. Some are lost through real fault—mine or theirs. (I only learned about boundaries late in life, and after having irreparably spoiled several friendships by not recognizing and respecting them.) And some are lost because others won't accept or can't abide the person I have become, or vice versa. Maybe they won't respect the boundaries I lay down, or they dislike my new manners and ways, values and perspectives, preferring the way I was in a more immature state of personality.

Regardless, I am learning I have to forge ahead in forging myself, looking neither to the right or left. But it's sad to lose friends. It's painful to be disliked.

I went to prayer in a melancholy haze, and found these lines in a book of daily meditations someone gave me, for October 28:

Instead of obsessing on other people's opinion of you, keep your focus on Me. Ultimately, it is My view of you that counts.

It's a good thought, and another aspect of my learning. Maybe the dream had everything to do with an interior "flushing out" I've been undergoing—a learning to be more truly centered, less dependent on what others think of me. In any case, I know I am being called to a deeper level of faith—faith not only in the objective doctrines of the Church, but in God's plans of love for me, in "my inmost being."

It's remarkable to consider that—because the roots of our soul are in God, and His will for us is partially concealed—even our self-determination entails a gigantic measure of trust in Him.

Many years ago, a beloved college friend (one who has stayed a friend, though we are separated by distance) and I dreamed of founding a home together for disabled adults. We would name it Psalm 27. It's been my favorite Psalm ever since:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?

When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, These my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall. 

Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.

One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life, To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.

For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble, He will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock.

Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side! I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and chant praise to the LORD.

Hear my voice, LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.

“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek!

Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger. You are my salvation; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior!

10 Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.

11 LORD, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

12 Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes; malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.

13 I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!

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