Till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new
When your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue
-- Ben Gibbard, "Your Heart Is an Empty Room"
+ + +
There's a remarkable kind of quiet that small and mid-level cities have at night. Perhaps big cities have it too -- I've never been in one long enough to find out -- but I can attest, from having occasionally wandered the streets of Annapolis and Baltimore in the small hours of the night, when the sky is burnt orange by the streetlamps, that the quiet and the solitude have a curious kind of infinity to them. The normally noisy, congested, chaotic streets are emptied; everybody's asleep; the place is overtaken by a feeling of peace and slowness and melancholy that is one of the most distinctive, eerie pleasures out there.
I wonder whether celibacy, rightly integrated, might be a little like that. It has the ring of truth, to me, to suppose that it does, but I can't tell. I haven't rightly integrated celibacy, that's for sure. And I don't really know whether I ever will. With interludes of contentment, I've spent the last twelve years wishing, wishing I could quit and just ignore it all. Trying to find a pretext to give up. The loneliness gnaws at you like hunger sometimes, principle or no principle. I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
To a lot of people, the obvious question this raises is how a good God could ask such a thing of anyone. Personally, I can't make any use of that line of thinking. I feel that way, most of the time; and I've no wish to dismiss feelings as unimportant, my own or other people's. (Admittedly I am also not totally sure what to do with feelings most of the time, but that's my problem.) Even Aristotle, the epitome of Hellenistic rationality, said that the intellect should be the constitutional monarch of the heart, not its tyrant.
But, intellectually, I find myself unable to give the problem of loneliness any great weight. For if there is a God, and if He does know everything while we don't, and if we are moreover imperfect creatures -- then is it, on the face of things, really difficult to hypothesize that He would ask something of me that I find incomprehensible and painful? I've neither the right nor the desire to blame others for not looking at the purely intellectual part of the problem that way; but I am beholden to my own conscience and reason. To ignore them is simple dishonesty, which is even more intolerable than being alone.
This is traditionally the part where orthodox, well-meaning Catholics pipe up and say that celibacy doesn't have to mean loneliness, that sex and romance aren't everything, that marriages don't magically make you happy, yakety yakety yakety blah blah blah, and I exercise profound self-control in not strangling them even a little bit, for which I am sure I will be rewarded magnificently in heaven.*
Can you be happy without a romantic partner? Well, some people can. I've met them. But I don't know whether everybody can -- St Paul, though he didn't put it in quite those terms, didn't seem to think so -- and I don't know whether the categories of people who can be happy as celibates and people whom God calls to celibacy are necessarily the same thing.**
That ache, that hunger, it isn't just for company. It isn't even just for love. Loves do not, as a rule, substitute for one another very well; as any lonely middle school boy whose mother loves him very much could tell you. The restless, empty feeling of longing for a partner and not having one -- it's always being second, it's feeling like your body isn't for somebody, it's looking after yourself when you're sick, it's having only your own will and imagination to rely on, it's having no one to share a bottle of wine and a bad movie with. In a weird way, it's feeling like your choices don't really matter, because when you come home, whom do they actually affect? You can go out and do stuff, sure, and that stuff may well matter; and then you come home and the stuff that matters is over, and it's just you and the walls. It isn't a matter of not having intimate and supportive friends, or not having a creative outlet or a sense of purpose -- even if those things help. It's just the blank feeling that: I am not special to someone. I am only me.
And what the fuck do you do with that? It's no wonder that people get drunk and get high and screw and gamble and cut themselves -- anything to make the awareness of being alone stop. Anything, even religion, though that doesn't provide enough of a high to distract most people. Because really, God is no substitute for a husband any more than a husband is a substitute for God.
As so often, I've got no idea where I'm going with this. I keep thinking I've got a handle on what Mudblood Catholic is for, and then finding out I don't know jack about what it's for.
*After being in Purgatory for, like, all of the years.
**I'm not talking about happiness in the technical, Thomistic sense. I just mean what people normally mean when they talk about being happy. (When people talk about "true" happiness, it's a sure sign that they're giving the word a sense it never normally bears -- which may be justified or not.)