The GRE Manifesto

A quality that I’ve always admired is purposefulness. Time is something we can never get back (and who knows how much we even have left!), so there’s a real power in being able to confidently answer the question, “Why am I doing this?”

The great majority of my next few days will be consumed with studying for the GRE. (Joy of joys!) I’ve been joking to a few friends that I’ll be cafe-hopping through Omaha over my Fall Break. Except I’m not joking… And I may even hit up Council Bluffs if I’m feeling especially adventurous one day. But though I “just kinda know” this is something I need to do, I looked in the mirror this morning and understood that I needed to articulate my purpose more clearly. My lovely journal began to catch the words, but then I realized that was not nearly honest or humble enough. This was also something that I wanted to own up to publicly.

Therefore, let it be asked, “Why am I doing this”?

Starting with the least important reason, I’m doing this for myself. I’m doing this for the part of Clara that wants to know she can persistently pour herself out into a goal and reap the fruits of her hard labor. Theres’s definitely a dose of the stuff those cheesy motivational quotes are made of running through my veins. It’s invigorating, actually.

Secondly, I’m doing it for my friends, at home and abroad. The amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from my dear friends lately has taken my breath away. If you’re reading this, please know that I cherish those hugs and kind words when the going gets tough. I cannot wait to be there for you when you need the same strength! On a deeper level, I’m doing it for my friends abroad– especially holding in mind my little brothers and sisters whom I taught during Encuentro. I know there are multitudes who do not have as many doors open as I do; I’ve danced bachata with them and been humbled to live amongst them. That is why I embrace whatever small things I’ll have to give up these next few days. What an honor to be in these shoes!  May I never forget the joyful charge: to whom much is given, much is expected.

Thirdly, I’m doing this for my family, my rock. There’s something sublime in knowing you are prayed for. There’s something empowering in knowing you are loved no matter what. (There’s also something really appealing about not living on your couch next year, mom and dad!)

And finally, I’m doing it for Him. I’m doing it because it was His Hands that set me in this place, and His Love that placed these burning desires within my heart. We each have a mission, or as I like to think of it, a heavenly, beautiful story that He writes through us as we journey home. So, even should this next chapter not quite work out according to my plans, I know I’m not the one who knows best (thank goodness!) and I truly believe that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.

It’s pretty simple, really, this is just me answering Your call with “yes.”

 

(Confession: I had to google “manifesto” before publishing this to make sure using the word wouldn’t make me a comrade…).

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The Story of the Three Stonecutters

After running the Santiago Corre this morning, I rushed home and through a delightfully icy shower just in time to attend Domingo Misa in the serene ILAC chapel.  Those next tens of minutes, I toyed with the idea of retiring upstairs to my bed as the tired tenderness of my body, the gentle breeze that played with my hair, and the soothing sounds of La Palabra de Dios nearly lulled me to sleep. But, I am ever so glad that I somehow stayed strong during the homily, because I caught a neat little parable that has had me thinking ever since. It’s called the Story of the Three Stonecutters:

A man came across three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

There are three kinds of people in this world…We all know those first-stonecutter-types, indeed we ourselves default to that short-sightedness from time to time (especially on dreary mornings.) His is the short-term perspective; the inability to raise one’s eyes above the present momentary exchange of work for pay. In fact, its safe to say that such a narrow view breeds complaints, and therefore chokes out most daily cheer or any true sense of fulfillment. But, take the second stonecutter– his perspective is attractively furnished with a strong sense of individualism. He has high aspirations, abundant passion, and finds the purpose of his work in cultivating his talents to be the best. The limits of his imagination are the limits of mankind’s imagination; they are sky-high and greatness-bound. The driven individualist clearly will find happiness as he propels himself toward glory, but what of fulfillment? I think some of us already know the answer to this by years of trial and error. Again, with the third stonecutter, the audience is able to picture the very scene and perhaps draw parallels with individuals we have crossed paths with as he answers with a “visionary gleam in his eye.” We know something is exceptional here.  His response reveals the mindset of one who believes that a grander mission is always unfolding, grander even than his own solid successes. Not only is he making a living for himself, not only does the stone before him become more beautiful with every chip that flies from his hammer, but he is here, this very day, to play his role in a tremendous feat. He is building a cathedral. Here thrives purpose, happiness, and fulfillment. I am fond of the interpretation of the final stonecutter given by Drew Faust, the president of Harvard University:

The third stonecutter embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral—not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper. Testimony in part, of course, to the antiquity of the tale. But revealing in other ways as well. The very menial work of stonecutting becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction. This project aspires to the heavens, transcending the earthbound—and indeed transcending the timebound as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries. A lifetime of work may make only a small contribution to a structure that unites past and future, connects humans across generations and joins their efforts to purposes they see as far larger than themselves.

Through such a simple parable, we are reminded of the big picture which always overarches our daily handful of time-currency. The purpose behind our everyday tasks is threefold: to make a living, to be great, and to serve a higher good. Our God-given task is to remember all three. I was asked the question “what is your dream job?” thrice this week in various interviews. Though as of right now I am not yet able to articulate exactly what I want to do as a career, although I do have a few conditions in accord with my general talents and desires, I am sure of how I want to do it. I want to always be aware of the sublime masterpiece that we are a part of; I want to go about my everyday with the vision of the third stonecutter.

2: The Morning After

Last night’s elections shambled on into the wee hours of the morning, as ties were loosened and un-heeled feet were stretched, but this morning has been unfolding slowly with the sweet savor of success.  Though, the celebration will not progress past the consummation of a piece of red velvet cake for breakfast, as it is time to capitalize on the fresh energy. But first, a complex poem to stimulate the mind:

Pathedy of Manners

by: Ellen Kay

At twenty she was brilliant and adored,
Phi Beta Kappa, sought for every dance;
Captured symbolic logic and the glance
Of men whose interest was their sole reward.
She learned the cultured jargon of those bred
To antique crystal and authentic pearls,
Scorned Wagner, praised the Degas dancing girls,
And when she might have thought, conversed instead.
She hung up her diploma, went abroad,
Saw catalogues of domes and tapestry,
Rejected an impoverished marquis,
And learned to tell real Wedgwood from a fraud.
Back home her breeding led her to espouse
A bright young man whose pearl cufflinks were real.
They had an ideal marriage, and ideal
But lonely children in an ideal house.
I saw her yesterday at forty-three,
Her children gone, her husband one year dead,
Toying with plots to kill time and re-wed
Illusions of lost opportunity.
But afraid to wonder what she might have know,
With all that wealth and mind had offered her,
She shuns conviction, choosing to infer
Tenets of every mind except her own.
A hundred people call, though not one friend,
To parry a hundred doubts with nimble talk.
Her meanings lost in manners, she will walk

Alone in brilliant circles to the end.

Poetry, and all language for that matter, requires interpretation. The careful reading and understanding of a poem is a silent conversation between the poet and the reader, transcending time itself. “Pathedy of Manners” is a modern twist on the relatable and classic “what might have been” story; it even serves as a cautionary tale. The language is pregnant with connotation and double meaning thus more effectively painting the linguistic portrait. The overarching meaning of the poem is to demonstrate that lack of personal conviction, simply going through the motions of your given life, makes for a long trip alone.

The title itself, “Pathedy of Manners”, is loaded with meaning. With the Greek parents of a dramatic form “comedy of manners and the prefix “path-” (think pathetic, sympathetic), the title draws upon the comical yet pitiful storyline of the poem. It sets the stage for the tone of the author, which is one of hilarity yet also empathy as the subject of the poem falls into the trap of society. The subject seems to do everything ideally in the eyes of the culture, yet “she shuns conviction,” and therefore the ending is unhappy, and we are pulled in to pity her.

There is a spring of the subject’s life story which occurs from line 1-16. One instantaneously gathers that the subject is an “it girl” or social butterfly, “brilliant and adored,/Phi Beta Kappa, sought for every dance” (2-3). “She learned the cultured jargon of those bred/To antique crystal and authentic pearls”; she was privileged with a remarkably good education and really lived for the worldly things of this life. But following the classic blueprint, we catch hints of foreboding folly: “and when she might have thought, conversed instead.” Finally, she comes back home from her international outing, and settles down for “a bright young man whose pearl cufflinks were real” who was most definitely approved of by her well-to-do parents. The second appearance of “pearl” is significant. Not only does it call to mind the previously mentioned well-breeding of her company, but additionally the pearl may act as a symbol for the bride and groom themselves who are glossed over and polished up but whose souls are naught but a humble grain of sand. Ideal, ideal, ideal and then the reader notices the “lonely children in an ideal house” (16). Not only are the parents caught up with their own social life, but the cycle of going through the motions and loneliness is passed down. The innocent children will undoubtedly be affected by their parents’ emptiness.

And then, when the perfect little showcase family is stripped away, the reader gets a first-hand account of the sad subject, “toying with plots to kill time and re-wed/ Illusions of lost opportunity.” In short, she chose the easy way. She chose to life the life that was handed to her; now “she shuns conviction”, as her meaning and purpose were lost in her manners. All that she lived for, the dances, the childish things, are long gone, making old age a burden rather than a blessing. She put all her efforts into ephemeral appearances and failed to find meaning in them. “Her meanings lost in manners, she will walk/ Alone in brilliant circles to the end,” the last part of the poem follows when all the pretty little building blocks fade away and our poor friend is left with fake, fluffy surroundings.

The poem is not about radical change, but rather about building up nice things and then peeling them away. How familiar we are with this pattern! The ironic, circular aspect of the poem is emphasized by the repetition of the word “brilliant” in the first and last lines. And yet there lives on hope in this pathetic comedy, as she may escape from her self-imposed prison yet and live to pursue a deeper life.