Miss Nopee Goes To Washington

I will skip over the scandalous fact that I have not written over the summer with the silence it deserves. Now that’s out of the way.

End of May, I received a call from a friend from church…which I have not attended in two years. I hear from Gail on occasion — she’s amazing — so, when she called, I was eager to oblige her request. Her ask was if I would help a girl who has been a member of the choir for the last nine years. The young lady is in high school and needs help in preparing for the arduous task of applying to colleges, essays, and the rest. Since it was Gail asking, and she told me that Ana was a “sweetheart,” I was happy to help.

The last three months working with Ana have been a delight. She’s super-smart, always prepared, passionate, committed…all good things. The antithesis of the usual characterization of a teenager. I liked her immediately and my affection for her has grown exponentially. Particularly when I discovered she has a sense of humor, and best of all, a sense of humor about herself.

Perhaps here would be a good place to explain the moniker (what dat?) of “Miss Nopee.” Of course, that isn’t Ana’s last name, I am certain she would bristle at the “Miss” for “Ms,” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. While texting back and forth with Ana to ascertain her whereabouts – she had gone to Massachusetts to look at colleges — I asked, “Are you home?” “Nope” “Have you left MA?” “Nopee” I thought it was cute, started calling her that, and it stuck.

Ana LOVES politics, wants to go into politics, and the law. All brave ambitions at the best of times, and we aren’t in those presently. No moss grows under Ana, she’s active in her school government and clubs, in politics on the local level, state, etc. Her hero is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She drafts referendums for the banishment of plastics, founded the young democrats club, is in honors classes, and works as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her parents are from South America; she is invested in her roots, and in the democracy that we are all hoping to hold onto in her country of birth. Here.

Along with all that (the short version of the list) she has a serious boyfriend who is also super-smart – more in the area of STEM, so I imagine that they complement each other well. Ana is uber feminist, definitely her own woman, independent and on her way. The boyfriend – who is handsome and dreamy – comes from a strict Hindu family. This poor kid does not enjoy the freedom of movement that Ana does, and if his parents found out that he and Ana were seeing each other – that would be terrible. It really would. His dad checks his phone, his texts, calculates how long it takes to drive to school and home, it would be easier to put an ankle monitor on the kid. Since the father works from home there is no respite from the rigid gatekeeper. This is a secret romance, secret in the sense that the parents don’t know, but the whole school, or a good part of it, does.

The lengths to which these two sweet young people in love must go in order to conduct their love affair are both baroque and ingenious. If they “happen” to meet at the dog park…and there’s code phrases (and fake guys’ names — e.g. “Shane”!), like: “Hey bro, where we meet up for the study group?” Once there, they can’t walk the lovely paths and be normal, they have to hover in the back alley — probably where the dumpsters are — to have a minute alone. Ana must have noticed my quizzical gaze, so she explained. In this white bread suburb in which we inhabit the Indian community is not in the majority and is tightly knit – everyone knows everyone. No, and I mean no, Indian person can spot them or it will be reported back to his dad in a New York second.

At the same time Ana is also in competition with her beau. They are applying to the same blue ribbon/IV League schools. We’ll see who wins. I recently made two literary references in a row in a sentence (one of them was Dante), and Ana looked at me and said, “I have no idea who/what that is.” After recovering from my near heart attack and chiding her for not knowing these references, I sent her a list. A list that used to be on Columbia’s first page – but nonetheless the list for top schools of the books one should have read before entering their ivied walls. To Ana’s credit, she admitted she hadn’t read any of them, and true to form, I received a text from her: “I’m on it!” 👍

Bismark said (who he?) …and I’m paraphrasing: “People who are fond of sausages and the law should never watch them being made.” I haven’t shared this sentiment with Ana, nor my reservations of going into a field of endeavor which in theory is noble and in reality, ignoble. Who am I to drop her dreams all over the floor? Her optimism and insouciance may very well transport her magically to the highest office in the land. I have a vision of her skipping/floating with backpack and books in hand, her beautiful mane of hair blowing in the wake of her acceleration, and settling in behind the large desk situated in the Oval Office.

Well why not? Realistically she’s more prepared than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No experience necessary! At least Ana has read The Federalist Papers. And, she has heart, compassion, courage and brains.

I see her as a modern version of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart giving his impassioned and moving speech to the U.S. Congress. I see her pointing her finger at those smug well-fed old white guys, who don’t give a shit about anyone or anything, and who are wondering when they can discreetly exit the building in order to get to their restricted clubs in time for the cocktail hour.

There’s more, oh so much more, to Miss Nopee, but I must tie this up for now. Let’s say regarding the further adventures of the indefatigable (huh?) Miss Nopee….to be continued.

“Esteemed” Gentleman of the Congress, start your engines, and brace yourself. The times are a-changin’…for the better, I hope. I truly do. 

Clare Irwin

*Supreme Court image courtesy of Ana. Taken during her attendance of the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute: “Best week of my life yet.”

Unchurched?

Greetings! I wrote this post nearly nine months ago, but didn’t publish, because I wasn’t completely comfortable with it. As I sat down today to write a new blog post, I reviewed this and thought I should put it out there. In advance, I have included a prologue and epilogue which I wrote today. Also, I want to add that although I say things in jest here, I have nothing but the deepest respect and gratitude for everyone and everything I mention – all are kind, good, and deeply well-meaning.

Prologue

It is Sunday morning and normally I would be heading to church. Truth be told, I haven’t been for more than four Sundays. One reason is because those Sundays happened to be beautiful days and my only chance to be out in the sun and nature. The other reason is that I haven’t been feeling “it.” This is a cause of some consternation for me – while simultaneously I am allowing it to happen, trusting in the organic ebb and tide. The moments of transcendence that I experience during a service – where I feel my heart full to bursting, moving me to tears, have eluded me of late. I treasure those moments, and perhaps I am being unrealistic to think they should happen regularly. But those moments that I like to call breaking through that lace-like caul membrane to another plane, to God…they are remarkable. To be sure they don’t all happen in church. They happen in nature too. I think right now I’m am ever so slightly disenchanted with the inevitable “institutional” aspect of any body of people who gather together. So here goes:

Recently I discovered that I am unchurched. I didn’t get the memo. My family was consistently relaxed and open to our exploring and deciding for ourselves what we chose to be or not be. We were encouraged to visit all houses of worship if we wanted. Technically, we are Catholic and Protestant depending on what side of the family, but no one particularly staked their claim or identified themselves solely as one religion or another. That isn’t to say that they weren’t believers, I am certain most of them were. It merely wasn’t necessary for anyone to put a label on it.

As I have mentioned I went to prep school which had Anglo-Catholic or Church of England leanings, but nothing major — no teaching or study — just a period in between classes where we had prayers, hymns and school announcements. I identified myself as Catholic because I was baptized in a Catholic church, but my formal training into any religious institution ended there. About a year or so ago I started attending both an Episcopal and a Catholic church. I love them both for different reasons and I enjoy talking to the priests, nuns, rectors, and pastoral ministers. On one occasion I was talking to a nun whom I had gotten to know at the Catholic church. She’s a remarkable woman, strong, intelligent, funny, open and all around amazing. I can’t remember if I had a question about communion or how the conversation began, but she began asking me a series of questions. Was I baptized in the church? Yes. Did I go to Sunday school? No. Did I have first communion? No. Then there was something after that — I can’t remember, but I know the answer was no. 

I was then informed that I am unchurched, not really a Catholic.  Apparently baptism isn’t enough. And, if I wanted to be a Catholic I would have to start at the beginning and receive religious teaching. I was told that there is a class for adults, and if I was interested she’d put me on the list. I murmured some sort of acquiescence because why not? Might be interesting. But I felt a little unsettled. There was something about all this that didn’t quite add up for me. Some months passed and I received a phone call from a kind and ernest gentleman from the parish offering me the opportunity to join a catechism class that would meet once a week, for like forever, and then finish up around Easter. It actually was a scheduling problem for me and I told him I wasn’t sure. He was cool about it, said whenever I was ready…

I went back to the Episcopals where there are a lot of Catholics. I still attended the Catholic church, usually during the week. I observed that this particular parish is healthily well endowed. It is lush, big, active and prosperous. You can tell. The congregation is made up of “regular people” (now here is where I’m going to get into even more trouble). People who were born and raised and stayed in the same town all their lives. People who did very well by starting businesses that support the infrastructure of their town: construction, landscaping, oil delivery, car dealerships, etc. Somewhat different from the make up of the Episcopal church which is more effete, “liberal,” and diverse, and a whole lot more poor. All the snobby-sounding description aside, the parishioners of the Catholic church are solid. By that I mean, they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. If you need help or reach out a hand – they are there. That is huge. On the other hand, the Episcopal parishioners, well I’m afraid to say they are lacking when it comes to needing support when things hit critical mass. That is less than optimal.

I do read books on theology, mystics, the deserts saints, etc., and I have received what I think is an clear impression that the message is love and inclusivity. So why all the mixed signals, or am I just not getting it? This is where I have left things, as is my wont, in Limbo shall we say. I’m not at Dante’s juncture of a dark wood where the way is lost. I feel fine right where I am. I’m comfortable with that, and I hope that for all of us that we feel good about where we are. I wish you all an enlightening exploration into….into whatever it is you want. It’s the curious interested mind that will enjoy the expansiveness of experience.

Epilogue

That is more or less where I left off writing. However, since then, I do feel that I am betwixt and between. I went to the Episcopal priest to discuss my “outlier” feeling, and the conversation was welcoming and loving, but I wasn’t sure what came of it – as nice as it was. A couple of months later, I went to see one of the Catholic priests, and I again received understanding, empathy, and stimulating dialogue. Until. Until I came to the point of mentioning that I was attending two churches, and two churches of “different faiths” (I don’t see the drastically dramatic difference between the two quite the way he did). Then, it was firmly suggested that, “I don’t belong anywhere until I make a commitment to one or the other.” I told this to a friend of mine who is smart and spiritual and she said, “So I guess you either wander aimlessly hither and thither, or you drink the Kool-Aid.” Funny and on point.

Right now I don’t know what to do. My genetic make-up demands rigor in such matters, but maybe over time I have come to realize that the delicacy of this particular “dilemma” requires a more gentle approach. If I stay open, present, and live inside my heart  – everything will fall into place.

Forgive me.

Clare Irwin