June 10, 2013 by lucieromarin
The best column I ever read on the single life (this was in the days before the internet, and, therefore, before the blog ‘Seraphic Singles’) was written by a married person. I can’t remember if the writer was male or female; all I remember is the writer’s astonishing blend of insight and respect.
The writer mentioned anniversaries, and how, despite being surrounded by other people’s celebrations of marriage or religious life, her single friends didn’t become embittered or envious, but just kept hoping, quietly and steadily, for vocations of their own to celebrate. Rather than taking their congratulations for granted, she admired them for it.
On the weekend, during a parish celebration, I overheard this snippet of dialogue:
Woman 1: Squeal! How are you enjoying married life?
Woman 2: It’s great!
Woman 1: Did you hear we’ve got another baby on the way?
Woman 2: Squeal!
Hearing it, I remembered with a swift and sudden pang that there exists a little world of excitement from which I am excluded by virtue of my state in life. I will, presumably, be expected to be excited for other people, but as they will not be excited for me, it will never be the shared excitement of a joy mutually experienced and understood. However much her married friends like her, a single person will never be One of Us.
This cast my mind back to the abovementioned article, and to the matter of anniversaries, and the lack thereof in the life of an unmarried person.
I think the first thing to be remembered is that not every anniversary is a celebration. For every person who’s not celebrating anything, there’s another person feeling the anniversary of a divorce or a death, and this often without the crowd of support that accompanies marriage or birth. When you feel the pang of exclusion, try offering it up for people silently bearing the pang of spousal betrayal or infant death. It may be sad, occasionally, to feel that you’re slipping tracelessly through time, but seriously, this isn’t as bad has having time ripped out of your innermost core, leaving you savaged by irreversible loss.
Still – what should a single person celebrate? B-grade substitutions are a bad idea. Your new job will never be as exciting to another woman as her new baby will be, so if you’re going to pour your heart into your career, it’s best to do so on the understanding that no one is going to celebrate it as they do their vocations. Of course, if someone has spent twenty years in the same job and done amazing work thereby, it’s right to acknowledge it, and it’s right to use such examples to inspire others to the same work. However, it’s no use pretending that this is the equivalent to the anniversary of a vocation – unless, of course, you can say truthfully that you spend as much time preparing for a friend’s office party as you do for his ordination to the priesthood. Likewise, the time given in volunteer work should be honoured – but on its own terms. A married volunteer – assuming he’s done good work! – should be as highly commended as a single volunteer; praising the work of a single volunteer in terms that remind him that he has nothing else to celebrate is just plain patronising.
Lots of people like birthdays. I, however, do not, and the older I get, the less I like them. Married or religious people should not complain about being old to single people of the same age, because this only reminds the single person about how far his chances of experiencing marriage, family, or religious life have decreased. (Actually, I don’t see why anyone should complain about reaching adulthood if his adult life involves exactly what he’d hoped it would!).
Where, then, does this leave the person who has no anniversary of vocation, isn’t keen on substitutes (does anyone actually wake up and say, ‘Thank goodness I just spent ten years in the same job?’), and isn’t keen on birthdays, but who still would like to share some kind of yay! with friends from time to time – especially those friends who struggle to understand birthday-reservations?
My suggestion is this – Name Days! Celebrating the feast of the saint whose name you share is great fun! For those of us who shy away from the birthday-spotlight, the reflected light of your patron saint is just the thing; it’s a little bit about you, but it’s not all about you; you remember your friends in heaven, and feel loved by your friends on earth. You enjoy the sweetness of messages on your phone and in your inbox; you share cakes or treats with friends; it has the pleasant, recurring nature of an anniversary, being held on the same date each year, but it doesn’t actually count any years, so you celebrate your place in a great tradition without having to measure that place against any particular set of standards, real or imagined, chosen or imposed. Your saint’s day is a feast of belonging; you to the saint, the saint to you, and both to the Church.
Obviously, it’s not only single people who should receive greetings on their saints’ days! However, for people who are not One of Us, the Name’s Day is a welcome, annual note of affection, and it’s a joyful and kind way to remember that, despite being excluded from that circle of excitement which is vocation, we remain included in another – and greater – Us, which is the circle of the saints.