The Tale of Princess Irony (SID Part 7)

The more modern version of “My Dog Ate my Last Blog Post,” can be found in my last blog: “My Cat Sat On My Keyboard and Erased My Last Blog Post And I Was So Mad I Didn’t Blog For A Week.”  It’s been a crazy-ass week. Boxes continue to close in on me and my last few days living in NYC. People have feelings and after a few drinks will cry/laugh and say, don’tleave/i’msohappyforyou/ihateyou/iloveyou. Meanwhile, I’m getting calls from friends in Oregon that say, “OH MY GOD. I CAN’T DEAL WITH (insert mutual friend/random thing here). GET YOUR ASS ON A PLANE AND GET OUT HERE, NOW.” Twenty years as a Tarot reader has made me good and holding people’s emotions-about everything that’s not me. When people have emotions at me about me, I crumble a lot inside. They call it “the Irish goodbye” when you disappear without telling anyone (cue my Irish friends in the comments denying my idiot-Yank nomenclature) and it’s my favorite kind of goodbye because I hate goodbyes. I’d rather just crawl through a tunnel when no one is looking and show up in Oregon and pretend the goodbye already happened.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, this blogging exercise has been helpful as I’ve been able to clear four chapters of my novel in the past month. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!!!!

Princess Irony: A Tale of a Witch and a Church

St. Brigid’s, back in the day.

When I was starting Life In New York Round Two, I’d started preparing myself to become a Priestess of Brigid. I found in the phone book (yes, I was actually still using a phone book as the Glamma’s apartment on 10th street didn’t have internet) that there was a St. Brigid’s Church on the Lower East Side. One day, I went to see it and discovered it was boarded up. A flyer on a lamppost advertised meetings to Save St. Brigid’s Church.

What St. Brigid’s looked like when I joined the committee.

How appropriate! I needed an Eagle Scout Project to make my Priestessing to Brigid authentic. This would be perfect–bridging the worlds of Catholicism and Paganism, doing good for the world and doing good for the name of Witchcraft.

And…I needed something else to distract me from Mr. Dimples, who still hadn’t fallen so deeply in love with me enough to change the plans he’d made for himself. If I couldn’t make him love me, I could at least save an historic Cathedral from whatever evil was trying to shutter it down.

Plus, it was dedicated to my Goddess. It was basically Her temple. I had to help.

I attended the first meeting on the second floor of a tired Irish pub near NYU. It was composed of very old-school New Yorkers–the kinds whose ancestors had likely worked in the tenements at one time. Half the room was hard-core Irish-American, the other half Puerto-Rican from Loisada. I listened to their challenges of fundraising, plans for flea-markets, plans for galas in that little pub in which we sat. I sat with them and brainstormed on bake-sales. How could I help? I’m great at brownies.

Then, like an idiot, I raised my hand and asked, “What is the Archdiocese doing to help?”

The chairman’s eyes literally grew as wide as saucers. This is the only time I can actually use a cliche and have it be 100% true. This man’s eyes widened until I thought they were going to pop out of his head. “The Archdiocese is the one trying to shut the Church down.”

When I told my parents what I was up to and who we were fighting, my father said, “Good thing you’re not pointing a bazooka at a molehill.” Meaning, I was using force against something much bigger than I–not smaller.

To borrow shamelessly from Judeo-Christian mythology, I had found my Goliath.

The Archdiocese of New York had closed and planned to demolish this Irish Famine Cathedral that had been built by famine refugees before the Civil War. It was not only a parish church, but also a soup kitchen and a community center and from the photos, it was absolutely beautiful. They wanted to build condos on what had become very valuable real estate.

For most of my life up until that point, I was best described as an angry person. I was severely bullied as a kid and there were two ways to protect myself from taunts: 1.) being funny. 2.) being angry and scary. Anger like that just feeds on itself and over the years, it just churned and churned. In high school, I was angry and channeled it into theater and friends. In college, I channeled it into my schoolwork and internship work and a few protests over the second Gulf war. I was miserable to be around. After college, I channeled it onto New York City which in turn, channeled it back onto me. I was angry at not being loved by the people whom I wanted to love me. I was angry at not being a literary prodigy and not having made a dollar from my writing at the ripe old age of 25. I was angry at exes, friends, Mr. Dimples, family, but most of all, I was just angry for the sake of being angry. If you could ask me why I was so angry, I would probably point at petty things and then in therapy probably point at being bullied, but I think the anger was probably always there before that. My chart is primarily fire and air. I might have just told you I was simply an angry person and would then be angry at you for bringing it up.

By joining this committee, I suddenly had a concrete target for all of that formless, nameless anger: The Archdiocese of New York.

On Sunday mornings, when the good Catholic members of the committee went to Mass at churches that weren’t their beloved St. Brigid’s, I, the solo Witch in the group, stood outside Tompkins Square Park–rain or shine–with petitions for signing. I learned quickly that trying to stop New Yorkers on their way to brunch with, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” or “Can I tell you about a Church?” was wholly ineffective. Inspired by the maniacs in the open-mics, one morning I started shouting, “STOP THE YUPPIE INFILTRATION!!!!”

People would pause, look at me and my petitions, and say, “I don’t know what I’m signing, but I’m fucking signing.”

Soon, I had a little army of sweet older ladies helping. I got them shouting, “THE HIGH-RISES ARE COMING!” “STOP THE YUPPIES!” “THE YUPPIES WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING!!!”

We got so many signatures.

I also helped run flea-markets, digging into my modest collection of crap and selling it off at these markets. Then, I’d shop. When other vendors learned I was with the St. Brigid’s Committee crew, they gave me things for free. I planned and organized fundraising events and had poet friends read (although one of the Committee members got pissed and suggest I never lead an event again after one of the poets I brought onboard said, “Shit!” in her piece).

We raised money, we hired lawyers. We went to court. We lost appeal after appeal. The Archdiocese was a monster. Not only had they actually started the demolition on this Church, but they had bottomless pockets of money to keep hiring more and more lawyers. Every priest that tried to help us would suddenly get transferred to parishes outside the United States (and I mean….far. Central America. Africa.). There were rumors from above that Cardinal was so angry with us for our persistence, that he was not inclined to demolish the Church just to spite this committee.

The committee fought. I learned the danger of what internal trolls can do. I also learned about what these people truly had on the line, here. It wasn’t just their time and very often, their own money. It wasn’t the risk of arrest. They didn’t care about that. One night, as we weren’t sure we had another fighting chance (we had just lost our last appeal in Court and half the committee had walked out of the meeting over a petty fight), the other members opened up about what they planned to say to Jesus when they got to Heaven. They had spoken out against His Church. They had admonished His Cardinals. They had committed a sin I had forgotten was so very grave in the Catholic Church as it had been many years since I’d been under its banner. They had questioned its authority and according to what Catholics are raised to believe, were at risk of eternal damnation for having tried to save a Church. Many had rehearsed speeches of what they would explain to Jesus when they reached the gates of Heaven, in hopes He would understand the sacrifices they had made and that they had chosen their house of worship over the great authority over it. My own Goliath was about turning my anger at something much bigger than me–an institution oppressing others. Their Goliaths were about the future of their souls .

The opposition wasn’t just about the Archdiocese, as if that wasn’t enough. When gathering petitions or inviting people to fundraising events, I often heard, “It’s hopeless. You should find something better to do with your time.” Or “You really want to support an organization that lets priests molest boys?” Once, when I was shouting about stopping the yuppies, a woman turned to me and said, “Sure, I’ll do that when you figure out how to get the drug dealers out of my building.” Once, a well-meaning friend attended a meeting with me and said to me afterward, “You know they’re going to tear it down.”

After loss after loss, I resigned myself that I would be there when the last brick fell. If nothing else, I would tell the story of the Church. I would write about it. Maybe it would be the first book I’d ever finish. And I’d laugh and call myself “Princess Irony: The Witch Who Helps Save Churches.” The fight became rote. The failures became familiar. And the anger slowly chipped away. It was hard to be angry at exes and snarky friends and writing failure when the threshold for anger had been set so high.

A few years before that, I’d been part of a sit-in in downtown Portland, just after the bombs dropped on Baghdad under Dubya’s command. When the cops brought in the wagons and closed in on us ala Battle of the Bastards, my sorta-boyfriend at the time had turned to me and said, “Call me when you get out,” and ran and hid behind a mailbox (“What a hero,” my husband said when I told him this story. “I would have slung you over my shoulder and carried you out of there.” He would have, too…nagging me the whole time about getting into these sorts of situations….). I ran too, when the cops started firing rubber bullets (because they don’t sound like rubber) and started hitting my friends with clubs. My sorta-boyfriend and I ran and hid in a bar. I cried. He then said something that stuck with me through the St. Brigid’s battle. “My activist friends focus on small victories. So you didn’t stop the war tonight. Focus on something small.”

The small battles kept me going. Another stack of petitions. Another fundraiser bringing in five digits. One more person saying, “I want to help…here’s what I can offer.”

It was the determination of the committee that saved this Church. I had such a small part in it. It gave me more than I gave it. And it was the fact that someone out there was inspired by what the committee did that they stepped forward and anonymously offered $20 million dollars to the Archdiocese of New York if they would restore St. Brigid’s to a parish Church. They did.

About two years later, when the damage the Archdiocese had done to the building was repaired and ready to re-open, I joined a procession from a Church a few blocks away to the re-opening of St. Brigid’s. I brought a dozen white roses to lay at the altar. The place was so packed that the entry was slow. It was my first time in the Church. I was crammed in the back, standing room only.

I walked in to see this. Imagine it packed with every human.

I watched as Cardinal Dolan consecrate the Church, rolling up his sleeves and smearing oil on the altar with his hands and arms, slapping the four walls of the church. I then watched as Cardinal Egan, the Cardinal who had ordered the closure of the Church, accept credit for having saved it. Never was it mentioned that he had his people call the wrecking balls. Never was the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s even mentioned in the sermon. The very man who had tried to destroy it was now reaping the applause for saving it.

All of that anger roiled back. Me, clutching my roses in the back of the Church, I wanted to scream the truth. I wanted the people there, many were Irish dignitaries who had flown over for the event, to know they were falling into the lies of a hypocrite in white and a crown. I didn’t, because I was raised better than that.

As he walked out of the Church, people flinging their rosaries at him, with him giving half-assed blessings upon them (my Witch-eyes told me there was absolutely no energy in his blessings), I ended up inadvertently being in the greeting line. He stuck his hand out for me to shake it, and I did, with a firm grasp.

“Cardinal Egan,” I said. “You don’t know me, but you taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life.”

He looked surprised. “I did? Well. I’m glad!” He looked as though he wanted to hear more. If he hadn’t been ushered off by his people to go shake more hands and fake-bless more rosaries, I would have told him this:

Thank you, Cardinal Egan, for showing me the importance of aiming my anger at something bigger than me. Thank you for the opportunity to find laughter in despair. Thank you for teaching me that perseverance and standing firm is a greater strength than rushing at a target. Thank you for showing me what true hypocrisy is and the pain it causes for others. This committee has made me a better, more peaceful, and much stronger person and it never would have happened if you had not closed the Church, if you had not been my Goliath, if you had not inspired me to turn my bazooka away from the molehills. I will never, ever forget you.” 

And I honestly can say that I wish Cardinal Egan peace, as he has now passed away. But at that moment, I was still quaking with anger. But as the Church emptied out, I left my roses at the altar. I heard singing. I looked up and in the choir loft, a group of teenaged girls had broken into song. Not for their parents. Not for a service. They sang because they wanted to and because they felt the music.

If nothing else, the committee had given them that. I no longer cared what Eagan had accepted, applause-wise. I didn’t care that the committee had been invisible in the celebration of its victory. The gift was in the rafters, in the voice of the young girls who now had a place to sing.

I kept my promise to Brigid, to the committee, and myself. I would stay with this and fight until the end. But more than that, I found peace in a fight. And now I make all of my students who wish to become Priest/esses pick a battle and fight for it. Their battles have included working with Pagans in prisons, fighting for animal rights, and teaching ESL to kids in need.

I suppose we can all thank Goliath for that–for all Goliaths, everywhere.

The NYT story about the Church, and its re-opening.

The Church, now!

If you’re in NYC, go visit her! 

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