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"Quo Vadis?"

I finished my molecular toxicology final...all 9 single-spaced pages of it. As much as I dreaded starting it and as much as I doubted my abilities to finish it, this thing is completed (and currently being saved in every place possible....email backup, flashdrive backup, hard drive back up...you name it). I still have to add some of the works I cited, but my eyes are tired of looking at "crocidolite," "genotoxicity," "melanogenesis," and the rest of the alphabet soup that makes even geeks like me go cross-eyed after spending an entire week reading about them, researching them and finally writing about them. However, I'M DONE...atleast for a few hours. You see, at 3:30pm today....ROUND 2 of midterms begins with the dreaded biochemistry exam. Please forgive me if I don't post often this week....I will be back once this exam is over.

Even though I've gotten a boat-load of A's in my life, the B+ I got last semester in biochemistry is the grade that means the most to me...because I NEVER worked so hard in my life for any class like I did for that one. I mean, I put a lot of paper-cut induced blood, sweat, and nervous breakdown-induced tears into that B. I camped out in the grad room, didn't shower for days, pulled several all-nighters in a row, ate a Gristede's sandwich (big mistake, especially for someone who is used to NJ grocery stores), slept on the floor, and pretty much lived in the grad room 5 days straight for that B. This B+ was a B+ of triumph. It was a B+ that made me feel like I had just defeated Voldemort single handedly defeated Sauron, saved the besieged white halls of Minas Tirith, AND reclaimed my rightful place as king of Gondor.

Now that I have demonstrated (rather shamelessly) just how much of a geek I can be, let's get a little more serious. The biggest triumphs of my life tend to be the moments where I somehow defeat self-doubt. Anyone who knows me will tell you just how I can sometimes be my own worst enemy. I cannot tell you how many opportunities I've passed up because I was afraid that I would not be good enough or worthy enough. Self-doubt, in some ways, is a sneaky form of temptation. It can easily lead you down some pretty dark places just as well as any drug or bad influence.

The same goes for my life as a Catholic, especially during my luke-warm "just listen to whatever the world says" "Catholic in name only" days that plagued my teenage years. I mean, it was certainly a lot easier to remain silent whenever any of my friends started making fun of organized religion. Oh, I'm insert religion here so I can make fun of insert religion here....trust me. I was a lot easier to support institutions like Planned Parenthood along with the feminists..."You should totally support this place because all they do is look out for us women....trust me. (Riiiiight ... Even the biggest feminist couldn't possibly agree with all the numbers here....). It was a lot easier to wallow in complacency while the media attempted to tear apart some of my family's traditions and values..."Why should you listen to your parents, you're practically an adult....trust me...."

 Half of the reason why I didn't say or do anything to protect things I stood for was because of doubt. What did I know about these things? Everyone else seemed to know so much more. In fact, how could those Catholic teachings be right about these things if everyone else seemed to be so much more adamant, modern, and "cooler." If you listened to these people, you would think that religion was nothing but rules designed to prevent us from doing everything we wanted. Being the angsty teenager I was, I decided to listen to the world for a while. As great and liberating as this life appeared to be...it disgusted me. Even when I got away with things, I would find myself praying every night that I would become a better person. I began to waste my life away, concerned only with myself and my own well-being. Screw everyone else. I had myself to worry about.  Self-doubt soon turned into false pride. I thought I knew so much because the world flattered me when I started to accept its teachings as my own.

At some point during high school I started to wake up and I started to grow up. I began reading books that didn't glorify nihilism (Forget you and your empty words Nietzsche! Your name was too hard to spell anyway!). Little by little, I became more aware of the type of life I was living. Little by little, I was finding my way out of it.

"Quo Vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz became a turning point for me. I, for some reason, kept gravitating towards this book for months...but never picked it up and read it. In fact, I didn't even know what it was about. I was far more obsessed with IMing people than Googling mysterious books (...good old, almost defunct AOL instant messaging....). One day, a very old, worn book caught my eye amid a collection of other extremely old books. These books were stacked together in a very old, dust-covered bookcase in a classroom that (in a few months) would no longer exist due to renovations. Had I searched for the book amid all these other books...I would have probably never found it. Yet, it caught my eye and I pulled it out.

I can't explain why I took it...I simply just took it and started reading. I had "borrowed" books in a similar fashion before and I always ended up returning them in the end. However, I never ended up returning this one because I finished it long after the school year was over. I can normally finish a book within a few days....but this one turned into a book that I ended up savoring, reading it slowly whenever I got the chance....and meditating upon what I read. Though the classroom, shelf, and neighboring books are now long gone, I still have this book in my possession...and am not sure if I can ever return it (because of the funny looks I'd get and the fear that it would ultimately get tossed in the garbage since it isn't exactly anywhere near mint condition...).

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating here about how old it really is...but you get the idea. 

I remember sneaking a chapter or two whenever I had some free time. I remember vividly one day after going to mass with my family, I found myself in my room reading about the terrible persecution of the Christians by Nero. I was so moved by both their suffering and their faith...and I thought to myself...."Wow, God gave me a pretty great life. Look at all these terrible things happening to all of these these people and look at my life. How can I have lived a life like this where I have experienced neither a death nor an immense pain like this..." I started counting my blessings that very morning and truly trusting in God.

Somehow I think God led me to that book and that revelation because that same afternoon my mother was admitted into the hospital. She had experienced sudden arrhythmic death syndrome while my sister and I were next door at a party for a girl we used to babysit. I had felt and ignored a nagging urge to go home...and truth be told, never imagined something serious like this would ever happen to me or my family. Yet, by the time my mom made it to the hospital she was already brain dead. She was pulled off life support a few days later. Not a day goes by, even seven years later and with my busy schedule, that I don't think about her.

I was a momma's girl so a death like this would have certainly torn my life apart had it not been for my trust in God. Yes it had taken me years to get to the point where I finally started trusting Him, but I know I'd been hearing Him saying "Trust Me" for years. He had asked me to trust Him throughout my angsty teenage years...asked me to stop trusting the world and my self-doubt. Thankfully, He gave me that last-minute reprieve (with the help of Quo Vadis) right before my mother's death. It was my trust in Him that ultimately allowed me to accept my mother's passing. It was my trust in His plan that eased my pain. It is because of my trust in Him that I still, to this day, KNOW that I will see my mother again one day and that death is never the end. Forget what the world tells me about living in the present....I'm sticking with God.

Truth be told....I have grown so disillusioned with the world. I'm disgusted with what I see on TV (a former favorite past-time of mine). I've grown tired of the things that used to bring me instant, empty gratification as a teenager. I've grown weary of listening to the empty promises of all those people that will one day look back and realize that they wasted their lives pursuing all the empty joys and vanities that Nero once sought....and we all know what happened to him.

What I want now is something that can sustain me and improve me in a way where I can offer prayers of thanksgiving and not just empty apologies every time I cross myself and kneel before God at Church. What I want is to trust God completely and forget the things of this world. I want to follow Christ just as Peter did in "Quo Vadis" when all of Rome (his followers included) were telling him to do otherwise.

"The pilgrim's staff fell from Peter's hands to the earth; his eyes were looking forward, motionless; his mouth was open; on his face were depicted astonishment, delight, rapture. Then he threw himself on his knees, his arms stretched forward; and this cry left his lips,
 --"O Christ! O Christ!"
He fell with his face to the earth, as if kissing some one's feet. The silence continued long; then were heard the words of the aged man, broken by sobs,
 -- "Quo vadis, Domine?"
Nazarius did not hear the answer; but to Peter's ears came a sad and sweet voice, which said, 
-- "If thou desert my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time."
The Apostle lay on the ground, his face in the dust, without motion or speech. It seemed to Nazarius that he had fainted or was dead; but he rose at last, seized the staff with trembling hands, and turned without a word toward the seven hills of the city.
The boy, seeing this, repeated as an echo,  
-- "Quo vadis, Domine?"
"To Rome," said the Apostle, in a low voice.
And he returned."


Pax Vobiscum

2 comments:

  1. I would love to hear your take on it some time...perhaps in a future post

    *nudges idea for future post towards you*

    I absolutely loved reading Quo Vadis...and have had a hard time finding another work of fiction that was as powerful. Dostoyevsky came close with "Crime and Punishment" and from what I've heard, "The Brothers Karamazov" sounds promising...if I ever find time to read it.

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