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I was sitting this Saturday, as I always do on the 4th Saturday of the month, in a room with women and men I only see on fourth Saturdays. There was a book on my lap, a book at my side, and a book in my bag, patiently awaiting the return of its brethren so that we could finish up this obligation and go home. One of the women was talking about the contents of the book on my lap since we'd already discussed the book on my side. All I could think about is how terrible I've become at minding the book in my bag.

When I was teenager someone somewhere looked at something I'd done and decided that I was a natural leader. That this decision had been made would have been fine, I suppose, if they'd just not said a word to me and left me to discover whether this proclamation were true or not for myself. As it happens, I was not only told, but rewarded with a plaque or paper or somesuch which conferred that moniker. As the years have passed and I have passed through one leadership role or another, I've come to see this as a default mode of existence. I'm always in charge of something.

It sucks at times. Actually, truth be told, it sucks most of the time. I'm always thinking about what I need to do for the various groups in my charge, and I find my brain increasingly overloaded to the point that I can't actually choose to do anything because I always must be doing something. The guilt I feel often pushes me to frustration--with myself, with my loved ones, with my co-workers, with my charges--and at times I actually walk around my home or work expelling curses under my breath as a way to relieve the pressure.

When you're walking through a gorgeous winter garden pushing "fuck"s from your lips to pollinate the flowers, you have to start thinking you're doing something wrong.

At my meeting today we were discussing Jean Vanier's Community and Growth, a book I've had the pleasure to dip into periodically as part of my discernment and study. I am in formation as a secular religious; I study the contemplative traditions of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross as required by the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Vanier's book is meant to guide our religious community life, but every time I read it I find guidance for my secular life as well. This month we read the chapter on Authority and its role in community life, and as I turned each page I found myself both affirmed and humbled. During today's discussion, as I shared the varied and sundry thoughts I'd had while reading, I blurted out that I was glad that I wasn't in a position to lead this particular community, that I needed some time to recollect and refresh myself from the pressures of the leadership roles I already hold. The room was quiet for a moment, and I felt the burning shame of having rejected this group of almost-strangers before they'd even thought to ask me to do something for them.

How arrogant of me to assume they'd ask me to lead when I'd repeatedly shown them I could not follow.

On the drive home, I considered the ways in which I'd failed this community as a member. I am consistently late in completing requested tasks. I apply my gifts for their benefit when it suits me, not when they need them applied. I talk but do not do. I promise but don't always deliver, not in any way that would allow them to rely on me.

The book in my bag is heavy. It's a breviary, a book of prayer that's meant to order the day. My grandmother gave it to me after my grandfather, who was also part of this religious community, died. The pages were already worn for me, a path for me to follow so that I could, perhaps, become a leader in my community as he was one in his. My grandfather was one of those people who lead by the example of his life, and one day I'll have to write his story--and my grandmother's--to give them what honor I can.

Today, though, I think about his relationship with that book, about how he must have picked it up throughout the day in a show of obedience, a show of leading his family by following and submitting to the Rule. I realize that I curse at the flowers when I don't turn the pages of that book often enough, when in my haste to be a good leader, I forget the importance of following.

The book is now out of my bag, its ribbons showing me the way to the next stop on the journey. I step on the path again, keeping the curses in check for a few moments, at least.

This post was written in response to the Week 11 prompt at [ profile] therealljidol.

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