Right now, I should be jet-lagged from Saturday’s return flight from Italy. Unpacking, doing laundry, going through stacks of mail, picking up my cat, Freddie, from my son’s gracious cat-sitting ordeal, watering the flowers, reliving my time on Pilgrimage in Assisi… [see: “My Journey with St. Francis, the Jesuits and Pope Francis – Part I“]
But I’m not…
In a post almost 6 months ago, I wrote of my hopes for this journey, a retreat for health care professionals that promised ‘renewal, respite and reflection’ in Assisi, Italy. St. Francis’ birthplace. Up close and personal to my daily prayer of “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”
My pilgrimage that would take me to the same cobblestone streets where St. Francis walked, prayed and healed. Where I could best offer my gratitude for all blessings received (and they are many) in this life, and where I could best humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ― Allen Saunders & John Lennon
My pilgrimage turned into a different journey, to a different place, perhaps even more sacred. A pilgrimage of the ordinary times in a marriage – the unexpected trials – the uncertain, dark and lonely times.
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphysical journey into someone’s own beliefs. ~ Wikipedia
There are significant benefits to a second marriage when you are older – no time to waste on falseness; you already know what you need in a partnership, and you don’t bother looking for what isn’t healthy or what doesn’t exist. When you get married young, in the thralls of romance and knights in shining armor and dreams through rose-colored glasses, most of us don’t think of the “…in sickness and in health from this day forward until death do us part” portion of the vow. But when you form that union middle-aged, you are clearly aware that those times will undoubtedly be coming sooner rather than later.
And so they did…
I’ve had my share of hospital stays and “GOK” Disease (named by one of my doctors: “God Only Knows” Disease), surgeries and too-quick recoveries in my adult life, but my husband was one of the few who had made it this far in life without a hospital stay.
Ten days before we were to depart for our rest and renewal workshop, he became ill – seriously ill – and landed in the hospital.
Pilgrimage: a journey to a place that is connected with someone of something that you admire or respect. ~ Oxford Advanced Dictionary
My journey where I so eloquently hoped to “humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.” Little did I know that when I had those hopes – indeed, had that certainty – for my pilgrimage, it would be directed toward my husband rather than a patient, client, student, stranger, or friend in need.
This time, it was much closer to home.
Pilgrimage: any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage; a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. ~ dictionary.com
Certainly this act of devotion, of care-taking, was assumed automatically. The decision to cancel our trip in light of the circumstances was easy. Yes, it was a missed opportunity that I had so looked forward to; yes, it would be inconvenient to have to reschedule the visit (hopefully) sometime in the future. But mostly, there was the disappointment that I was so sure that I would be shown some priceless wisdom while on this retreat. After all, I would be walking and praying where St. Francis walked and prayed. A lightning bolt would strike directly in front of me and all would be revealed.
How could I not be gifted with Divine Wisdom in so sacred a place?
Pilgrimage: the course of life on earth; journey undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or to demonstrate devotion. ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
My prayers were answered – the Divine Wisdom was there – just not as I expected it (which is usually the case with me). The sacred places were the emergency and waiting rooms, the doctor’s offices that we are still visiting, the computer screen that listed the test results, the iPhone with family texts and conversations, the empty house at night… Not the cobblestone streets of Assisi, but rather the hospital corridors and parking lots and driveways that all leave their indelible mileage on your heart.
My husband is on his way to recovery; his energy level is improving a little day by day; his stubbornness is showing signs of resurfacing (that’s not such a good thing, but in light of the past month, I’ll take it); our conversations are becoming more regular and actually concern something other than mortality and bone marrow and fevers of unknown origin and Family Medical Leave.
Scared ground. All of this – the tears, the despair, the anxiety, the complete disruption of normalcy – is sacred ground.
A pilgrimage of sorts.
About marriage, love and partnership, fear and uncertainty, anger and decisions, devotion and things said or unsaid.
And hope. Always hope.
Hope that things that were once taken for granted and perhaps annoying would actually return (who knew?); that normalcy would once again be a part of our lives. Those ordinary things.
Ordinary, every day, ‘boring’ things that were, and are, in actuality, extraordinary.
This pilgrim is grateful. And humbled. Yet again, caught by surprise at how little I have control over things. Reminded that all will be well, regardless of my attempts to influence, ascertain, direct, determine, assure, limit, organize, out-maneuver whatever the future has in store.
Did I say that I was middle-aged? Chronologically perhaps, but naive none-the-less. Still learning. Still struggling. A work in progress.
A pilgrim on sacred ground.
It’s any place any one of us reaches out in love. It’s everywhere. It’s right beside us. Inside us. And it’s all about love.
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive –
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
I walked with St. Francis on my pilgrimage. The wings that carried me weren’t part of an airplane…yet my feet never even touched the ground.