Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Traveling After 20 Years

When I set out on this pilgrimage, it had been two decades since I had done any significant travel. Oh, we'd traveled to Arizona and the Grand Canyon when my son was a toddler, and we'd done lots of car trips to visit the Grandmas, but I hadn't been on a plane since about 2003. Prior to getting married, I had traveled to Germany/Austria, Jamaica, Italy, the Holy Land, the Philippines, and I'd lived in Japan for two and a half years.  But all of that ended for me in 1997. And I was happy with that.

With the exception of the one month I spent in the Philippines, these other trips were short. The most outstanding memories of those travels were of being confronted with my own heart. With the exception of the pilgrimage I made to the Holy Land and to Italy immediately after entering the Catholic Church, that confrontation was mostly painful and ugly. And the two and a half years I spent in Japan were so interiorly painful and ugly that I could not calmly think about them until several years later.

Travel leaves one vulnerable and dependent on other people. And if one is not fluent in healthy vulnerability and dependence, of course a lot of unhealthy things can float to the surface. I told my kids the story of staying with my host family for a week during my high school trip to Germany. When asked if I were hungry, I typically said no, not because it was true, but because I believed that my hunger was an imposition on them which was rude for me to mention. And when they took me at my word, I stayed really hungry. This is how I functioned in relationship to my own needs at age 17.

By age 27 I was living in Japan as an English teacher "missionary" in a Catholic school. I naively chose to move there, thinking that because I had grown up with a Japanese-American friend I would naturally find friends among the Japanese, even thought I could not speak, read, or write in Japanese. I lived alone with little support from the order of Sisters in whose school I taught. I faced all manner of horrors residing in my heart at the time, and it really seemed the horrors won the day. In 1995 I went on a pilgrimage to Nagasaki with parish group where only one or two others spoke any English. I was so unable to cope with my own needs, so unable to form relationships, and so bitter that if I could have formulated my heart's words looking out on my fellow pilgrims, it would have simply been the blanket statement: I hate you all. I hate everything.

By the time I left Japan I was broken, was ready to admit I was a human, that I needed to humbly learn how to try, and that I need people. I like solitude, but I had tanked up instead on isolation and alienation, because I didn't completely know the difference between these.

Fast forward now 20 years.

On our first day with free time, my daughter and I hopped a bus and went to the city center in Wroclaw on our own.

You have to understand that I don't have a good visual memory, I don't have a good sense of direction, and I don't like to find my way when I don't understand the language. There was a secret part of me that wanted to go into fetal position at this challenge. But when you are leading your child, you suck that stuff up and act calm.

We got on the bus. I watched for the stop we needed. We got off and navigated. And I knew I had done this all before. And I was able to look like this had always been easy for me, that I had always felt welcomed in the world, and that anyone could go anywhere and do what they needed. My daughter saw that, and that's what's important, because now she can believe it, hopefully without all the anguish I put myself through. It made me feel completely spiffy, too.

What's even more profoundly important was the night-and-day difference from my prior experience I felt repeatedly throughout this pilgrimage. I looked out at an ocean of pilgrims, language and cultural differences aside, and I knew a new blanket statement: I love you all. I love everything.

Pilgrimage gives a mirror to the heart. Trust the value of what you see, even the horror, and keep walking towards the Lord.

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