Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The End, Before the Beginning

It is every bit as difficult for me to process my crush-and-crumble stage of the pilgrimage as it was to experience it in the first place. How do I even go about trying to pick this up, let alone get a grip on it?

We went to the mountains, because it is what Poles do, what Europeans do. It's what Pope John Paul did. We rested, but to be honest, I don't remember that. Endometriosis was raging against me as we rested. And then, we went hiking.

It was beautiful, and it was exhausting. When it wasn't miles of rocky steps like this, it was worse. I prayed hard while I could, and when focusing on breathing and mere perseverance became all-consuming work, I just united my efforts to my intentions. One of the only ways that I recall that I was surrounded by beauty is that I took a few pictures, and they remind me when I look at them. I was drenched in sweat, puffing, exhausted, and soon enough, every inch of me began to hurt. On the first day of hiking, on one particular step down, I felt something go "ouch" in my right knee.

The next day we were to go again. Many of our number decided to do the more extreme version of rock climbing and left at 3am. Several others opted simply to stay back in our little village cottages. Because I am earnest and did not wish to be disappointing, I decided to go again.

It was not a terrible walk up, although there were patches that required all my attention because there was a sheer drop off one side. We met up with the early morning adventurers and then started back, taking generous rests on the way. But miles from the park's end, that knee that had gone "ouch" the day before all but gave out on me. Soon both right and left steps were painful as my body desperately tried to find a way to compensate for all the pressure. It hurt like the dickens, but I've been glad for that pain, especially since I've returned (and went to the chiropractor). Because of it, I had a chance at one last glimpse of my friend's soul as I have come to know it.

Iwona came upon me sitting on the rocks somewhere, wincing. She asked if I wanted her to carry my packback, but, too far gone for that to help, I laughingly told her, "I want you to carry me!" Well, she propped me up and helped me all the way down. And it wasn't only my broken body, but my crushed spirit that almost stayed on top of that mountain. I was trying to hard to deal, but had almost nothing left. There is that between friends that gives life, that keeps one alive. And I stayed alive that day.

But after that a dark curtain fell in my soul.

I was physically drained, I cried at the drop of a hat, feeling no ability or even interest in restraining myself. Circumstances evoked fierce anger in me towards the same friend who had propped up my life a few days before. It was confusing, because I don't at all get angry easily. I knew it was thinly-veiled heartbreak at the inevitable Goodbye which left me feeling smaller than small, crumpled up and tossed aside like yesterday's trash, which I so fiercely did not wish to become.

And then I had a good long meditation on death. Sunday afternoon I lay on the mountainside alone, and thought about how all that is beautiful comes to an end. Even mountains erode to nothing, and finally, all meets death. St. John of the Cross echoed in my mind... nada. It was not a bitter meditation, but it was sobering. The Lord showed me the danger of stewing in these thoughts, though, and mercifully provided me with a way out of that.

On the day we left the mountains, we traveled to Wadowice, to St. John Paul's home town. One theme stuck with me there:

It says "Time flies; eternity awaits." This clock on the wall of the Church of the Presentation in Wadowice was directly in eye shot from JPII's childhood home. He, no doubt, meditated frequently on the fleetingness of life and on the importance of living for eternity. God was speaking to me of this, too. Everything we experience on earth passes so quickly and is gone. The eternity we experience beginning now is where we must fix our focus.

And then, we went to Auschwitz. Millions of people had no choices whatsoever about their lives being ripped from them, about loved ones being ripped from them. There is so much pain in the world. And to this place came St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and others I don't know. Love was present here, by these people choosing to love.

We went to our host families that night, before what was to be our last whole day in Poland. That black curtain was still hanging down, even while mysteriously my heart swelled with joy at talking with our new hosts. If this had not all been graced, I would have wanted nothing more than to shut myself in a room alone and wallow.

Grace can take the form of one feeling bewildered, confused, and so very deeply not in control. Come to think of it, this is a more realistic view of my life as it stands before God than I normally have!

If you have not already read it (or even if you have!), the blog post Carmelite on a Journey fits here chronologically, after the conclusion of this one. Truth be told, I really needed to tell that story early, out of order, in order to have the strength to tell the rest.

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