Prelude to a Pilgrimage

September 4, 2010 | Italy, Rome, Travel

God is good. And He sure does have a sense of humor. I was close to a basket case when I left my house yesterday because of the impending hurricane. I didn’t know if I was heading into the eye of the storm or if my flight would take off as scheduled. To top it off, I was pretty emotional leaving the kids for ten days, including the first day of school for all three. So just as I was about to dash out the door, I grabbed some rarely used Lourdes water from the top shelf of our kitchen and splashed a little on myself, the kids and Dennis as I said a quick blessing. Then it was off to the airport to meet my shuttle to JFK.

A few minutes later, when we arrived and I didn’t see the shuttle, I could feel the panic beginning to rise. I saw three people standing at the taxi stand and asked if they were waiting for the same shuttle. Sure enough, they were. And they were on their way to, of all places, Lourdes. Wow, that water works fast! One of the three was a retired priest who wrote to me years ago because he liked some of my stories and my last book. He lives in the building where Dennis works, but I’d never had a chance to meet him. Well, today was the day. We all chatted (me, the priest and the two women going to Lourdes on the same tour), and by the time we were one hour into our ride, they had given me a blue Pieta prayer book, specifically for the prayer in the face of storms, a St. Benedict bracelet, and a beautiful set of beads for praying an Adoration chaplet. But more than any of those lovely material/spiritual things, they gave me an obvious understanding of God’s presence on this trip and that, indeed, the pilgrimage had already started – before I ever left Albany.

I closed my eyes and could not help smiling to my self at the way God works. My panic and worry vanished as I realized that God was with me, and I had the strongest sense that my guardian angel was sitting in the empty seat next to me. It was a real Wings of Desire moment, one I’ve never experienced before. I didn’t feel its presence the whole way but for a few fleeting moments it almost seemed as if I could reach out my hand and brush against this beautiful being.

So my pilgrimage is definitely under way. As we headed down the Thruway to JFK, I listened to the conversations of the travelers around me. The couple in front who were headed to Ireland, the Lourdes women who were talking about delicious food from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the Australia-bound grandma and granddaughter, the man behind me who spoke on his phone in a language I couldn’t understand, the priest a few rows back who sat alone so he could quietly pray the Divine Office. In that moment, I experienced something that felt a little bit what Thomas Merton once described when standing on a street corner surrounded by people. I felt this unbridled love for all these beautiful strangers heading to different countries, different continents but somehow connected to each other through our common humanity, our shared brotherhood and sisterhood as travelers on a journey that requires no shuttle buses or planes. We are off, and I am blessed.

By the way, thank you all for your prayers via phone, email, the blog, Facebook and more. I could feel you all lifting me up as I traveled to Rome. I will be praying for you from here.

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