When I arrived at Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondack Mountains last month to lead a retreat, I was excited but nervous. As is always the case when I lead a group, I want to be sure I give participants what they need, the spiritual nourishment they’re craving. Most times when I wrap up, I’m a bit depleted from putting out so much spiritual energy over the course of a few days, but this time I was energized and uplifted, riding a spiritual high that was fed by the 30+ people who engaged in the retreat so fully they left me awed and humbled and inspired.
I was lucky enough to be seated at meals—due to Covid our movements were restricted in the dining hall—with a lovely woman named Margie, who left a deep imprint on my heart and soul. A retired occupational therapist, she practically glowed with peace and grace, holiness and joy. When I asked about her life, she leaned in as if sharing a secret and said, “Ever since I retired, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I wake up every morning and say, ‘What am I going to do today?!?’” At that moment I leaned in and said to her, “I want to be you when I grow up.” And I do.
I watched as she headed out on challenging hikes, often leading the way for others, or hauled her lightweight kayak to the lake at all hours to paddle through mist and fog, at sunrise and sunset, capturing photos of lilies and spiderwebs, shimmering water and deep green mosses to share with our community. She recounted tales of a week spent in an Italian village north of Venice last year and showed us the beautiful hand-painted necklace made by a Benedictine nun she met there. This is a woman who draws you to her, and you never want to let go.
How easy it would have been for me to miss out on the joy and beauty that is Margie. Had we not been seated together at meals—the Spirit at work, for sure—or had we been too busy to connect at different times that weekend, we might have walked away not knowing what we missed, but, oh, what a loss that would have been.
What does all of this have to do with anyone other than me and Margie? Everything. When we take the time to notice, to listen, to share, we discover kindred spirits who lift us up and help carry us forward, especially during these challenging times. So many of the people on my retreat—some of whom I’ve known for a long time—taught me beautiful lessons, leaving me in laughter one minute and tears (the good kind) the next. We were a group of mostly strangers at the start but a beloved family by the end. We don’t have to go on retreat to find that; it is always right there for the taking. We just have to open our eyes—and our hearts—to what’s around us every single day.
Are you willing to embrace the life you’re given, looking for every last opportunity to learn, to experience, to give? Can you step beyond your fear and worry to see the beauty and joy that is just below the surface, maybe outside in God’s great creation, maybe sitting next to you at a lunch table, maybe in the next cubicle at work? Can you wake up tomorrow, clap your hands together with joy and anticipation and say, “What will I do today?”
This column originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2020, issue of Catholic New York.