Fall Tapestry

October is a month of fall festivals and breast cancer awareness.  Yesterday, both came together when I attended the Big Foot Festival near my hometown of Sanford.  I don’t know a lot about Big Foot, but I went to support my friend, Donna, who’d organized the event as a fund raiser for clean water efforts.  Walking along the food vendors, I spotted a woman in a pink baseball cap with shiny rhinestones forming a breast cancer ribbon.  Sometimes I hold back, not sure if that person wants to share, but her cap was so bold that I felt it was an invitation.

She told me about her shock when an Emergency Room doctor abruptly announced that her back pain was caused by cancer.  Through tears she relived hearing the “C word” and later learning that hers was Stage IV.  Soon she added, “God is seeing me through and I’ve been able to help others, especially women who’re now more aware.”

“I’ve had breast cancer, too,” I said.  “Now it’s been seventeen years as a survivor.”

“Thanks for telling me,” she responded.  “Some days you just need to hear that.

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She told me of her shock at hearing the “C word”

She recalled how she’d been supported by her community: cards, meals, gifts.  Her face brightened as she told me about her plans for the future.

“That’s right, look toward the future,” I encouraged her.  “While you’re taking the needed treatment steps, you’re moving on to the things that you desire.”

We hugged goodbye.  I added her to the women in my breast cancer tree, the one I pass on my morning walks that reminds me to hold them up to the light of prayer.

I took advantage of the food vendors—eating all those fair-like delicacies; hotdog with mustard, chili, and slaw; quesadillas with pork; Big Foot sugar cookies; mango and strawberry shaved ice.  Saturday was no time to stick to a healthy diet.  Eating with Donna’s family and friends, we sat in lawn chairs around her booth of merchandise, including tee shirts she designed, furry face masks of wee Big Foots, back scratchers of the mysterious creature’s paws.  How nice it was to be grafted into this group, my friend the central figure who pulled us together.

I saw a couple of women I hadn’t seen in years, one telling me I should spend more time in my hometown.  The other woman’s three children were contestants in the Big Foot hollering contest.  It occurred to me how seldom I participated in such community events—usually too busy doing something purposeful, goal-directed.  How relaxing it was to just move in the flow of this festival, no expectations, no responsibilities—just enjoying the afternoon.

As the sun was setting, casting that gloaming light over the Deep River, we listened to people tell stories of their encounters with Big Foot.  I thought back to my experiences in Scotland.  Just a few weeks before I was riding a boat out into Loch Ness, listening to accounts of Nessie in the seven- hundred- foot water.  I could see Alistair, our retreat leader in Iona, lying down on the hill of the fairies and telling about Celtic beliefs.  If felt like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Celtic fairies were now being joined.

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The Deep River reminded me of the deep waters of Loch Ness

Watching the light disappear, I noticed the foundation of the bridge over the river was made of stone.  That’s like so many buildings in Scotland, I thought. The path that I’m called to follow is the same in Sanford as Scotland; be present, be myself as I encounter the people in my path.  Today there had been the woman with breast cancer, my widening circle who shared Donna’s generous friendship, and those who’d experienced realms unfamiliar to me.  All had woven a beautiful tapestry on a fall day.

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What about you?

In what ways have you seen your call in life being expressed the same way while in different places?

How can you live into that this day?

What new threads do you see in the tapestry that is your life?

Southern Drawl

I’ve encountered reactions to my Southern accent on my journeys outside the Southeast.  But I didn’t expect to when I traveled to Iona.  In an international place, I assume there’ll be many accents so that none will stand out.  That’s what I’d experienced on my trips to New York City –so many foreign tongues that mine was just one more.  That wasn’t the case at Iona.

On our first night together, we mingled over cups of tea and oatcakes.  I felt a nudge to talk with a man from Holland who was maybe ten years younger than me.  Once we started talking, he stopped and said, “Your voice, the way you talk, it’s so weird!”

I couldn’t help my knee-jerk reaction, my face responding to his comment, my first time hearing my voice labeled weird.

“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” he said, concerned that he’d offended me.  “It’s just I’ve never heard someone like you before.  Where are you from?”

“North Carolina — in the States.  I’m from the South.  That’s the region where my weird voice is from.”

north-carolina-890632_1280He chuckled then continued telling me about his life for almost an hour.  More conversation followed at points during the week—when we shared our meal duties on the Seal team and walked alongside each other on our island pilgrimage.  That man from Holland wasn’t the only one to react to my accent.  There was the man from Australia.

He was older, attending with his wife as a fiftieth wedding anniversary present.  After several days at Iona, with more conversations in small groups, he talked as easily as his wife.  He made a comment about me being from the South and attempted to imitate me, with what came out as a cowgirl, Wild West type accent.

Really, an Aussie thinking he doesn’t have an accent, I thought.  I laughed at his attempt to sound like me, and let go of my typical embarrassed, pride-hurt response.  I’d decided to just be myself and accept whatever happened at Iona.  That included my ego about being good enough, sophisticated enough, educated enough.  The father-like Aussie was teasing me and by the end of the week, I gave it back.

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Our meeting room

On Wednesday evening by the fire, we shared songs, stories, and other talents.  I read one of my personal essays about taking Mama to eat with her brother.  It’s a bittersweet story, filled with pathos about the changes in Mama from dementia, and joy at the richness of being with family.  After my reading, several people told me how my story had touched their hearts.  One woman, from Oxford, England said that what made the difference was my voice, me reading the story.  The next day, she told me she’d been thinking about places where it might be published and then added, “You should read it on the radio.”

My voice, my Southern accent on the radio, recommended by a woman from Oxford.  My, oh My!

That afternoon, when I went to the nearby hotel to use the Wifi, I ran into the Aussie man and his wife.  He told me he was unclear about the location of my story.  He said he knew it was in the South, and did a bit of a Connie impersonation.  I would miss him when we parted the next day.  I couldn’t resist a comeback. 

After I answered his question with a quick North Carolina geography lesson, I said, “You know, I would have liked to talk with you more this week.  But I just couldn’t understand your accent!”

He and his wife laughed.  I would remember their warm smiles and the weird way they talked, those Aussies in Iona.

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What about you?

In what area of your life do you feel vulnerable?

How are you able to let go of that in order to be open to the experience of that moment?

How would it change your life if you let go of that vulnerability and accepted your whole self?

 

 

 

 

Some of Our People

The last time I took Mama to see her brother, we passed a car pulled over by a state trooper, blue lights flashing.  Mama focused on the loaded down Honda with the officer talking to the driver.   “I hope that’s none of our people in that kind of trouble,” she said.  Our people could have been any of a gazillion cousins in Harnett County.

Mama is like her mother, my Grandma Smith, and has always been very close to her large family and their extended family.  When I was planning my pilgrimage to Iona, I researched my grandmother’s maiden name, Gilchrist.  Not only had I found that it meant servant of Christ (see post, Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage), I learned that name was special to Iona.

Iona possesses the remains of five ancient High Crosses.  Only one, St Martin’s Cross that’s stood for over a thousand years, is complete and in its original site.  According to an internet reference on the Gilchrist surname, there was an inscription on that cross that read, “A prayer for Gilchrist who made this cross.”

Last January when I read that, I was amazed and saw it as another sign that I should journey to Iona.  When I was there, I had my picture taken holding Grandma to the cross that could have been made by our ancestor.

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She would have been pleased by the craftsmanship of the carving; in the center, the Virgin and Child; on the shaft, several Old Testament scenes; the east face, ornamental with prominent jewel-like bosses.  I assume that if there was an inscription about Gilchrist, it had worn off over the years.  I was disappointed.  In my mind’s eye, I’d seen it clearly carved across the base of the cross, but on close examination, there was no such inscription.

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I think about my question of how I would pay tribute to Grandma while I was at Iona.  I remember how she listened and her thoughtful responses.  I hope I did that with my community that week at the Abbey.  One woman that I had some deep conversations with was from Scotland.  She looked like some of Mama’s people—with red hair and fair skin.  She was very friendly and talkative.  I felt like I was at one of Mama’s family reunions, talking with one of her Gilchrist cousins.

During our worship services in the drafty stone chapel, I looked at the windows and thought about all the people who’d journeyed to Iona over the centuries.  Would one of my ancestors have traveled to Iona, set out on a pilgrimage like Grandma wanted to take to the Holy Land?  Probably not, I thought.  They would have likely been crofters or artisans and like Grandma’s farm-girl roots, could’t take time away from the daily chores of life.

Setting out, I didn’t know how I would experience the ‘thin veil’ of Iona, where heaven and earth are close together, a mystical place of pre-Christian fairies and Christian angels.  I didn’t have any mystical experience but rather a strong sense of belonging, of being on the right spiritual path for me in a place that felt like home.

I hope I paid tribute to Grandma by listening to others as she listened to me, that I posed questions in our deep conversations that helped to get at truth.  I believe I took Grandma with me to Iona.  We returned to our homeland and reconnected with ‘some of our people’ on that Scottish isle in a place deeply rooted in faith.

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What about you?

Have you been in a place that felt like you’d arrived home, a place that’s unfamiliar yet very familiar?

In what ways have you seen your ancestors in yourself?

At this point in your life, how would you like to honor your ancestors?

 

 

Catch the Early Ferry

The winds on the western isles of Scotland are relentless.  I viewed their impact on the Sound of Iona from the dining room of Seaview B & B, my accommodations in the village of Fionnphort.  The owner, John, had previously been a fisherman and was expert at judging the wind and the sea.  Knowing I had to check in at the Abbey on the following day he advised me, “I’d catch the early ferry.  They might close it down.”

He was right.  A group of those in our community of forty-one were caught when the ferry stopped after the second run.  They arrived the following day when the ferry re-opened.   At the end of our week, I remembered John’s words when I heard high winds were predicted.  A small group of us walked to the landing through the blowing rain in the early morning darkness instead of waiting until the 9:00 run—that allowed for more sleep, a less rushed breakfast, and lengthier goodbyes.

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Later, when I boarded the noon train in Oban, I saw the empty seats of those that should have been on that second ferry.  I hated it for my new friends—their inconvenience and costs with changing travel plans, and felt grateful for John’s wise counsel that had helped me avoid those complications.

Since childhood, I’ve cut things close in my life, waiting until the last minute in order to accomplish more, seeing that as being efficient.  I’d weed one more row in the garden, do one more load of clothes, add on another household chore—work up until the last minute before leaving for a scheduled activity.  But what I was beginning to see, was that giving myself the space that left room for error, was a more gracious way to live.

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The view of the sound from Seaview B & B

Years ago, when going through radiation treatment, I also found that giving myself more time and space worked to my benefit.  I scheduled the thirty-two treatments in one of the first appointment slots of the day.  I dreaded having to start my morning with the reminded of cancer.  I’d learned from my oncology visits that it helped to ‘pair the bitter with the sweet.’  Following my office visits, I’d do something enjoyable, like go shopping, get a manicure, or have a decadent treat.  What if I applied that same principle to the radiation visits—pair that distasteful daily reminder with something enjoyable?

I decided to arrive for my appointment fifteen minutes early and write.  I never took that time on a usual morning—always too busy getting myself and my family going for the day.  Over those thirty-two mornings, I came into the radiation department equipped with a mug of dark roast and my notebook.  By the end of the sessions, I’d written a short story and reframed the time as something I could partially look forward to– time for me.

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John Noddings, gracious host and weather advisor

Catching the first ferry and getting to radiation early come together for me now.  They are ways of opening up time and space with more grace—not pushing up to the limit with no room to maneuver.

I’ll keep John’s advice, spoken in his lovely Scottish accent, “Catch the Early Ferry” as the voice in my head that reminds me to allow myself enough room for the uncertainty, not knowing if the waters may turn rough and catch me unaware.

What about you?

Do you allow yourself the time and space to live life with grace?

How could you let go of the need to accomplish more and give yourself the extra time that allows for interruptions or delays?

Are there areas of your life where you could pair the bitter with something sweet?

Walk Across Iona

I approached my week at the Abbey wondering how I would fit in.  Now I look back at all our activities together and see glimpses of myself.  One of the things I’d looked forward to was our pilgrimage across the island to places of historical and religious significance. We all dressed in waterproofs and hiking boots– knowing that sections would be steep and sometimes boggy.  We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day.

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Setting out on our journey together

At times I walked by myself, enjoying quiet moments to gather my thoughts and have my morning prayer walk like I’d have at home– remembering my family and friends who’d be sleeping– five hours behind in the States.  I enjoyed being out in nature, always renewing no matter the landscape or the types of animals that I encountered.  As far as I could see was grass-covered rolling land with rocky outcroppings dotted with sheep and some Highland cows, or “coos” as they’re called in Scotland.

These cows were comical looking to me with their triple coats and long hair growing down between their horns, almost covering their eyes.  We’d been told that they were gentle– for the most part, and I wanted to rub one.  I’ve loved cows since my childhood on a farm.

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The cow wasn’t interested in me rubbing him

We climbed steep and rocky paths.  I was especially careful, thinking of David and his knee, imagining how difficult an injury would be so far from the Abbey.  At different points along our journey, I talked to whoever was close by, seeing them as the people in my path, not seeking out a specific person with an agenda for conversation.  For me, it felt like that was my call to being present, to letting go of trying to control the journey.

Getting close to mid-hike, we arrived at the southern tip of the island at St Columba’s Bay.  The beach was covered in pebbles and small stones.  This was the place where Columba is said to have arrived from Ireland on the Day of Pentecost in 563.  The staff member who led our walk, Ursula from Latvia, encouraged us to find a rock to cast into the water that represented what we’d carried that we wanted to be free of.  I thought of how my pride had made me hesitant to try new things for fear of making mistakes, for fear of looking foolish.  I chunked a large rock into the surf, hoping to leave that behind, at least more than I’d been able to do in the past.

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St Columba’s Bay

I found a sheltered spot in the cleft of the rock, sitting in the sand to eat my packed sandwiches and orange.  A woman, whom I hadn’t talked with, sat beside me and shared about the rock she’d thrown into the sea, the pain she’d experienced that was being reworked at Iona.  We would have other conversations that week and walk in the group to the ferry landing on that dark Friday morning.

Continuing on, we traveled down through the common grazing land, the machair, and to the sea, the Atlantic dazzling before us, with tropical-appearing waters that were green and blue.  I felt my breath catch as I realized how God had opened up my life, this wider space that had been provided in this pilgrimage to Iona.

I was ‘fitting in’ by being myself, letting go of defensive pride that said I should be more than I am.

What about you?

Have you ever hesitated to try something new because you wondered how you’d fit in?

How did you manage that situation?

What did you bring away from that experience?  In retrospect, would you like to have handled it differently?

We Gather

We gather.  Forty-one of us from around the world, pilgrims to Iona, Scotland.  We share stories of our lives, in one-to-one conversations across the table, in our dorm rooms as we prepare for the day, in dyads during morning sessions.  How interesting what has brought each person to this place– all unique yet with the common thread of seeking.

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We share our life together in our work through our chore assignments.  I’m in the Seal group and we ‘lay up’ the dinner meal.  I tell the others that where I’m from a lay up is one way to make a basketball shot.  At the Abbey it means setting the table– a long wood rectangular table with wood benches on either side and chairs at each end.  A seal sits in each chair and serves all the guests and then cleans off the plates.  The refectory hall where we eat is quite noisy with all the chatter of people making new friends.  Afterwards, we share in handwashing all the dishes.  I know my family and friends will laugh at me doing this job, which I’m known for hating.

Actually, the task isn’t so bad. We all work until the job is done and the young volunteer from Uganda often sings.  She has a quick and beautiful smile and will be leaving soon to return to her country to get married.  She told me my turquoise scarf is the color of her wedding dress that the women back home are making for her.

The food has been excellent– except for the porridge.  If I were home, my oatmeal would be much tastier with lots of cinnamon, walnuts, and dried cranberries.  Each day we have soup at lunch with homemade bread, jams, peanut butter, fruits and vegetables with hummus.  We have meat every-other-day.  It’s so different eating meals in a community compared to eating alone or with just my husband.  Sometimes I prefer the chatter, and other times I’d like to have the quiet.

I feel an affinity for this group– all with an appreciation for being open to how God is showing us our path.  Our speaker, Alistair McIntosh is originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.  He brings the history of Celtic Spirituality to life with his dramatic voice and his long laugh.  I’d read his book, Poacher’s Pilgrimage, before I left on my trip and now I can hear his voice reading it.

Yesterday, many of us took a six-hour hike to the significant historic sites from the days of St. Columba.  The wind is a constant force here– some days more fierce than others, and on our hike it was at about 30 miles an hour when we climbed to the highest point.  The view was stunning looking out over the rocky outcroppings, to the machair or common grazing land that goes down to the edge of the water, the Atlantic stretching out below.  I touched the water and imagined all the times I’ve experienced that same water on the Carolina shore.

I’ve tried to stay with my intention to be present, to absorb what’s around me, and to be open to this experience.  As I stood on top of that high point yesterday, I was struck by the vastness of the world before me, both the physical space of the wide Atlantic and the relationships I’m building with my fellow residents– from Holland, Austrailia, New Zealand, Latvia, Idaho, Minnesota, England, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, and Wales.

How beautiful it is, to hear all their voices, their accents as we sing the simple songs of faith in our worship in the ancient stone chapel.  I feel deeply blessed to be one of the gathered in this special place.

(Please excuse this rushed post.  Pictures aren’t loading but you can see them on my Author Facebook page at Saved by Sedona–thanks so much! Connie   p.s. must rush back to the Abbey to ‘lay out’ dinner!)

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Arrival on my Pilgrim’s journey

Path to Iona

We parted in Edinburgh–David for the airport and I  headed for Waverly Train station.   The remainder of our trip together we were able to do the things we planned, just more slowly and with more caution.  I felt that tension of transition, saying “Goodbye”to David, praying for his travel with a crutch, and moving into  my role as solo traveler.

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We say our goodbyes in Edinburgh

Now I joined those pilgrims from other  places, stepping  onto the path to  Iona.

My seat to Oban was  across the table from a  very friendly  Scottish  couple, Agnes and  David. He lifted my  luggage  into the overhead  bin and  was eager to share  information about places along our route.  He was an avid golfer and loved seeing my photos of my son’s  course near Charleston.  Agnes eventually warmed to the conversation and by our destination, showed me pictures of  their seven grandchildren.

We said goodbyes and wished each other safe travels.  I hurried to the ferry ticket office, heeding the caution in my instructions from the Iona Abbey to not  linger at the  nearby shops.  Once on the boat, I found a  quiet spot, needing the  fresh air and solitude after a richly stimulating morning.

After the forty-five minute ferry ride, I climb aboard the West Coast bus to Fionnphort.  We crossed the isle of Mull with its stunning and remote beauty, rarely a house  in  view, hills dotted in white, sheep grazing on the brownish-green grass and other vegetation.  After riding  more than an hour, we arrive at  our destination.

My lodging for the next two nights  is Seaview B & B that overlooks  the sound. I can  see Iona and think, I’m really  here.  After all my dreaming, planning, praying– I’m now at the  threshold of Iona and my week of living in the  community of the Abbey.

I’m glad I have some time to rest before  I enter that  space.  John and Jane, who own the B & B, are  wonderful hosts.   Jane prepares  a  delicious  dinner of lamb and potatoes on my first  night and  a hearty  and  tasty breakfast both  mornings.  John describes himself as  “the chatty  one” and provides essential information, including  to take  the early ferry this morning  when I departed.  High winds may  shut  the  ferry down in the afternoon.

The crew prepare  for the walkers and one car to board  the  ferry.  I look across  to  the Abbey and wonder; what will it be like to live in a community  for a week?  how will I fit in? how will I manage with no possible escape route  like I usually  have  on my journeys?   Like  before, I just  have to step forward  in  faith, trusting this as  the  right path for me.

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I’ll end  this post  early and ask readers to  understand that  it’s been difficult to post this  in real time– spotty  wifi, problems loading current pictures, using a tablet keyboard with so  many problems.   I’ll  post a day  early while I can.  But I persist because  I want  you  to join me  on my journey and  make it yours.   We take  the path to Iona and through life together.

Peace to  you.

 

Tea at Two

Tea at Two.  That’s what we’d agreed on, my new online friend and me, fellow breast cancer survivors from either side of the pond.  We’d have tea near my hotel at Hyde Park in London.  I was excited to meet her in person and to have a real British teatime.  I envisioned a table covered in a linen cloth and a floral teapot and cups.  She’d have to advise me on which tea to choose– since I’m naturally a coffee connoisseur.  I assumed they’d serve scones– hopefully ones with berries.

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But that’s not what happened.

Everything had been going so well– David and I enjoying our first experience of Paris.  By Friday evening, with tired legs from hopping on and off the bus, we would end our visit with a night view of the city from atop the Montparnasse Skyscraper.  We rode the elevator to the fifty-sixth floor and then climbed the two flights of stairs to the observation deck.

Wow, what a view, I thought as we observed the city from such a different vantage point. I felt deeply satisfied that all my planning had payed off.  We watched the Eiffel tower burst forth like sparklers on the fourth of July– much more than ‘twinkling’ like someone had described.  David saw a news update on his phone that London was on high alert for a terrorist threat after an explosive went off in the subway system.  I won’t let anything ruin our wonderful time, I thought to myself, and focused on the sparkling tower, refusing to worry about our trip the next afternoon to London.

It was time to leave and we took the steps slowly– David complaining that his knee was hurting.  Right when we were about to reach the bottom of the first flight, he missed his last step and turned his knee.

I heard him cry out.  Later he told me he saw white light and felt like he would faint from the pain.  After he caught his breath, we slowly made it down to the street and to the taxis for a quick ride to the hotel.  I was dumbfounded by our sudden change. I switched into my automatic ‘school nurse mode’ and thought we have to get him off his feet– elevate, ice, and rest his left knee.  Right when I get the ice pack in place, I see a message on my phone.  My friend can’t meet on Monday for tea; she’s had something unexpected to interfere.

Ironic that I’ve had something unexpected, too, I thought.  I’d done everything for David that was familiar, but the greater challenge was how I was going to handle the unfamiliar; seeking medical care with him immobile, using travel/medical insurance in another country, canceling and rescheduling reservations for the train and hotel in London.  Would he need to fly back early?  And what about my solo journey, would I need to cancel it?  My mind tends to think first of the worst scenario– and that was certainly true that night as I tried to go to sleep.  My prayer was that God would help me to stay present, focus on just what I needed to do one moment at the time.

The next morning, the hotel desk clerk told me about the SOS Medecins– doctors who made house calls.  She contacted them and within an hour a physician knocked on our door.  He provided prescriptions and notes to authorize an extension of our Paris stay– giving me the paperwork the insurance company required.  Afterwards, I set out, to pick up the meds and crutches and then to buy food for lunch.  We’d planned to have a picnic in Luxembourg Garden’s, but that wouldn’t happen now.

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London had to wait

With the cool, fresh air and the streets bustling with Saturday, my mood brightened.  Things were working out, not as I’d hoped, and not ideally for David who’d been in pain. And they continued to work out, with our extra night in Paris, and our brief stay in London.  I was sorry that our trip had been impacted by David’s injury, and sorry that I didn’t get to have that tea time with a new friend.

But injuries, like illnesses, make you slow down and force you to be present.  We’ll always remember this trip, and how one mis-step changed everything and we went through it together.

 

 

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Paris Can’t Wait

Paris Can’t Wait.  That’s what my friend, Jennifer, named the Pinterest board she created for me.  Madame Sparrow has been my friend for sixteen years since I met her at our middle school.  She had lived in France for twelve years and taught French to our middle schoolers.  Over the past months she’s been educating me and inspiring me.  Now it’s time for the student to use what the teacher has given her.

My husband, David, and I make it to our hotel in a dazed state, mostly unable to sleep on the flight.  I’m glad he’s with me for this leg of my journey, not only for time together but for the security of not traveling alone.  David’s been brushing up on French phrases, and I see his pleasure at reviving his language skill from years ago, a stellar French student in college.  We set out in search of strong coffee and fresh air.

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a much needed expresso

I’ve had a feeling, the ‘still small voice of God’ speaking to me that has said to be patient, present, and to just absorb what’s going on.  I want to enjoy being with my husband, and I want him to enjoy France.  There’s always a pressure when you go to a new place to cram in too much activity.  I’ll let him take the lead now, and try to curb my tendency to just take off.

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David considering dinner options

We start out in the neighborhoods near our hotel.  I find it hard to focus on following the map because I’m awestruck by the beautiful architecture, the ancient buildings that are dappled in early afternoon light.  We make several navigational errors trying to find Luxemburg Gardens and right when we find the entrance, David has a call from a colleague.  He moves to a spot under the trees to talk while I admire a statue flanked by flowers.  I think to myself,  Really, you can’t leave him alone.  He’s a psychologist and in our thirty-nine years of marriage work calls have frequently interrupted our time.  I feel my irritation rise and then I remember– Stay present, be patient.

The call doesn’t take a long time.  One of the adolescents he works with had to be seen for an emergency evaluation by the colleague.  He’s very conscientious, so responsible.  Part of the reason I married him.

The gardens are lovely in the mid-afternoon light.  So many statues with plantings in multiple hues and textures that enhance the total picture.  We stroll up and down the neighborhoods with buildings that have tall shuttered windows and interesting balconies.  We hear tolling of bells and realize we’ve made it to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  We enter the worship area to hear the mass in French.  While I don’t understand the words, it’s lovely to hear the passionate words flow beautifully in the native tongue.

We’re both tired with aching feet from concrete and cobblestones.  I’m ready to eat and to try a cafe’ near the hotel.  But David wants to stop in a shop in the Latin Quarter to find a beret.  Do we have to do this now, I think, my hunger alarm sounding and my patience used up.  He tells me a man who runs their office cleaning service has asked him to find a navy beret, size large.  David searches that store and another and finds a beret.  He is happy that his quest has been satisfied and I am happy that I have remembered David’s kind and generous heart.

I have benefitted from Madame Sparrow’s introduction to Paris, and from the reminders on this journey with my husband of some of the reasons I fell in love with him forty years ago.

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Go Fund Me

Today I take off on my trip and feel deeply grateful.  I remember back to the end of March when I retired.  Our school staff and my nursing colleagues honored me and later there was another party with friends.  What I didn’t expect was a surprise party given by my family.  I was shocked and speechless– a rare state for me.  When I learned that my younger son had set up a Go Fund Me page for my travel, I was totally overwhelmed.  All I could say was, “But I’m not having a transplant!”

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Me and Madison on the Go Fund Me page

He wanted to make it easy for family and friends to donate toward the travel I’d dreamed of– a trip to Europe with my husband followed by my pilgrimage to Iona.  Now I think of all those who’ve given money, encouragement, prayers, and advice to help with this journey.

I’m praying for God’s protection as we travel and for my family back home.  I feel a tug at leaving Mama, ninety-four and in the nursing home.  It’s always a bittersweet time when I tell her “bye” at the end of a visit.  She doesn’t understand where I’m going or how long I’ll be gone.  While physically she’s pretty healthy for her age, I know that one day when I tell her bye, it’ll be for the last time.  It always gives me pause when I hug and kiss her, look back at her sitting in her wheelchair, and tell myself it’s time to leave.

When I started working on travel plans, I was concerned about leaving Madison.  At over thirteen-years-old, I knew she could have problems.  After a sudden illness, she died in July– while I was home.  I’ve missed my sweet dog; the clicking of her paws on our wooden floor, her excitement when we made popcorn and she heard the pinging against the lid of the pot, taking walks with her gracefully prancing like a young girl.  At least I don’t have to worry about her while we’re away.

Last Sunday I attended my church, Duke University Chapel, and after receiving the sacraments of communion, I stepped into the small memorial chapel to dedicate my trip.  Lighting a candle, I was reminded of doing the same thing at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona.  On that first solo journey, I prayed about moving forward from cancer and the toxic job.  Sixteen years later, I watched the flame from the votive and prayed for my travel with my husband and pilgrimage to Iona.

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I knelt at the altar and our minister annointed me with oil and placed his hand on my shoulder.  While he prayed over me, the choir was singing and the pipe organ filled that gothic space, a crescendo of blessing.  In that moment, I felt like part of the church universal, joining with pilgrims from ancient times receiving a blessing for the journey.

My heart is full as I depart, thinking of all who have ‘funded’ me with bountiful gifts from my community of support; family and friends who’ve contributed money for my travel, those who’ve offered travel advice and cautions; a Pinterest board created to help us enjoy Paris; a floral umbrella to cover me during the UK rain; a multi-colored scarf to keep me warm and remember friendships; a picture book of the Hebrides to enjoy the islands even before I arrive; journals to record my thoughts and feelings.

I think of my Go Fund Me community of support, and while I’m not having a medical crisis, I have been blessed by accepting these gifts from the people in my path.

I go forth in Peace.

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I place my Thanksgiving on my journey altar.

How About You?

Have you been the recipient of the gifts from a community of support?

How did that change your life?

What are gifts that you provide to others?/