Today is the day! It is finally here! We leave for Tel Aviv tonight and it will finally feel like the pilgrimage is underway. Allow me to catch you up on the last 24 hours.
My journey began on Tuesday when, after waiting for the last-minute delivery of my power adapter/converter from Amazon, we made the two-hour drive from Twin Falls to Boise. Because my flight out of Boise was at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning we thought it would be best to spend the night in Boise rather than leaving Twin at like 2:00am. We left Twin later than I think we wanted to because we ended up having a late dinner and our 8 month-old son, who will henceforth be referred to as S, was extremely tired. Even though we left late, it was a great ride with Lauren and S, and my mother-in-law Sandra. It was really good for me to have all of them with me in these final hours before my departure. We had a good dinner, good conversations, and called it a night because we still had to get up at 4:00am to get ready to leave.
As I mentioned it my last post, I knew that saying goodbye and being away from Lauren and S for this long for the first time was going be heart wrenching…and it was painfully so. I didn’t sleep well that night. There was a growing sense of anxiety within me; my heart pumping and a feeling in my stomach. I wouldn’t say that it was paralyzing, preventing me from coming on the pilgrimage, but needless to say I got very little sleep that night. And then before we knew it, it was 4:00am and the alarm was going off. S remained asleep as I silently packed my bag in the darkness of the room. As he lay asleep in his pack-n-play I reached down, touched him, offered a silent prayer from my heart and a blessing. As my mother said when S was born, “Never wake a sleeping baby,” so I let him sleep. In the wee hours of the morning I said goodbye to S and gave Sandra a big hug as she came into our room to be with S so that Lauren and I could drive essentially across the street to the airport.
Then it came time to say goodbye to Lauren. This was no less difficult to say goodbye to her, but this was familiar. For two years while I was still in seminary in Berkeley, California, Lauren was serving in her first parish 800 miles away in Phoenix, Arizona. Fortunately we saw each other almost once a month, with breaks and such, but each time I would visit we would have our tearful goodbyes at the drop-off curb. Ripping the band-aid is always best to get it over with, but we had our familiar goodbye at the curb in Boise. Though this wasn’t our final goodbye, because I left my sunglasses in the car. Of all the things to forget to bring with you when you head to the desert, sunglasses are not one of them. Lauren had just returned to the hotel when I called her and she rushed over. We had one more quick goodbye, and the band-aid was ripped, the goodbyes over.
I checked-in and boarded the Southwest flight that would take me to Newark, by way of Oakland. Who knew you had to go west to travel east??? But as one friend pointed out, “Welcome to air travel from your locale!” And she is right, but it was just an hour flight from Boise to Oakland, and then a five-hour flight from Oakland to Newark.
On the flight I made some significant headway into a book, that I feel like I have been wanting to write, Jesus: A Pilgrimage by the Rev. James Martin, SJ. In the book, which I am sure I will reference again and again along the pilgrimage, the author blends scripture studies, theological reflections, his personal experience of the Holy Land, and archeological findings to help connect the stories of the bible and Jesus with our own faith experience. I was reading one of his chapters about Galilee, and specifically the call stories of the disciples. How could four men, walk away from everything – their jobs, their families, their entire way of life – to follow a carpenter who says only a few words to them? As I read this chapter I wondered how those first disciples said goodbye to their families. Was it hard? Did their families understand why they had to leave? Did Jesus understand what he was asking from these men?
I closed my eyes and imagined the tearful goodbye of Peter and his family, of James and John telling their father that they had to go. I imagine that they, like me, felt the pain of having to say goodbye to their loved ones. Jesus invitation to the disciples to “follow me” comes from a place of love, a place of drawing people closer to him, which means that we have the choice to follow or not. I am sure the disciples felt a wide range of emotions as they decided to leave everything behind and follow Jesus; fear, anxiety, hopefulness, and more. Through Jesus, God is to be the people we were meant to be. God is inviting us to greater and greater freedom and it is up to us to respond. Jesus didn’t force the disciples to follow him, and God doesn’t force us to listen to him, the response is up to us.
And so, it is in that same place of love that I said goodbye and in a few hours I will say hello to the other pilgrims with whom I have shared in their faith journey. Soon I will see old friends again, and my heart will be filled again, and the pain of the goodbyes will give way to the joy of beings with friends. As I sit in the food court in the Newark Airport waiting for the bus of pilgrims to arrive, I am watching people saying goodbye to their loved ones with tearful eyes and extended embraces. All around me is that tension of sadness and joy, of leaving and returning. As I watch this unfold I am reminded of the opening scene from one of Lauren’s ultimate Christmas movies, Love Actually.
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends…If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around. – Love Actually
Just like God, love is all around us and indeed even present in all the goodbyes and the hellos throughout our lives.