I went swimming today. I saw some people, who hadn’t seen me since I had arrived home.
Margot said – “How was your trip?”
I said “It was great! ”
She said, “How long have you been home?”
“16 days,” I said.
Several laughed saying, “Listen to that, he has the count down!”
She said, “I bet you want to go back to Ireland!”
I said, “You know I do!” And that was it.
Vince saw me in the dressing room and he was enthusiastic about me being back, and asked how my trip was, and then followed up the question with his own answer: “I bet it was great!”
I said “Life-changing!”
He said, “I bet it was.”
The big guy in the yellow t-shirt he wears into the pool, standing in the shower next to me, had overheard Vince mentioning my walk and so said to me: “So you took some kind of a long walk?”
I said “Yes. I walked the Camino De Santiago, a five-hundred mile walk across northern Spain.”
“Oh man,” he said. “My niece and her husband are planning to do the Pacific Crest Trail this year.” And then we started to talk about their adventure.
On the way home I started to think about these conversations. I started to think about another man who after church on Sunday, asked, “How was your vacation?”
I told him it was great, all the while thinking, “It was not a vacation! It was a sabbatical. It was a life-changing event.”
But there was no place to say that then.
As I drove home from the pool I was thinking about how this most amazing of journeys can continue to get summarized in five letters: G.r.e.a.t.
How is that possible?
How could something that took my heart and massaged it, took my body and changed it, took my mind and expanded it, took my faith and deepened it, be reduced to five letters?
It is impossible, I know, to ever try to put into words the effect that something has on your life.
Everybody has had this experience. Even taking a journey someplace on a vacation and coming back and trying to describe the depth of laughter, the height of joy, the strain of difficult times becomes impossible. Our lives are so challenging in this way.
I got home from the pool, and Karen had this beautiful music on in the house. There was this sense of her presence in the home. I entered a home: a quiet space, beautiful, filled with light and peace.
I put my stuff down, stunned, and she came out of the back bedroom dressed for her day, and beautiful in a deep turquoise blue, and I gave her a hug.
And in that hug I was just so grateful. Grateful that I did this journey and that she’d joined me. Grateful for the change in our relationship. Grateful that she changed and I changed and those changes have been mixed together into a new life here.
There are no five letters to summarize that. It is too deep, too good, too rich.
As I hugged her, I began to cry with thankfulness. The tears I had just been thinking had stopped flowing, found their way out.
I said to her, “I want to go away with you again!”
She said, “Me too.”
While she fixed her breakfast, she played other music, and one of the songs from Wicked came on. We’d seen that play twice in London. And as this song played, the tears came again. Tears of thankfulness again for the experience we had shared.
I remembered being in the Apollo theater with her, seeing that play, laughing, crying, connecting to the salvation story there on display: the power of forgiveness and of offering our lives for another. My tears changed to grief, grieving the end of that incredible adventure.
Someone else in the pool had said to me, “How’s the re-entry going? ”
I told her, “It is really hard. Life goes really fast here. No one seems to slow down, to see what really happens around them, or to experience other people. I still feel like I don’t want to speed up to that speed.”
“I understand,” she said, and I knew she did.
An hour later, a friend’s call came in and I almost started to cry seeing his name and picture come up on the phone, but answered and soon discovered he was in his own place of needing someone to listen. I did that, then cried after we hung up.
I looked around and knew it was time to pull things together for the couple church errands I had, then to go to the office. I first walked across the street to return a container to our neighbor.
She greeted me at the door, asked how my trip had been, received the container as I said: “Great.”
She said how glad she was I was back home. Then she began to cry, told me the story of her son’s addiction to meth and possible jail time, her grandson’s struggle with the loss of his dad. “They’ll be here this weekend,” she said, hoping I might be able to talk to her son.
I prayed for her and hugged her.
There’s so much pain, everywhere!
Leaving the house, entering the world, felt unreal. I didn’t cry at Craft Warehouse nor the bank, thankfully, but it was like walking in another land. I arrived at church, lit incense in my office, prayed a prayer from the Celtic Tradition, heated up some lunch on the stove, and came back to my office to work and to eat.
En route I met two women who’d arrived for a bible study. One hadn’t seen me since I returned.
“How was your trip?” She ventured.
“Great,” I responded.
“How long have you been back?” She asked.
“Sixteen days.” I answered.
They both laughed and said together, “Oh man, you’re counting!”
“Reentry does that,” I thought. We parted.
Work. I began to eat. Work. The real work is this, I thought.
That’s when my friend Ken called.
Ken Mosesian and I met when we were two years old and we say our friendship began then and hasn’t stopped. There were many points when it could have stopped, and been left broken, bruised beside the road of life, but we have a bond that runs deep and couldn’t be severed.
“Hey,” he said when I answered, “how are you doing?”
“Oh Ken–I’m mostly good, and crying all the time today. You called at the right time. Earlier today I was relishing the fact that I hadn’t cried for over a week and thought perhaps the emotions were over, but then I started crying and haven’t stopped!”
We laughed. We do that well. I told him some of what I’ve written here and he concurred on the pace of life and how we seek meaning in the pace.
Ken asked: “What would it be like for you to say: ‘I’m going to cherish the brokenness.’ Can you just be where you are, sit in the reality of where you find yourself? For I think it takes more stamina to be with the brokenness than to cover it up being busy.”
(Ken’s a life coach by profession, so great at asking questions. He’s also a brilliant leader in the non-profit sector. You’ll find him on LinkedIn.)
His comment reminded me of my conversation with my friend from the Camino, Nicole from Mallorca. We were at the Monastery de Zenarruza in the mountains above Markina-Xemein, Spain. She had massaged and brought healing to my injured calf muscle.
She said: “I don’t tend to trust Americans. They show you one self, a front, a false self and then only after you get to know them for a long time, sometimes, you get to see the real person. Europeans don’t do this.”
I wondered with Ken if this might be the case because of how we live, how we push the envelope and the boundaries of our days beyond what is healthy, good, and whole.
We talked for 45 minutes while I finished lunch, and was uprighted in my heart.
And after we ended the conversation, I sat in the office deeply aware of my feelings, determined to sit with them and not just get busy, but then I noticed that this experience had already been the day.