And here we are.
Last weekend, I had a crisis of faith. Did I do the right thing? Was this path truly leading to where I need to go? Because there are times… there are times it’s exhausting. I joke that my dating profile is the worst resume a life could have – I live with my brother and sister-in-law, I don’t own a car, my work is unsteady and uncertain and without health or retirement benefits, I don’t have a significant other or children (At your age?! Gasp!). I’m that person that “everyone” whispers about – questioning whether she’s a functional, capable adult? Is she wasting her life? I’m also the one others use to make themselves feel better about – “at least I have my own place,” “at least I have a television.” (I do, but I haven’t seen it in 18 months – its in storage. I should probably just sell it.)
It’s that pressure – even the well-meaning inquiries of family and friends, not to mention the daily reminders of what you should be – that wear you down. That make you think your intuition has gotten drunk and gone on a joyride, hijacking the plan you should have for this, whatever “this” is. And you’re suddenly afraid it’s going to make a mockery of you, a joke, a lesson to others of the follies of daydreamers and believers. That you will eventually fold, cave, retreat, and return to the life you’re told to have, your head hung, chastened, face red, ashamed, and have to clean up after it and atone for it.
What if I got it wrong?
What if all of these crazy ideas are just that – crazy? Maybe I should be safely tucked into a cubicle somewhere for a third of the next 30-35 years, and look forward to my weekends off. Not this 6 months of “fantasy” followed by a year’s hard slog of 60-hour work weeks on top of my own plan. Or whatever this is.
There’s times like this weekend, where adding to a bout of uncertainty, a new monster rears up. I’ve learned to handle them far more deftly, to recognize them and know what weapon to use. But still. It’s one more on top of a heaping mound of stinking garbage that I begin to fear is poisoning my earth, not composting it.
It led to a 2 am call to someone 8000 miles away. I thought I needed a distraction. What I needed more was to be reminded of a time and place. To recall why I was on this path. To remember what it felt like when the world felt right. Deep down, I knew the sound of a Kiwi accent would jolt me back, would remind me of what I had done. And he obliged, though I doubt he knew what he was doing. And it worked.
Because I started to remember.
I stood in places where prophets conversed with God…
Mount Sinai, Egypt, at sunrise Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico
and saints appeared to mortals.
Inca Trail, Peru
I walked mountain trails that others traversed in a long ago time, carrying messages to ancient cities.
I stood in soaring temples carved in ancient languages, pharaohs and gods keeping watch.
I’ve walked the paths of pilgrims and hermits, of sinners and saints.
On the path to Eremo delle Carceri (St. Francis’s Hermitage), Assisi, Italy
I stood among ancient stone ruins, wondering what the purpose was of those who constructed the site, their intentions lost to the ravages of time and memory.
Stonehenge, England Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba ~ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption ~ Great Mosque of Cordoba, Cordoba, Spain
I walked in a church, formerly a mosque..
and a mosque-turned-church-turned-monument.
Haghia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey Mont Segur, France
I stood in the place of a last stronghold against an Inquisition, where faith held in the face of human cruelty.
I prayed at the site where bones still protrude from the earth, the remains of genocidal horror.
The Killing Fields, Cambodia
I walked the streets of an ancient city, where so many lived, and are now gone, and watched candlelight flicker across the canyons, the rock, still standing.
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
I stood in temples where the jungle crept in, uninvited.
The stones still standing,
the seven-headed serpent at the gates,
the mists swirling.
Angkor, Cambodia The Medina, Fez, Morocco
I’ve explored ancient medinas,
still bustling with inhabitants,
the people changing,
but the labyrinth remains.
I stood in those places that are timeless.
That existed long before I did, and will exist long after I’m gone.
Top, left to right: Machu Picchu, Peru; The Library at Ephesus, Turkey; Bagan, Myanmar/Burma. Bottom, left to right: The Pyramids, Egypt; The Parthenon, Athens, Greece; St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy.
I watched a nation grapple with its identity, to remain part of a heterogeneous union or reassert itself under its own national pride.
Athens, Greece Istanbul, Turkey
Another, facing the dilemmas unique to the crossroads of the west and the east, of religion, of society.
And yet another, its doors opening, its people hopeful and excited for this new future.
Village outside of Kalaw, Burma/Myanmar The Sahara, Morocco
I slept on the sands of the Sahara,
the wind forever sculpting and resculpting the landscape.
I watched the lightning in the night sky and rains lash down on a tropical paradise,
both destroying and cleansing, and the next day dawn with bright blue skies.
I stargazed in the rocky desert where caravans have passed and
are now only whispers and shadows on the rock faces.
Wadi Rum, Jordan Angkor Wat, Cambodia
I watched the sun rise over ancient temples …
I swam – or floated – in other seas…
The Dead Sea, Jordan Railay, Thailand ~ Nice, France ~ Vravrona/Brauron, Greece
I felt the wind in my hair on the mighty rivers on three continents, one winding through a jungle, another through a desert, and a third dotted with temples.
The Irrawaddy, Burma/Myanmar ~ The Nile, Egypt ~ The Amazon, Peru
I smelled air saturated with lavender,
the harvest just begun.
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque, Provence, France Chiang Mai, Thailand
I viewed more animal and plant species in a few months than I’ve seen in my entire life.
I witnessed traces of the best and worst of humanity, and recognized how brief our time here is. In the vastness of deserts, mountains, and oceans, of great cities now fallen and rising cities whose future is yet to be determined, of the enormous variety of life on this planet that struggles to survive, there is a sense of inevitable change and equally, of a wonderful timelessness. The feeling that I, you, are both infintesmal and yet somehow part of it all. And I know if I’m ever in doubt, a dark sky sparkling with a billion pinpricks of light is there to remind me. That flickering light in the far distance, always there, and always ready to remind us to ask what it means to truly live, to encourage us to dream, and to comfort us in the fact that humans have gazed at the heavens and asked these same questions for millennia.
I needed to remember. When faith is in crisis and doubt enters, and the particular section of trail is all uphill in freezing rain, it helps to remember. To gain perspective. Of all that has been done, about the unknown ahead. How the only certainty you have is that everything will change. Ultimately, we each decide for ourselves whether we keep going or not. Whether we believe that there will be a smoother stretch ahead, that the sun will come out, that conditions will improve. And it’s much easier to keep going if we truly believe we are on the right path, no matter how difficult it may be.
It may be a path less taken. And I’m not sure where it goes. None of us do. The point is, it isn’t always going to be easy. It doesn’t matter, because in the end, Emerson had it right: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This has been quite the journey, twisting, winding, full of switchbacks, of darkness, and equally as full of spectacular views, lush jungles, wide deserts; of stars, of shared bottles of wine around a fire, of laughter, of friendship, of joy and love. I can’t wait to continue on, faith restored. I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend.
With curiosity and courage,