We are off again on another adventure – a road trip and a cottage week.
Our journeying this year has brought us to many new places and introduced us to new experiences. They have become more than straightforward trips, they have been opportunities to grow and to learn something new about ourselves.
During our trip to Barcelona, I made a side-trip, a pilgrimage, to Lourdes in France with my mother, my eldest daughter, and my stepfather.
By definition, pilgrimage means a journey to a holy or sacred place. On a pilgrimage, you are a foreigner traveling in a strange land with the sole purpose of performing a holy task – whether it’s visiting a shrine or embarking on a personal crusade. But I also found another defintion: the course of life on earth.
My initial intention was to visit this holy place nestled in the Pyrenees as a favour to my mother. I have to admit that I was curious about the place. I also knew that this gesture would mean a lot to my mother, a devout Roman Catholic.
I went to Lourdes with an open heart and an open mind. I packaged up my doubt, skepticism, and childhood memories of Catholic guilt. I put them away in a locked box in order to have opportunities to heal and see things from a different perspective.
What can this pilgrimage teach me? What will I find at the end of this journey?
Lourdes itself is beautiful with an air of the sacred. You meet people full of gratitude and love at every turn. There is an overwhelming feeling of service and joy. Whether you are a believer or not, there is something special about it.
But I found peace in the most unlikeliest of places. I found peace on the long drive with my mother and my stepfather. I found peace walking up the mountain, The Way of the Cross, with both my mother and daughter at my side. I found peace on our return when my mother and I had a candid conversation about my grandmother.
Traveling to a place where visions of a holy mother were witnessed helped me see my own mother right in front of me and helped me see myself as a mother through my daughter’s eyes.
It also helped me see many things through a different set of eyes. My daughter, who has been largely brought up outside of the Catholic church, witnessed these miracle stories with wonder. She is a foreigner within this religion, embarking on her own pilgrimage to discover this unknown territory that she is drawn to because of her cultural heritage and family history. I take for granted this understanding because I have often felt too close to this religion, trying to hide my battle scars in fear of old wounds resurfacing.
During the pilgrimage, we kept silent mostly. I wanted to let go of my expectations and just be there. I wanted to be willing to let this journey heal my relationship to religion and spirituality, my relationship to the past, and my relationship to my mother.
And I saw this trip through her eyes – a chance to share something close to her with us, something she couldn’t share with her own mother before she passed away.
She always walked two steps ahead of me when I was growing up. She was a brisk walker and I could barely keep up with her. Even with a recently healed broken foot, she marched ahead. As I watched her from behind, treading down the mountain with a mountain in the background, I realized how, for much of my life, my mom was a mountain – an epic presence. She was larger than life but just always out of reach: few steps ahead and beyond me.
But on this trip, through her spiritual devotion, I saw her vulnerable. I saw her open. I didn’t need to catch up with her because we had already met somewhere in the middle – a place between the past and the future, the all-forgiving present moment.
In the basilica at Lourdes, there are two doorways:
And in this moment, I saw the true purpose of this pilgrimage – to reveal the course of my life that begins and ends with opening a door and being willing to walk through it. When you realize that the door of life and light are one in the same, you find that you don’t have to walk through one to get to the other.
100 scribbles…hurriedly writing the here and now.