I was asked to share, at a meeting, what my experience in Philadelphia was like. So I wrote these jumbled words. Enjoy.
The moment that sticks with me
Is the moment, under the clouded moon,
where they wouldn’t let me in to the gated-off city center,
so instead I stood, shivering/ stranded/ crestfallen
in the pack of pressing, pushing people
also elbowing their way to the security points,
Anxious to see and hear from this man,
Our Holy Father.
Days before, my coworker called me to his desk
And I watched, with him, as the Pope landed
Here in the United States for the first time.
I saw the First Family and the Second family
And all else, but, who cares? Not me.
I was waiting for the man in the white beanie
To emerge from the plane’s door-frame,
Raise his arms, bless my nation, my people,
And me. Internally, I squealed when I saw him,
There on my coworker’s stalling display,
Squealed again, externally, when I left work for that day,
Walking happy up the streets of Detroit to my car.
The next day I drove to work, skipping between radio stations
Switching from trashy pop to trashy talk and back again
But then, a break in the action, and a DJ played a clip
Of the Holy Father, blessing us, encouraging us.
I clapped in my car, cheered in my car,
Blinked fast to clear my eyes,
Thankful for this chance to see goodness
On my morning commute.
I hoped that my time in Philadelphia would be like that.
In blatant, blatant honesty: I hadn’t heard from God in a while.
For a girl who has been used to His loving whispers,
His gentle guidance, I’ve felt like heaven has been
A vast chasm for months and months and months.
The side of Christ, one of my favorite reflections since forever,
Has been cold, dry, and stale
Where it used to run freely: blood and water, mercy and grace.
I hoped that my time in Philadelphia would reignite God’s voice
In my heart, in my life.
I’ve missed hearing from Him,
Missed knowing His presence,
Missed understanding where to go.
“God? Are you still there? I still love you.”
Has been a too-constant prayer.
Going on a pilgrimage is not an easy feat.
I know this. I prepare for this. I prepare my pilgrims for this—
Emailing reflections and prayers
About days of stretched hearts and tired feet.
And if going is not easy, a bit harder is planning.
Days before, a driver dropped out.
The day before, my co-leader dropped, too.
I share this not for pity, but for understanding
The road of a pilgrimage carries with it the unexpected–
In all of those situations, one can only accept, palms up,
Praying for patience, courage, charity,
For Jesus to walk with me. Precious Lord, take my hand.
But I had hopes for Philadelphia.
Like the woman with hemorrhages,
I don’t need to talk to this man, in Persona Christi,
I don’t need close meetings or handshakes,
Pictures with the press or personalized blessing…
I just need to see him. I need to be there.
I wanted to be in his presence and see him say words
And watch him kiss the wounded
And maybe, maybe, know in my heart that he was there for me, too
Know that there was still space for me, too, in this broken place of church.
At one point in Philly,
before the moon came out and the clouds covered it
I had been waiting for a few hours already,
Safe inside security. I had been inside the temporary barriers,
Past the imported guards.
Then, earlier, they let me pass with nary a glance,
But told my Hispanic companion that he would need extra measures of pat-down
“Racial profiling?” I joked with him;
But even that didn’t hinder our high spirits.
In the afternoon light, we wove through the crowd,
Found Christine and friends between two flags—
Somalia and Australia—we ate cucumbers,
Watched the baby next to us,
Bought Pope-swag, told stories about tattoos we have or want, joked and took pictures.
The Pope delivered an address, but we were too far
To hear or see the jumbo-tron, so we just stood, silently,
Until the Vatican published the speech
And Father Steve read it to us from his smart phone.
It was getting late. In a few hours, maybe, he would drive past.
We decided to split into groups, to go and eat dinner.
I left with a friend to find something in the food trucks.
Only, I have a personal cross I don’t like to talk about which is:
My stomach refuses to process gluten or meat,
And my only options in the perimeter
of guards, metal detectors, and fences
were hot dogs or cheese-steaks or mac&cheese.
And I was hungry. So hungry.
We looked at the security lines: short and moving fast,
So we left the gated safety quickly,
Trotted to the closet restaurant (maybe three blocks away)
Ate quickly, paid quickly, returned to the barricades quickly.
Only, the line wasn’t moving quickly at all.
They had shut down, waiting for the Pope to pass in safety
Leaving the lines until he had passed.
The realization hit me.
He was passing, and I was outside of the gates.
This moment, which I had prepared for for months.
Inside the gate were twenty-eight people, here in Philadelphia,
In some way, because of me, all of them seeing the Pope,
But me, me, under the clouded moon, outside of all of that.
It hurt me. I had wanted this so badly
Hoped, so strongly, for a moment of light
In my baby-version of spiritual darkness.
Only, he was passing, and I was outside.
Outside, far from my group, under the clouded moon.
It struck me that this moment seemed to mimic so strongly,
The entirety of what I had been feeling all along.
The Pope was passing? I knew it. I knew he was here in Philadelphia,
Knew he was driving by my friends. But, did I see him?
No. I was stuck behind temporary metal fences.
Is God present? Yes. I know this. I know him.
But, do I hear him in the same way?
No. For some reason, that is kept from me.
Eventually, the lines opened. I climbed a light post,
Watched Aretha sing, found my group again.
We walked back to the train station, sang a little,
watched, waited. Such is the life of a pilgrim.
Everyone had stories of him driving by–sometimes twice!–
I listened to them: feeling both happy and sad.
Such is the life of a pilgrim.
On Monday we packed up, loaded cars,
Started the nine-hour drive home.
More stories, sharing, sleeping.
Yesterday, my friend Fr. Pio Maria gave me a call.
(He dads me so hard.)
He read me an excerpt of Huck Finn by Mark Twain,
The part when Huck visits a circus–for Father knows my deep love
For the striped big top.
We talked, too, about church documents on international mission,
My job, my friends, my beau…and this trip.
I said, then–I haven’t heard from God in a while.
He paused deeply. I waited, heard his voice eventually:
“Well then,” he said, in his faint southern-drawl,
“I guess we’re on the same page.”
I asked him what I should do/ how I should walk
When I’m so unsure of the way.
I wrote what he told me, large and bold, in my journal.
“You don’t always need to ‘know’, to know.”
I know. I know.
I missed the Pope, but I had my people.
And mass outdoors, decorated by Julia’s rock collection
And food-blessed in Portuguese, Polish, Chaldean, and many other tongues,
And the time we all sat in the train station, praying the rosary with international prayers
And stories in my car from Bailey and Hanna and Mary and more
And breakfasts from Noah and my mom
And love, love…in the city of love.
I know, I know.
I missed the Pope, but I didn’t miss love