My retreat is over now and I am making a long and slow journey back to Fort Lauderdale with lots of in-between times at airports. It’s good having some sorting out and reflection time. I wrote what follows late at night a couple of days ago.
Looking back on my stop at Children’s Hospital in Boston, I am struck by the absence of bad memories. I am sure they are there somewhere, lurking below the surface of consciousness. But I had no flashbacks or moments of terror or dismay when I arrived. Instead, something inside me went very still. I asked for directions to Prouty Garden and walked towards it filled with awe: I was back. Much of the front lobby has been redesigned and rebuilt but it was as if my body knew, knew, where I was. I looked at the children around me and realized I was once that fragile. I was once in need of the extraordinary measures only a hospital like Children’s can offer, a gossamer thread of hope that ties a moment of desperate need to a future full of promise.
Then I got to the garden. The day was fiercely cold, in the 20’s, with a nasty wind blowing. No one was out but the sun. I walked along the path slowly, each old friend revealing itself; I hadn’t expected to feel such joy. After I had been there for a while, I called Sherod, my husband. Sobbing, all snotty-nosed, choking on my words, I tried to explain how they were all there, like I remembered, and that my mom, especially her voice, was everywhere. I took pictures, said some prayers and then got cold. I was also headed for my retreat in Gloucester and had developed an infection that needed attention. I knew I had to see a doctor before the retreat began in the late afternoon, so I walked back into the hallways of the hospital and left soon after without looking back.
Later that day, I got a text from Sherod saying he wished he could have been there with me. I’ve thought about that. No one could be with me that day. It was a journey I needed to make alone. The things I went through as a child could have left me crippled not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Instead, they made me strong, stronger than I sometimes give myself credit for. To walk back into that hospital and experience nothing but gratitude was another part of the gift of my life. To leave when it was time instead of trying to linger with the memories of a mother I simply adored, or lean on a husband—or anybody else, for that matter—my ability to get on with life, was my own small witness to a grace that redeems and heals us each in our own specificity and particularity.
I have spent every afternoon since I got to Eastern Point Retreat House walking. I walk six or seven miles a day, going up and down hills, some of them pretty steep. I have seen an amazingly beautiful part of the country with landscapes that tend to my heart. It seems to me that these walks are a continuation of the gift and the response. Walking allows me to be in the world and not just in my mind, as I was for such a significant part of my life. Literally, I see in a new way. The things I see take my breath and my words away. At the same time, it is a daily exercise in cajoling, coaxing and pushing myself to go out and take these walks. The days are cold and though the sun has been out most of the time, the wind coming off the water cuts through me. Lassitude and inertia are seductive. Two of my toes are blistered and my feet are sore. Each day after lunch, when comfortable chairs all over the retreat center invite me to curl up and read or sew, I remember that I came here to pray. The walking has become the prayer that takes me on a path that stretches far beyond my sight. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.
The Journey: Slideshow of Pictures From the Week (You might want to let it load completely before watching)