My neurological pain flared intensely yesterday. I had trouble moving about. It does that sometimes without the fuzzy-headedness, which is how it was yesterday, but it can make me a bit crabby so I am leery about writing until it eases. Today it just feels like the day after an injury rather than fresh injury, so I will give it a go.
I usually go to Daily Mass at Mother Cabrini Shrine in the foothill mountains of Golden, Colorado. The day before yesterday we had our first real snow of the season, the temperature plummeted, and the boiler was out at Cabrini Shrine, so it was a chilly Mass. People adjusted, kept their coats on and a few wore their gloves. Once the boiler was reset, it would take three hours for it to cycle up properly and for heat to start coming back on. It made me wonder why more buildings in snow zones don’t have fireplaces as backup heating systems. What few do have them usually have them for show. It made me ponder a little just how easily modern technological conveniences become crutches of a sort, enfeebling our ability to confidently confront the elements when they become harsh. If there had been usable fireplaces, the loss of central heat would have been a little bump. People adapted to the short-term inconvenience, but what if the boiler could not have been put back online?
When I was little, I had a great aunt and uncle who heated their house entirely through a few fireplaces. It was kind of cool visiting them in winter. I slept in a bed with seven quilts on it. The quilts were heavy. I had to work at it to get out of bed in the morning – and it was right brisk when I got up. For a few years after my Mom and Dad moved back to Alabama, they got an old farmhouse that relied on fireplaces for heat. Dad made a major improvement when he put in a Franklin Stove. He spent some time trying to figure out how to make the hole in the roof for the chimney stack plumb. Inspiration finally dawned. He abandoned his calculations, got his .22 rifle, stood right below where he wanted the chimney to go and fired. It was plumb. I was amazed at how efficiently my mother cooked on her wood-burning stove. You would think it would make baking cakes and biscuits a lot dicier. I suppose it did. But Mom adapted and her cakes, cookies and pies were as scrumptious as ever when I visited.
I interrupted my pilgrimage for a month beginning in mid-October of 2011 to help a dear friend who was up for election to the legislature in Illinois and had a problem arise. (He won). During that month, old friends had all heard of what I had been doing and figured it must be quite a culture shock, coming back abruptly from living in the woods and walking all the time to doing the events, dinners and meetings of a campaign and negotiations. I thought it would be, too, but it wasn’t. The day after I arrived, it just felt like normal. I had done it for so long, I just melted seamlessly back into it.
When I first went out onto the road, it took me about a month and a half before I fully adjusted to life on pilgrimage. All the skills were new then, finding suitable cover each day, making and breaking camp, eating different, walking steadily and resting properly. When I went back out on the road, there was no new period of adjustment. The day after I began again, I was fully immersed and it felt completely normal to me. Once again, I melted seamlessly back into it. It was no more of a culture shock than going out to play baseball on the weekends instead of going into the office was when I was a young man. Different, but a normal part of my normal.
What is both big and not yet part of our normal sparks a lot of anxiety and speculation on our parts. If you have done something big sometime in your life that was well outside of your previous experience, your definition of normal, I would like you to think about how you adapted to it, how soon it became part of your normal, and how very different the reality of it was from what you imagined it would be. You adapted. The quicker you can jettison your imaginings of how it is going to be and simply deal with what is in the moment, the quicker you make it part of your normal.
A few days ago, I worried in comments here that people were getting a bit too worked up on preparations, to the point of perhaps losing sight of the main preparation, which is relying completely on and trusting God. I was amused when some of the ladies, led by MM Bev, dismissed my concerns and said that’s what they do, so I should just pipe down and mind my business. Most of my family treats me with respect and even a certain deference in most things…though they are all quick to gleefully tell me to pipe down when I step clumsily into what is their bailiwick and responsibility. This website never felt so much like home as at that moment.
I have been thinking a lot about expectations and anxiety. I have been telling you that a great Storm of battle lies before you. Most, having lived in conditions of relative peace through all their lives, are deeply anxious and prepare for it is best they can. The best know that the reality will be different than many of their expectations, but it is best to prepare anyway and adapt as they need to. I think back to politicians I have worked with and preparing them for the vicissitudes of large-scale races when their previous experience had all been small-scale. Some put way too much stock in their small-scale experiences and inevitably blundered into some major error when all the press was watching. Actually, that was always a defining moment, for that was when a candidate would understand, with Dorothy and Toto, that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Often, that was when preparation ended and real work could begin. I often waited restlessly for that moment. Other times, candidates would obsess restlessly over a word or the placement of a comma in a brochure or release, as if just the right phrasing would solve everything and eliminate the necessity of battle. I could get very crabby about that. No matter how brilliantly conceived, a press release is just a press release and a brochure just a brochure…a mere piece of ammunition in the arsenal. It is senseless to spend three days of worry over what, at best, can give you a half hour of use. But in a tough environment, aspirants sometimes search for the magic bullet with the same restless zeal as Ponce de Leon after the fountain of youth. A futile waste of time. In the best situations, a candidate adopts some obsessive, but not quite irrational behavior that, like comfort food, soothes them. Staff would often be flustered, but I was always indulgent. The comforting fortified the candidate for the real challenges they faced – most staff does not understand the stark pressure a candidate really faces. One candidate always arose at four a.m. to scan online for the early editions of newspapers and blogs and anything they said about him. I was happy as long as he didn’t call me about it before 6 a.m. Another candidate scanned the smallest papers and shoppers papers from around a 20-county district for every podunk yard sale and craft show to pass on to the scheduler. I always thanked her and told the scheduler not to add anything without my written authorization.
I have been thinking about how a good captain prepares a bunch of new troops for a pitched battle. It would be a poor captain, indeed, who soothed his fresh soldiers by telling them that none would be wounded, there would be no real hardship or suffering, and that all would survive. Such soldiers, if they believed it, might be soothed, but would panic and flee at the first sound of hot lead – and the battle would be lost before it was well begun. Battle is a mysterious, random thing. Some, who are best prepared, will be felled as the first shots are fired. Others who are completely reckless and constantly exposing themselves, will endure to the end with bullets and shrapnel whizzing all around them, occasionally even wounding them, but never quite hitting home. This was the history of Andrew Jackson’s entire military career and Winston Churchill throughout the Boer War. One hides in the very spot a stray bullet will find while another marches into a hail of lead where bullets find everything but them.
There will be suffering, hunger, cold, misery and death. Some heroes will die on the field while some villains survive to the end. You will know the Cross in this life. Many given to satan will not know it until the next, when eternity will be their Cross. You must pass through your passion in this life to find life in the next. Some ask me how to oil their guns just right so they will be impervious to shrapnel. There is no way. Others try to erect a small shack of sure safety, little shacks that will be swept away with the first wave of battle. If you press forward relentlessly, even as enemy fire seeks you out, if you bind up the wounded, care for the survivors, leave no one behind and commit yourself to follow Christ even on the way of the Cross out of love for your fellows, we will be friends in the next life regardless of what happens in this. Many of those we love will survive to build a world where such battles are not necessary. We have made a world where millions of children must die so others might not be inconvenienced – and called it a right. We have made a world where the young and helpless, the old and infirm, the handicapped and suffering, are considered intolerable burdens rather than treasures and resources. Our prosperity has dimmed our love and so, once again, we must tread the way of the Cross. Temporally, I do not know, even among those I love, who will perish and who will survive this Storm. What I do know is that all who abandon themselves to Christ through love for their children and their neighbor, resolving to care for those around them, to fight for a world that values all, to press on with fortitude and endure will live in my neighborhood in heaven if I live with faith to my end. Already, loved ones who have gone before me participate with Christ in preparing a place for me there – and for you, too.
While on my pilgrimage, sometimes ravenously hungry or miserably cold and wet, I thought of St. Paul, who spoke of having learned to live well with abundance and to live well in need. If you can live abundance as if it were need, for it is, and live need as if it were abundance, for it is, you will have learned how to live well. In abundance we have more need of Christ than ever; in need, we are more conscious of the abundance of Christ than ever. I doubt I shall ever have anything as delightfully refreshing and satisfying as a fountain soda after a full day’s walking in 100+ temperatures. I have nothing to offer those who are about to enter battle except the sure hope that is in Christ.
When you abandon all assumptions and resolve that, under God, you will take the next right step and be a sign of hope to all around you or die trying…that that really is the sum of all there is, then you are fully prepared for the battle ahead.