Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reflection: What I Brought Home

At Home after Pilgrimage

Morning glory and honeysuckle
vines climb the willow
by the foot bridge
giving it unnatural
blossoms of orange and purple.
They were not there
when I left.

Rain, scarcely more than mist, falls
over goldenrod and barely-changing
leaves in a familiar landscape –
weather more like we expected
in Ireland than here in the Piedmont
of North Carolina. I wonder
what the cool temperature would
be in Celsius, so spoiled
am I to Fahrenheit.

It is a good day for wonder -
a time to be inside, reflecting
on all I met and saw and did
while away. It is a good
time to bring all the
experience and solitude
of pilgrimage home with me.

Toward the end of our pilgrimage in Ireland, we began to think about what we would be taking home with us. I’m speaking of the ways in which the pilgrimage changed us, the things we learned, the personal growth we gained through the experience. To paraphrase the words of Tennyson, from his poem “Ulysses,” just a bit, “[we] are a part of all that [we] have met.” Or I should say that a part of all we met has become a part of us.

Spending time in a landscape different from the one in which I live opened my eyes anew to my own landscape when we returned home. Thus, the poem above.

The experience opened in me other ways as well. One morning in Glendalough I went down to breakfast early. I was in search of coffee because I’m accustomed to having my first cup at home before I do anything else. But arriving in the empty dining room at the same time was a young woman with a backpack. She was trembling from the cold outside. She asked for something hot – coffee or chocolate. When served a cup of coffee, she wrapped her hands around it and sat, still shaking. It was obvious that she was chilled through and through though she was wearing a coat.

I began a conversation with her and learned that she was from the Czech Republic. She’d come to Ireland looking for work. She had been camping near the Glendalough Hotel the previous night when the temperatures dipped, and about four in the morning, she’d come into the entrance hallway of the hotel for warmth while she waited for the dining room to open. Even there she had remained chilled so that three hours later when I saw her she was still shivering.

After she had warmed up with a second cup of coffee, she left. When I left the dining room, I saw her talking with a staff person in a hallway. I had many questions in my mind. I wondered if she were inquiring about work there at the hotel. I also wondered if she were camping out that night because she had no other place to be. She had told me if she couldn’t find work, she’d go back to the Czech Republic.

I carried home with me the memory of that young girl who looked no older than the high school students I taught until recently. I wondered at her being alone in a country other than her homeland and the circumstances that sent her there. I have continued feel the concern for her, though our encounter was brief.

Back at home I received an email from a friend telling me that she planned to participate in a walk to raise money to fight world hunger. I found myself readily joining the walk. I don’t know that the young Czech girl I saw was hungry, but it struck me that she only asked for coffee – something hot to help her get warm that morning, nothing to eat. I wondered if she had no money to buy breakfast. The possibility of hunger in a setting where we were being overfed raised my awareness that morning. And that awareness moved me to act back at home.

That, as well as new eyes for the beauty in my own back yard, is something I brought home from the pilgrimage.

Bonnie McCarson

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