Friday, September 17, 2010

While Waiting

There was a photo on the cover of the April, 2004 edition of Touchstone Magazine that depicted a girl looking wistfully toward the clouds with a pained expression on her face. Below her in the background you can make out the outer edge of the architecture of Mont Saint-Michel in northern France, and above her hangs the heading “While Waiting for Heaven.”

The girl was my little sister, who, as I recall from when I snapped the photo, was not waiting for heaven but for lunch.

When my family moved to Paris, my sister was ten years old, an age almost ideally selected to be as traumatic and disorienting as possible (admittedly not quite as ideal as when they moved back when she was thirteen). I remember the day she and my mom arrived in the city and the three other family members who had preceded them by a month showed them around the city. There was a rude juxtaposition of one of the world’s most popular tourist cities and my tortured sister whose life had just been shattered.

“Our apartment is down that street about a kilometer-and-a-half,” I pointed from the top of L’Arc de Triomphe with tourists all around. “That’s a little more than a mile, so it’d be about the same distance as the walk from our old house to Food Lion…” I realized too late my error of bringing up the home she had just been torn away less than a day earlier, and I gave her the privacy of pretending not to notice her tears.

It was a mocking irony: the girl’s agony set against the glow of Europe. Paris is a genuinely lovely city, but there was no conceivable way she could have enjoyed it that day.

In order to compound the irony, her health was a little spotty over her three years in Europe, and she always seemed to get sick whenever my family took mini vacations in the surrounding area: Belgium, Rome, the Italian Alps, Greece, Egypt, Prague. She was in a place of wonder whether she could enjoy them or not, but it is hard for anyone to appreciate an alpine ski resort or a Grecian cruise ship while throwing up.

And I wonder if I am there with her, lying on a hotel bed in Cairo with a stomach bug or dragging myself through the streets of Venice with a migraine. It is undoubtedly a world saturated with the miraculous: whether in the Sacraments of the Church or the sacramentals erupting from a world brimming with life that enters the world “trailing clouds of glory” (as Wordsworth says) and still bears hope of glory’s fulfillment, God is oozing from his creation.

Like my sister, I am incapable of appreciating the wonders that are nevertheless present around me, that I trip over just as certainly whether or not I appreciate their presence. I think part of the purpose of various disciplines in the Church, regular prayers and sacraments and fasts and celebrations whether you can engage or not, is a matter of conditioning our souls to appreciate those very mysteries. I pray that as I approach something closer to health, heath of body and heath of soul, I’ll be able to enjoy these mundane wonders a little more. I’m waiting for it, at any rate.


learning to walk said...

If Jesus offered a thirsty samaritan woman living water, perhaps waiting for Heaven and lunch are not so different after all.

Em the luddite said...

Not to mention the banquet table of the Lamb! Heaven and lunch should have quite a bit in common. That sister of mine was on to something!