Maybe it's the winter chill; maybe it's the busy, split-brain feeling from doing three jobs; maybe it's parenting a child that never stops talking; maybe it's the mounting piles of laundry and dishes. But I've found myself looking through my old travel photos. The really old ones, the ones I had to scan in from *gasp* printed photographs, the ones taken with a far from digital camera. I think I've been chasing some of that movement and light-heartedness and possibility I felt when I took these pictures.
I think I've been chasing the exact feeling I had in the photo above, a moment of clarity and calm. Instead of sitting for my trial HSC exams, I was off adventuring in France, meandering through the Louvre, climbing the steps of the Tour Eiffel and up to the Sacre Coeur, shivering in the half light of the Catacombs, creaking through the gilded rooms of the Palais de Versailles, wine tasting at the Nuit St Georges vineyard, breaking my fall with a hand on Monet's Water Lillies... you know... normal tourist stuff. I turned seventeen on the banks of the Seine, lingering over fresh baguettes with Swiss Army Knife cut wedges of cheese.
And on a freezing cold morning, not long after my birthday, we boarded a bus and drove through the frost-covered fields to Vezelay. The regions we passed through from Paris were spectacular. The vines had all been cropped to the trunks for the cold, and the bare earth sparkled with frost.
And then it was there, the Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (Mary Magdalen), a crown on a tiny hilltop town, rising above the flat plains. We hiked the curving path up around the mountain on foot, and the wind on that bared track was bitterly cold. And then after rounding the final line of trees, there it was, this strange church, with its mixture of Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture. Around the doorways were arch after arch of saints and sinners.
We had a guided tour through the church, our guide one of the monks that live on the mountain along with a group of nuns. He was the most intriguing man I had ever met up to that point. He was softly spoken with a strangely accented English, so different from the French around us. He would talk about the history with a great passion but shyly, looking you in the eye briefly before turning his gaze back to his sandal and sock covered feet.
The Basilica (then an Abbey) was a preaching and marshaling point for the second and third crusades (around 1140-1190) and a pilgrimage destination in its own right with a claim to relics of Mary Mag. History upon history upon history. It was the 1946 Crusade for Peace really got me, held on the 800th anniversary of the Crusade of Bernard. Almost 40000 pilgrims came from across Europe, with a person from each nation bearing a cross made from the wood of their homeland. In the kerfuffle of 40000 folks, mostly on foot, Germany was forgotten or ignored and at the last moment German POWs still remaining in the area asked to participate. They came offering up a cross they'd made from the roof beams of a house burnt out by their compatriots, a symbol of reconciliation after a long and bloody war. Their cross with the word 'Allemagne' sits in a small niche behind the pulpit.
After midday, I snuck into the Basilica again, following the sounds of the monks and nuns singing for their service. Dressed all in white, they sung and it echoed around the near empty church. And leading up the aisle was a path of splashed light, a feature of the building's design and alignment with the sun making it a vessel of stone and light.
I didn't find God in their voices or their history or their light. But felt a Samuel L Jackson/Pulp Fiction moment of clarity where everything in the whole world was peace and quiet and beautiful. I think maybe that's the feeling I've been missing recently - that sense that all is right with the world. I've found it in the small moments, in the sigh of a sleeping toddler in the darkness of his bedroom, of a text message that makes me smile, in a job well done, in the solution to a knotty little problem, in the brief weight of Lovely Husband's hand on my head. But I'm missing that broader feeling that everything is okay with the world.
How have you been doing lately?