Oh where oh where have I been? I feel a more pertinent question is where oh where haven’t I been? As promised we have been all over the two main regions of BC where our families reside: the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan. Things have been so incredibly non-stop busy. Today is really the first day that I’ve had to stop and sit in silence and dig through my brain remembering everything that has gone on in the last few months.
The problem with being a sentimental human being is that when things move too fast or not in the way you envisioned them you don’t have time to slowly process them. Then, you start to mourn a little bit about everything you could have perfectly remembered to store up for future warm fuzzies and potential tears shed when you recall your gem of a memory.
I have had this sensation before.
In July of 2002 I attended World Youth Day in Toronto. Every day I was overwhelmed by what I was feeling, how I was changing, and how the witness of faith of hundreds of thousands of young Catholics was creating a vision for my life that I truly wanted to live out.
There were two instances in that week that I was able to get a glimpse of Pope John Paul II, someone who was more than celebrity, and certainly not your average man. He literally changed the world in his role dissolving the Iron Curtain. He went on to create a great Catholic legacy, the World Youth Days. For about a week every 2 -3 summers young Catholic adults gather from around the world to listen to speakers, pray together, and celebrate our faith. It all culminates in a mass with the Pope on the last day of the event. I have several Catholic friends who see their pilgrimage to a World Youth Day as the turning point in their life.
The group I was with included my mom and dad, my brother, several RPC students, and Diane Kranabetter. The first time we were able to see him we had a brief glimpse through several rows of people. It was exciting, but slightly disappointing. The second time we got a good spot close to the front of the barricade that held us back from the immediate road JPII would roll through in his Pope Mobile. Diane and I stood closest to the front since we were the smallest. We ended up chatting with this lovely Filipino lady who told us all about her life and we exchanged the favor.
When we sensed that JPII was finally approaching the excitement stirred, conversations ended mid sentence and from within each of us came a unique response to the peace and calm that JPII brought with him everywhere he went. For some it was to weep. For others it was to grow more silent. For many it was to hoot and holler, rejoicing that a Saint was in our midst.
I stood there totally compelled by what was going on around me. I wanted to drink in every second. I dared not miss an instant of this great gift. I began to sense that I was just reaching the height of my joy as JPII came closer than ever, when the sweet Filipino lady, who was not blessed with my height, asked me to take a few pictures of him as he drove by. I agreed, but my heart sank. I didn’t want to remember this moment through a camera lens. I was confused and took the camera and did not say no to this woman who probably loved JPII longer then I had been alive for. As he drove by I did my duty and I had no chance to look at him in his eyes. I knew I would later have no strong recollection of that moment, no memory of his face, but I would only remember it all vaguely, through a camera lens. I was bitter and frustrated and that feeling kept with me for much of the rest of the day. I felt I had been taken advantage of. How dare she ask such a thing in such a crucial moment?
The experience was not at all how I had envisioned it. I’ve told this story many times exclaiming my frustration with the situation. I’ve proclaimed that I would never become an avid photographer because of this experience, that a machine was put between this moment and reality and ruined a perfect instant for a simple photo for a stranger.
It is not until now that I am embarrassed for having been so annoyed, so hurt that I didn’t get to see things my way. Isn’t this just the way with so many things? We are called out of our deep selfishness to help others and before we can accept this opportunity to serve we often resent, we hurt, we despair for a moment or maybe even a decade before we can see the gift that we have been given. The gift to serve. The gift to lose ourselves for the sake of another.
I hope and pray that if I were in that situation today I would smile my most charming smile and wholeheartedly accept the opportunity to have that sweet lady remember Blessed John Paul the Second in photo form for all the days of her life. I hope and pray I could show her the compassion and love JPII would show without hesitation, thanks to the love of his Savior.
If I cannot extend to someone compassion and mercy to take a simple photo, if I cannot come outside of myself for just a moment then I believe I am setting myself up for a bitter, resentful existence. This can extend not just to those that we don’t know, but those we know best.
I hope to ask this question every day:
‘Am I willing to go out of my way for others before I even think of my own needs?’
May I have the courage to answer YES every day.
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to live out well in my life. Yet, on July 28th, 2002 at the closing mass held in Downsview Park JPII said these healing words in his homily:
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
World Youth Day was full of many other incredible memories of crazy custodians where we stayed who looked like Joe Dirt and constantly asked to go on breaks to grab a ‘coke’, of Diane amazing us with her napping skills in every possible location, of taking the nightly 15 minute hike down to the freezing cold showers where there were as many hairballs as people, of seeing Jean Vanier and not really knowing who I’d seen, of dancing with complete abandon to the Celtic band Leahy, and of curling my eyelashes in Downsview Park after being rained on all night and getting no sleep, while all the RPC students looked on laughing in disbelief. That memory speaks to my character at the time more than anything.
In the end, I came away a different Laura, though I wouldn’t know it at first.
If ten years later I can still be transformed by one, intense memory, I can only imagine the impact this fast paced, family filled, friend infused summer will have on me. That is the beauty of our memory. It is profound in the moment, but even more so later, when we stop and see all that God has done in us.