The last time I traveled overseas was in 1987. I was 18 years old, and I was young but didn’t know it.
It was a pilgrimage, to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia–a country that no longer exists. Well, the place exists, of course–the land, the people, the history. But the country itself has been broken into pieces. My memories are a collage of images and interactions with edges like torn construction paper, soft and blurry.
Two mountains, a tall one and a taller one. A cow in a field. Piles of rock and dirt, with tow-headed children playing. A church. Language after language. Song. Aquamarine waterfall paradise. An open-air balcony. Warm milk on the breakfast table. The smell of pigs. Thick bread. Fasting. Dancing sun through the bus windows. Bare feet on rocky trails. The most peaceful woman I had ever seen speaking to us in the crowd. Singing! “Now let us sing (sing til the power of the Lord comes down)…” and “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie,” though we couldn’t remember all the lyrics. Our leaders: Bob, Maureen, Greg. My peers: Luke from Italy with the blonde hair, Bob and Doug from Cape Cod (yes! Pilgrims hailing from Plymouth! hahaha!), Melissa from home, Clare and her crazy sister who talked about demons and miracles, and others whose names have disappeared but whose faces pepper my photos. Almost every vehicle was a Mercedes, whether bus, truck, or taxi. I learned to say “thank you” (“vala”) and “good” (“dobro”). The butter was called “Dobro Yutro,” and I thought “Yutro” must mean “butter”; it was the next year, in Russian class, that I found it meant “morning.”
And the return: my parents telling me my friend John’s mom had died, my friend Brian’s dad had died. I had prayed and prayed and prayed that they might live. While I was praying during my pilgrimage in Medjugorje, they died, and I did not know. I was young.
It was not hard to believe in miracles during that journey. Not apparitions or visions–no. But the miracles of swimming under a waterfall, of flying through the skies, of singing together in the blue night. The miracle of looking at the ordinary and recognizing the extraordinary.
Now it is 2012. I am 43, and I feel my age in every step, blessed and burdened with attachments and responsibilities. Yet I feel young–unprepared and unsure. That is the secret of adults: we do not know what we are doing, but we go ahead and do it anyhow, because somebody has to. And mostly it ends up okay. I still believe in miracles.
I am getting ready to head to Ireland. I have maps and poetry and movies to guide me. I am not ready. But I will be.