Back to earth with a bump

In the stocks at Hexham

This morning Hilary and I set off for home along the A1(M) but not before one last trip out into Hadrian’s Wall country to the beautiful town of Hexham.

After breakfast and a last bit of shopping, we hit the long 150 mile stretch of road down to Newark and then onto the A46 for the last run home to Leicester.

Actually, it was a pretty smooth run and on the way we listened to some stories together – Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘Cat Mummy’ and a retelling of The Lion King.  Interestingly, both are stories about coping with death.

In the first, Verity tries to secretly mummify her cat Mabel in the wardrobe, having been given the impression by her family that death is something that is too upsetting to talk about.  Her mother died when she was a baby and only at the end of the story does her father begin to realize that for both their sakes he needs to talk about her.  I was reminded of the inspiring programme earlier this year about Rio Ferdinand and his family.

The Lion King too is a story of bereavement and a kind of ‘coming of age’ journey that the young Simba goes on to become the king after feeling to blame for his father’s death.  In the end, he returns from exile to find that his pride are starving.  The reality is hard for him to bear.

Arriving home felt a bit like coming back to earth with a bump, the stresses and strains of my normal routines beginning to creep back into my consciousness, anticipation of a packed diary this coming week and my next trip to Pittsburgh coming up soon (I might blog more about that another time), facing the unpacking and sorting that needs doing, the jobs I left behind that need to be picked up again.  Twenty one phone messages, a pile of post and countless emails to wade through … but maybe not just yet.  There is nothing that can’t wait until Monday!

The long road home

The journey I have been on between Ascension and Pentecost continues on the long road home.  It’s here that some of those memorable moments and thought provoking encounters will bear fruit in the days and weeks and months to come.  It’s important I take the time I need to remember where I’ve been and what I have achieved in Andy’s memory, to look back at the photos and my blog.

The beautiful ceiling at Carlisle Cathedral where my journey began

That’s why things like certificates and T-shirts are important.  Remembering where we’ve been when we get home from time away is often difficult.  The photos just don’t quite capture the mood and spirit of that special moment or even the journey itself.

There is some evidence that Dante’s contemporaries genuinely believed he had been on a physical journey through Hell to Heaven.  Once he had written about it, people avoided him in the streets!  As the Pilgrim arrives at his final destination and comes face to face with God, words fail him too but he recalls the sensation, the love that moved him and held him spinning like a wheel (or dare I say it, a fidget-spinner!) in equilibrium – moving constantly while also at rest.  This is the love within which all other loves are held, the same love that moves the sun and the other stars.

 

Nel mezzo del cammin

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita – in the middle of our life’s path

This is the first line of the greatest poem of all time (imho) by Dante Alighieri.  Those who know me well know my secret passion for Dante.  Having studied the Divina Commedia at university I went on to pick it up again when I was studying for my MA in Durham, this time not as a linguist but as a theologian, hopefully proving to those who dare doubt it that even in the early 14th century Dante had transformational insights for both mission and ministry today (I’d be happy to share my dissertation with anyone who wants to know more!)

While spending several hours in a London bookshop over my birthday weekend, I treated myself to yet another copy of the Divine Comedy, this time told as a comic strip!  It seemed an appropriate purchase as I reach the middle of my own life’s path.

The opening lines of the Commedia go on:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura/che la diritta via era smarrita

… I found myself back in a dark wood where the right path was lost.

The word ‘diritta’ can mean ‘right’ as opposed to ‘wrong’.  Or it can mean ‘straight’ like the Romans built their roads and walls.  Was this Dante’s midlife crisis?  Or had something terrible happened to trigger a bout of depression?  Whatever it was, he was left feeling lost and in darkness, afraid and confused, the way ahead neither ‘right’ nor ‘straight’.  If it weren’t for his guides – Virgil, Beatrice and the others – he might never have made it through Hell and Purgatory to the end of Paradise.

I remember feeling engulfed by something like a dark wood in 2013 when Dad and Andy died within 3 months of each other.  Since then there have been times when I have felt I’d made some progress and times when I’ve caught myself going round in circles and just wanted to sit down and weep.  Only now am I beginning to find my way out of that dark wood and get back on what I hope and trust is the ‘right’ track.

Like Dante, I believe the ‘diritta via’ is always there, whether I can see it or not, and that gives me hope.  But again like Dante, sometimes I might need a guide to help me along the way and to accept that the journey I need to go on is longer than I’d like it to be.