Yesterday I walked out of the noon Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Cross and into a hurricane. The storm was not meteorological. It was emotional. Through a chain of events too random and too personal to recount, I completely lost it — utter male melt-down, complete with weeping.
I spent two hours in bed, hungry for the lunch that I had put off for the sake of Mass, the lunch that I was now too stubborn to eat. But I could not sleep because our apartment is on a rooftop in the middle of Florence. If you have ever been in Florence, you will know that the bells of a dozen churches ring every five minutes as though the entire country were on fire. A nap was not an option.
The melt-down, like a volcano just absolutely blowing its stack then collapsing into a molten puddle of flaming goo, probably began in the morning with my pack on my back. But in my efforts to understand it fully, I went back seven months, to the day when Marian invited me to walk the Camino de Santiago with her. Since then we have been in one long build-up phase: the initial excitement, the travel planning in order to include Katie, the trip to REI, the many e-mails to Marian in Southeast Asia, a second trip to REI, Marian's arrival in Rome last Thursday, and a busy, loud, frenetic final weekend in Rome. Yesterday morning, I loaded my backpack and gamely headed to Roma Termini, the central train station, with Katie and Marian by my side.
That pack was a boulder. I was exhausted even before boarding the train in Rome, and by the time I had hiked uphill to our Florence apartment (it's on a rooftop, remember?), I still had my game face on but the heart had gone out of me.
Several things have struck me since the melt-down, as probable causes:
1. All of a sudden, I wonder if I can actually do this crazy thing. Will my 60-year-old body break down under the weight of the pack? After the first day's climb into the Pyrenees, which is higher than any stage of the Appalachian Trail? Or at any point along the Camino?
2. Marian is my baby. Can I protect her? Can I be the father I need to be or at least want to be?
3. Why the heck am I doing this Camino in the first place? Why did I say yes so readily? What really is in my heart? What is my question? What is my prayer?
4. Now that it is about to begin, I realize that the Camino is going to end. What then? No matter what fresh insights come to me, no matter how clear the voice of God, no matter how new I feel, my old life will immediately surround me.
This last point was brought home forcibly yesterday afternoon, after I had recovered sufficiently to sit with Katie and Marian. Katie asked me to help her open an e-mail attachment from the Beverly Historical Society, about an event taking place in June, for God's sake. I couldn't open it, perhaps because I realized that to do so was to stare my post-Camino life in the face.
After settling down further, I did the only thing I could think to do: take everything out of my backpack that I will die if I don't have. I removed 10 pounds of stuff and felt much better as we sat down to a delectable meal of pasta with pesto and other vegetarian delights prepared by Marian.
This morning, I got what may be part of the answer to a question. Today's Gospel reading is from John. In it, Jesus says, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word." It occurred to me that what had been most painful about yesterday afternoon was not keeping the Lord's word — knowing that I had no control over my emotional life at its deepest levels and thus no final control over my actions.
But here was the hint of a solution in the Gospel reading. "If a man loves me . . . " This, it seemed to me, is a worthy reason for undertaking the Camino de Santiago: to learn to love the Lord more than I do, more than I evidently did yesterday afternoon when I exited Mass and walked into a hurricane.