Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Journey: The EPIC Pilgrimage

    Now that the summer is long behind me, I can begin to look back with discerning eyes.  Before now, I have refused myself the opportunity to reflect on this summer in any depth, in order to allow any lingering sentiments of loss to fade away.  It's true: I felt the deep pang of loss when coming back to school.  Over the course of three months, my fellow walkers had become my closest companions, and frankly, it hurt to part ways.  But eventually the pain gave way to appreciation, and now that regret has faded away, I am ready to reflect.

    When thinking about this summer, I began to ponder the "epic journey".  In literature and media, the epic journey is an effective storytelling device.  The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Odysseus, and even the Bible all use this structure.  It arranges large amounts of plot and character development not only along a timeline, but also a physical path.  This geographic organization gives the growth of the characters tangible location.  I find a beautiful parallel here to the concept of the pilgrimage.  When one makes a pilgrimage, they undertake a journey that values the destination just as much as the path itself.  The growth of the pilgrim is tied to specific events and locations, providing a physical testament to his maturity.  I have begun to see my Walk in this light: Crossroads was an "epic pilgrimage". 

    The beauty of the epic is that specific challenges and joys have locations.  In looking over some of my favorite epic stories, I have found a basic structure that underlies most of them.  First, pre-journey doubts torment the main character, and only the support and influence of those closest to him convinces him to embark on his journey.  Then comes the initial challenge, where the character is tested for the first time and filled with hope and courage by overcoming this obstacle.  After this comes many more challenges, through which the main character gains skills, confidences, and virtues that will be necessary for the final challenge of his journey.  This final challenge is the climax of the journey, in which the character's growth is tested to its furthest limits.  After this final challenge, a denouement brings us to the end as the character reflects on the ways he has changed.  This structure is echoed in my Walk:

    a) Pre-journey Doubts: Before this summer began, I was haunted by pre-journey doubts.  I told my friends that I was going, but I didn't believe it.  I thought that it would have been impossible to afford a whole summer without an income, and for that reason I neglected to send out letters asking for sponsors until a week before I was supposed to leave.  It was only the prayers of those closest to me and the less-than-subtle pressure from my family that encouraged me to stop worrying and just go for it. 
    b) Initial Challenge:  the first time that I questioned my motivations for being on the walk came in the Cascade Mountains in Washington.  The Day Shift scaled the mountain range over the course of one day, climbing several thousand feet in a matter of hours.  To make matters worse, there was a driving rain and freezing temperatures.  We grimaced as we passed huge snow drifts that did not yet have the chance to melt by late May.  We pushed ourselves that day because we had to: trucks came over the top of the range and then coasted down the mountains at higher and higher speeds, which made walking uphill far more dangerous than downhill.  We realized that we had to make it to the top of the range while there was still daylight, to make the walk safer for the Night Shift.  I think it was a wednesday: I got shin splints that day.  Every muscle in my body ached, and my shins were so tense that I could barely point my toe forward.  The next morning, I knew the meaning of pain, and in that pain I discovered a new strength: determination.  I was determined enough to get out of bed, lace up my shoes, and begin walking again.  If I could do that, I knew I could do anything.
    c) More Challenges: Several more challenges helped to teach me virtues that I would need for the rest of the summer.  The plains of South Dakota taught me patience.  Seeing the road stretch on for miles ahead and vanish into the horizon is both aggravating and depressing.  A found within myself a powerful patience that allowed me not only to press on, but to do so with joy.  The heat of Minnesota and Wisconsin taught me to trust in prayer.  At the end of June, a heat wave joined forces with the drought, making Minnesota and Wisconsin the hottest and driest place in the country.  The corn never made it above knee high here, and we barely made it through.  On tuesday night the group sat down for dinner, and I could see in their eyes what I myself had been terrified of: we were not going to make it.  It was only tuesday, and we were utterly destroyed.  But we didn't give up, because we still had one more option: prayer.  We prayed.  I prayed.  And we made it.  We all found the strength to walk one more mile. 

    d) The Final Challenge: We met our final challenge at the end of July.  On a friday morning in Ohio, John came to me and told me that a walker had died.  Hit by a car; dead on the road.  Words can not describe the blow those words had delivered.  Even now, my stomach painfully turns at the mere memory of the event.  The news was devastating.  Those words brought me to tears.  They weighed down on me, simultaneously testing every one of my weaknesses.  How could I press on, if not for the determination I learned in the Cascades?  How could I see a way out, if not for the patience I learned in South Dakota?  Most importantly, how could I even consider moving on, if not for the reliance on prayer that I had gained in Minnesota and Wisconsin?  This challenge was a tragedy, one that I survived due to the virtues I had gained and the friendships I had made.  I survived.  We survived.
    e) Denouement: In Northern Pensilvania, I wrote in my journal: "I LOVE THESE PEOPLE!"  By this point in the walk, I had been through more with them then I ever had with any other group of people.  Last summer my joys, struggles, and challenges were more vivid and real than any I had experienced before.  These people and I shared the most extraordinary common experience that I think is possible.  We didn't just walk across the country, we did so much more.  Together, we found our limits, walked right up to them, laughed them in the face, and pushed on through to a greater maturity and strength.  We didn't just grow together, we flourished.
    Seeing my summer organized like this, I am intensely thankful for the great many gifts and experiences I've been given.  After this summer, I have come to recognize the amazing change that has taken place in myself.  I am a better leader.  I trust more in prayer.  I love more deeply.  I live more boldly.  These things won't just make me a better Priest some day, but ultimately a better man.  Let me give an example.  Crossroads hands out a very unique sticker that proclaims "PRO LIFE" very distinctly.  Ever since grade school, I have always had several in my possession.  Now, it is often the practice on college campus's to put bumper stickers on one's laptop.  Several times in the past years, I have pondered placing a Crossroads sticker on my laptop.  But I always chickened out, too afraid of the possible reaction that I'd get in class, amongst my friends, or in a student lounge.  I was afraid.  I was not a man.  But when I got home from Crossroads, I put not one, but two bumper stickers on my laptop.  Not only that, but one of the stickers is a God-awful shade of pink that you'd have to be blind not to see.  When I take my computer out in public, it is a loud billboard for the Truth, and I am no longer struck dumb by fear and apprehension.  Being a witness to the truth isn't that scary anymore; now courage and wisdom have overcome my fears.  I am more of a man now, and Crossroads gave me that. 

So for the last time, thank you Crossroads. Thank you everyone, walkers and staff, for providing me with this opportunity.  Thank you to my family, for pushing me along, and thank to my donors for making it possible.  Most importantly, thank you Jesus Christ.  For by your Cross and Resurrection, you have given meaning to my life. 

in Christ,

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing this Josh! As the months press on I think we can all begin to really see the fruits of this summer. God bless and know that you are always in my prayers.

    Fellow walkers: I love you all!