Thursday, September 8, 2011

Definitely a Pilgrimage

Reflection submitted by Joanne Connolly
As Father Matt and Mrs. Willitts repeatedly told us, “This is a pilgrimage, NOT a vacation.” They had said that during Australia as well, but compared to Spain, Australia pretty much WAS a vacation. Spain was a pilgrimage, and at times, a scary one.

It started right off the bat, with the first flight. I don’t think anyone got sleep, and if they did, it wasn’t much. AirFrance was wonderful to feed us, but did we really need dinner at midnight and breakfast at 3am? I’m willing to bet we didn’t. But this wasn’t really much of a hardship until later. The lack of sleep and proper meals (neither of us had eaten on the flight) caught up to Matty and I, and we had a hard time standing during mass that night. This had happened to me upon arriving to Australia as well and I knew that once we had our Burger King dinner and some sleep, we would be fine; and we were.

Next up was just the following morning in Toledo. During mass with Cardinal Sean, someone from the Boston group hit the floor. It was a not-so-gentle reminder that it was HOT. Drink up, you don’t want to end up like that person…or the many people who went down on the side of the road. Too often, ambulances would part the crowds, or volunteers would dart through people, unconscious body in tow. The heat was dangerous.

Then of course we had the many separations of Patty. First, she and I were blocked off from the rest of our group during opening mass. I don’t know if she went somewhere during the Pope’s welcome, but I had found my way to a jumbotron and latched on to a Pennsylvania group. Then, she and the boys got blocked off once more during Stations of the Cross. Lastly, she ended up with a small group of us that got completely detached from all the other adults on our way to the airfield.

The night spent on the airfield confirmed that this was definitely a pilgrimage. First, we were snubbed by our neighbors who believed we were taking their space. Then Patty and I went to get food and walked in the opposite direction for a while. With limited walking space and a million people, it was tough to get around. Once we got our food, I stopped to eat a chocolate croissant because I joked that I was going to “fall over” if I didn’t. Another ~15 minute walk with a bag of food on each arm, and we were back at our “campsite” on the side of the road. I was exhausted and practically fell to my seat and ate some more, and I was also absolutely miserable. I was hot, I was tired, and I wanted to leave. I started to cry, and after a few minutes, our neighboring Italian-speaker came to see what the problem was.

Joanne laying down among the Italians. Mrs. Willitts (red tshirt) is watching close by.

Of course, whenever anyone asks me what’s wrong, it immediately makes everything worse, and I start sobbing hysterically on this boy from Switzerland whose group didn’t want us invading their space. He played Nurse Giovanni to me and made me lie down on an inflatable bed, while I continued to cry and attract the attention from others in his group (the owner of the bed wasn’t too happy). I had been crying so hard that I found it difficult to form words—my lips wouldn’t move, and my garbled speech made it harder for the non-native English speakers to understand me. When they asked me questions I would point to Mrs. Willitts to answer them, and at one point I’m pretty sure I used ASL to sign my age. One of the things I tried to say was that my arms felt heavy. I had a hard time lifting my arms and legs, my hands were stuck into deformed claw-shapes, and my ankles were titled in at a 45 degree angle. Hence the hand and foot massages that you read about when this all took place: I could not move my limbs by myself. Despite Patty’s demands that they call an ambulance, the volunteers insisted I was fine, and this was merely an anxiety attack. They didn’t know that I had drunk about two liters of water (and I’m small, so that’s a LOT) just on the walk to the airfield, and proceeded to sweat it all out. When I got home, my mom asked me to look up the signs of water intoxication—and there it was. “The early warning signs are often subtle and may be similar to dehydration and include nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion. At this point, many athletes drink more water because they think they are dehydrated. Unfortunately, water alone will increase the problem of hyponatremia. At the most extreme an athlete may experience seizures, coma, or death” ( Awesome. I’m so glad people were giving me more water. I didn’t think I would be the one from our group to go down, but I wasn’t surprised that it was.

Joanne under the tarp with the Italians.

And then, as if the night couldn’t get any worse, it rained. Tornado-like winds whipped a metal napkin-holder at Matty and turned the jumbotron sideways. It was loud, but the thunder was louder. It was downright frightening, and apparently storms like that are highly unusual in Spain. It rained off and on for probably an hour, so that all of our sleeping gear was wet and cold. A huge orb of light was placed right next to us, and we were on a main road, so sleeping was near impossible. After about an hour and a half of sleep, I was very thankful that Revere was leaving and that I could accompany them in the cool darkness.

Aside from an altercation on the bus ride to Barcelona, the rest of the pilgrimage went by pretty smoothly. And there were bright sides of everything that happened—I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer**. But if there is anyone left who thought that we were on vacation in Spain, I hope this proves to you that we were on a pilgrimage. Nobody died and we didn’t walk across entire countries, but please understand that this was not easy for ANYONE. Although I didn’t even complain when I was water intoxicated—one thing I remember saying was, “This was a good way to pass the time.”

**Aforementioned bright sides in order! No sleep on the AirFrance flight made it extremely easy to fall asleep in the unfamiliar hotel bed. Person who passed out in Toledo was completely fine. Patty always finds a bright side to getting separated; whether it was the truly amazing sign of peace between other groups and us, or watching Stations in her air-conditioned hotel room with the camera’s great views of everything. My little sickness was a great way to make friends and pass the time, and of course something to learn from—don’t only drink water. If you’re sweating it all out, add a sports drink of some sort to replace your sodium and other electrolytes being lost into the atmosphere. The rain took away the heat, and the orb of light was a great marker for when Matty and I separately wandered away to stretch, eat, or use the facilities. Neither of us really slept, but the wandering time we had allowed us to see the sheer magnitude of people that had come to camp out with the Pope. And what a sight that was.

Editors Note: The image above, (taken by Joanne Connolly) is of bodies that reach to the horizon lying shoulder to shoulder (some sleeping, some trying to sleep) at the vigil. It is a humbling experience to be apart of such a gathering in our faith. Thank you St. George Parish for helping us all to experience this wonderful pilgrimage.

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