This is a story of a man’s journey, of my own journey, towards God. It will be told in parts, so the reader can experience it in a way that doesn’t promote boredom. Since this is a true story, the names of some of the people involved have been changed, so as not to praise or incriminate any one involved. This story is told from a personal perspective and because of that, I do not expect anyone by any means to agree with me. It should be taken as a story of a man’s pilgrimage towards God, one that not only follows the true path, but strays from it from time to time. Let it be a warning, let it be encouragement, but do not disregard it all together!
“Et introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui lætificat juventutem meam.”
“I will go unto the altar of my God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”
“I will change.” This was the resolution I made as I came into the church. I genuflected and turned to sit beside, the girl I had been dating for three years, Elizabeth All at once my heart was filled with an icy chill; it was from the look on her face; there was her beautiful smile, but the tears peeping out of the corners of her eyes, her eyes which had a vacant look, made me shiver in my soul. Her whole body language created an atmosphere which felt like death, and told me that something was wrong, really wrong. For the entirety of mass, it was painstakingly hard to pay attention to what was going on. At the end of mass, she told me we would talk later after she finished work.
I headed to work. It was a field trip today. Damn, the buses were gone. I headed to the office to explain the misunderstanding I had had. The manager took it well. I slowly started walking back to the house, turning over in my mind the look on her face. “What had happened? What tragedy would the evening bring?” I sat at the house trying to get the feeling of despair out of my mind. I lit a cigarette. “Maybe that would help?” I felt a little more relaxed, but there was still this anxiety built up in me. I went into the house, stirred up a gin and tonic, and started to head back out when I heard a little whistle. Ah! It was my pet robin, Ferdinand. Elizabeth had found it a few nights ago, yes I remember that night she couldn’t stop crying and nothing I could do helped her, and then she saw this—this baby robin, and it was he that managed to seize her attention enough to dam the flow of tears from her eyes. I picked up the robin. It was a young bird just learning how to fly. I grabbed a worm from the fridge let him swallow it whole, put the bird on my shoulder and headed outside to the lawn chair. Oh, there was Joseph’s wallet by the chair: “He shouldn’t have left that out; it might get stolen.” I nonchalantly placed it in my back pocket and sat down, sickly awaiting my fate. The beautiful summer’s day was wasted on me. The fine bright rays of the warm sun didn’t even seem to reach my skin; inside me there was a cold fear that blocked all beauty from my perception.
Elizabeth came that evening. We walked down to the park sat on the grass, and it was there that she broke up with me. Whether I deserved it or not is not the question here. There were problems sure, but everywhere there are problems. She cried like I have never seen her cry; it hurt. One of the most amazing things about our relationship throughout the years was that there was never a time when we were both upset. Always there was one of us who took control and left the emotions further behind. I knew it was right for us to break up, but still it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was there that she made me promise that I wouldn’t try to drown this tragedy with alcohol or burn it away with cigarettes. I promised. Then she asked me to promise that I would not do anything crazy… I promised. “Did I lie? Yes, I think it was a lie, but it was a white lie. If I hadn’t promised then I do not think we would have broken up. What did she want of me? Did she want me to go on with my life as if nothing had happened, really?” If I did not really love this girl then I think I would have been able to do that, but the problem there was that I did truly love her. I walked her home. It was about four miles that we walked back. Yes I walked her home after my heart was broken. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. She was in no fit state to walk back by herself, so I walked her back. It was the longest four miles that I have ever walked, and at the end she said her last goodbyes and she graced me with a last kiss. And then I turned away and walked. I did not look back and I don’t know if she did. I knew I could not show the wounds that had been inflicted on my soul, because she would be there to comfort me, and then it would be even harder for her. I walked, and as I came around the bend I cursed God. I cursed him for taking the best thing that had ever touched my life away from me, even though I knew it was right. Yes, I cursed Him and I hated Him. I cursed Him again, hurling my fist in the air, as if this action would gain His attention even more than my first act of hatred. And then I started the walk back. It was a long four miles there with her, but it was infinitely longer going back with only myself. Tears flowed down my face, tears that drenched the ground over which I trod. I was on the brink of despair.
I reached the house. I was alone, all alone. It is a strange thing to have friends, but in those times when you really need them they are gone. It is not the fault of the friend. It falls more into the realm of chance and divine providence, but, nonetheless, it is the worst feeling in the world; the feeling of a heart that has been torn apart—torn apart until there is barely anything left which resembles a heart—and then finds itself where its friends should be, not because it wants their comfort, no its pride gets in the way, but because it knows that it needs them. This act of searching for them is a last act of hope. You are hurt, and in such weakness there is a part which cannot stand to be seen by anyone. Why? Because we are all afraid of our weakness, we all hide from our weakness, and when finally it no longer can be hid we are ashamed, because it goes against who we are in the eyes of these people. It is the man reduced to tears; it is the woman realizing that she is not beautiful; it is the child who is not loved.
The act of walking to the house was my last act of hope to reach out for a helping hand, a hand of someone close. But often such a hand is not there. It would be far wiser to reach out to God, the one who holds you as well as everyone else in the palm of His hand. I had reached out with the little strength of humility that I had, but to no avail. I sat, and wrote this letter to the guys as the tears kept flowing down my face:
I have left. I can’t stay anymore. Tony asked: “Where do you go when you pray?” That is where I am going. Don’t hold this against her. She did it for the right reasons. And don’t tell her I am gone till you have to. I do not want her to falter in her reasons; they were right. Take good care of Ferdinand. I know I won’t be able to take care of him, so I am leaving him with you. You can sell whatever of my belongings is left to help pay for the trucks. I will send money if I can to help you pay. There should be money coming from lights on it will help pay for rent. Gardner, I bashed up your helmet on accident, I am sorry. Nick, I stole your bible, I couldn’t find mine.
God bless you guys,
P.S. When you finally have to tell her that I am gone, tell her that I do truly love and will write her.
(Tony was a drunk indian that I had met one night. It was a night that, even though it was filled with great conversation, ended off on a lower note than what was expected. Tony did ask one question though which had sunk deep into my mind, not to be easily forgotten. The question was “where do you go when you pray?” His answer, as well as mine, was “the mountains,” and that was where I was headed. I was off to rediscover those mountains of my youth. These mountains were cloaked in memories good along with bad, but it was and it is a holy place. It is one of the few places that I have felt as close to heaven as I could possibly reach on this earth.)
After the letter, I packed—I packed like the devil was on my heels. I threw in two books; the Bible and Don Quixote, along with some clothes, a sleeping bag, my pilgrim shell from the Camino de Santiago, and some peanuts and granola bars. I packed so I would not be caught in the awkward stage of going, but not gone; the awkward stage of having to explain a rash decision. By the time I had left the house it was twilight. I walked up past Frassati and up Main Street with the feeling that any second one of the guys would come chasing after me to bring me back. Perhaps I did want to stay. Yes, I think part of me did. But it was not a desire because of a good there, but rather because of a fear of the unknown which was in front of me. In the end, what kept me going was my pride, yes it was my pride. It was the pride that says you have to finish what you said you were going to do. Yes, it was that pride. That pride has destroyed many, forcing them to do the rash, making them hold onto their word. There should be worth to what a person says, but there is also the time to realize that what your word said is also that decisions should be broken at times. But I was filled with pride. Why was there this pride? It was there because I was facing my fear, my fear of being alone. It is a fear that is common in every human, the fear one feels when he is alone in the wilderness and there are only the unfamiliar sounds which haunt the imagination. Once again I was filled with too much pride to be able to admit my weakness. And so, unable to admit my fears to others, I stepped into the darkness of the night, leaving the lights of Lander behind me.
I had started out strong, but with each step the lights from the forsaken town sank into the distance, and so did the light of my spirit. Each step placed me further and further into the unknown. And, as I walked, I prayed on my beads. I think I must have prayed the full rosary two or three times during that walk. There is something of irony in human nature; the same man who curses and hates God one second, in the next second clings to him for comfort. I tried to hitch a ride, but to no avail. It was night, and no one picks up anyone after the sun has set. As I got farther and farther away from town, the more dense and dark it got. There was a fire up in the mountains and the weather was blowing it in the direction I was headed. I could barely see through the smoke, and at times it seemed as if it was snowing because of the ash. As I got further out, my mind started messing with my inner peace. The sounds that you only hear when it is dead silence, I heard. They are sounds that are so unfamiliar to modern man. When you hear these slight sounds, there is truly an understanding of how God could be in the slight breeze. As I headed on my way towards the unknown, a car going the opposite direction turned around and came up the side of the highway. I stopped. By luck or providence I did not stick out my thumb; as the car got closer the red white and blue lights turned on. “Damn!” I thought. I took off my backpack and waited. A sheriff got out of the car and walked towards me. He was an older man, white hair, trimmed glasses, and a mustache. “You know hitchhiking is illegal?” he said. “I’m not hitchhiking,” was my immediate response. It was true I had given up on trying to hitch a ride that night, so I wasn’t hitching a ride anywhere at the moment. He asked for my identification. I gave it to him, took my bag off of my shoulder, sat on my bag, and lit a cigarette. “Will I be taken back?” I wondered as I smoked. He came back and asked me where I was headed. I told him I was going home to Gallup, New Mexico. He tried to encourage me to go back to Lander, and then I could set off in the morning when it was light. I told him that I would prefer not to, and that I would rather sleep by the road. I was surprised when he said it was illegal to sleep by the side of the road, but he let me have my way, as long as I did not keep walking in the pitch black. People couldn’t see me until they were right on me, and that was a good way to get killed. So he left me there by the side of the road. And at that moment I knew that I had turned down my last chance of turning back.
I walked on a little further, found a good bank to sleep behind to help keep the noise of the road down, and to avoid any unwanted interactions with the local law enforcement. That night was sleepless. I do not think most the townspeople of Lander realize how many mountain lions there are around there. The only people who would possess this knowledge are the people who live outside of town, the ranchers and farmers. Throughout the night I was kept awake by the screams of lions. A mountain lion’s scream is one of the most terrifying sounds. It sounds like the piercing scream of a woman who is in the worst of situations. That night I was surrounded by these screams. It is the kind of experience that keeps you on your toes, until you fall asleep from exhaustion. I had my bowie knife by my side throughout that night, but even then I could not sleep as the screams kept circling around the place I was. It is hard to describe what such a night is like, the terrors of facing what you cannot see. There is something about sight which reassures us. When we can see the thing, even if it does terrify us, we have the knowledge of where it is. But when there is not that knowledge, there is a terror because there is no knowledge of where it is. That was the fear I felt that night. Around me the screams of the mountain lions circled, but as to how close one of them might be, I was left clueless. I was filled with fear and doubt about the whole journey I was on. I opened my backpack, and grabbed my Bible. I opened it up, and began to read. It was amazing that the passage that I opened up to was on how God had put the fear of man into the wild beasts. What are the chances that you open the Bible precisely to a passage that precisely applies to your position? I mean I would not have been as surprised if I had opened to a passage that said do not fear, but trust in the Lord. But to actually open to a passage that directly addresses your exact fear is surprising to say the least:
The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast beast of the earth and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.
Although these words provided some comfort to my soul, it was not until the sun had begun its journey, once again, to shed its light on the dark world that I finally fell into the comforting arms of sleep.