Clogher Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2016
Mass at the Grotto
Saturday, 9 July 2016, 8.30am
My dear friends,
At Denver airport a woman in her mid-forties is sitting at the gate waiting for her flight. She glances up to find a young man in front of her. Although there are several free seats around he tilts his head at the seat next to her, then towards her suitcase blocking the chair. Why this one? she wonders. Mildly annoyed, she moves her bag.
He sits and drops his duffle bag at his feet. He is wearing a US Army Camouflage uniform. “Where you headed?” he asks. “Home”, she replies. He tells her that he has just come home from Afghanistan and is heading to Florida to surprise his Mum. It’s been five years since he’s seen her. “What was he most looking forward to? the woman asked. “A shower”, he said. He grinned when she asked if his mother would cook his favourite meal.
He says it was almost harder to leave the war than to stay, leaving others behind, knowing he had to go back. But this might be his last chance to see his mother. The woman notices how he keeps scanning the room warily as he talks. How when he looks at her his eyes keep no distance. He wants something from her but at first she doesn’t know what. He says it’s hard to stop scanning for danger. Yesterday he was in the desert. Fellow soldiers, men under his command, were blown into pieces around him. Today he is in an airport trying to fathom anger over flight delays, the rush for coffee. He doesn’t know how to be here in this place.
The woman understands. One week before, her friend’s teenage son had died suddenly and, being a mother herself, felt so disoriented and distant from the everyday world around her. She tells the soldier about it. He breathes deeply, shows a small smile. They had made a sliver of connection. The woman said to herself that he had seen the raw and unbearable. He knew what was real and what mattered. He knew it was not the time of the flight, or a latte. But he did not know how to tell us. This was what he needed from me, I realised. What we all need. He did not want the seat beside mine. He wanted to sit with me. He needed to feel safe and understood for a brief while between here and there.
A soldier finds an understanding Mum to talk to in a busy airport; a young mother to be goes to be with her elderly cousin, also pregnant, and finds consolation and support. In both meetings we see grace, love that enables one cousin to put aside her own plight to help the other cousin. Compassion that enables a Mum to provide a safe, understanding place for another Mum’s son. In Mary and Elizabeth’s visit and in our own similar ‘visitations’, the spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments. Whether bound by blood or by spirit, in Mary’s child the inexplicable love of God becomes real to us, the peace of God becomes possible in our own ‘visitations’ and encounters with our sisters and brothers in whom God is present. It can enable new life to leap in the womb.
+Liam S. MacDaid
9 July 2016