Being away was quite a time and coming back has been quite a time, beginning with the trip itself. I came back on Tuesday, which as you may remember was the day the latest snow storm was churning its way up the Atlantic coast. I changed planes in Detroit and had about an hour and a half there, which was a good thing, because it takes quite a while to negotiate the trip from a large plane (far end of the main concourse) to a small plane (other end of Concourse C) in the Detroit airport.
I didn't have any idea what the weather was doing when I started out. There was snow and fog in Detroit, but not a lot of either and it didn't interfere with our landing. On my way between concourses I checked the flight board and everything looked normal. The next time I passed a flight board there was one block of red which caught my eye - a late afternoon flight to New York canceled. "Must be equipment trouble" I thought. The next flight board I came to had several red blocks - several afternoon flights to New York and one to Washington canceled. "Hmmm" I thought. By the time I got to my gate the board was a sea of red - flights to New York, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hartford canceled and the times of the canceled flights were creeping backward to nearly the time of my own flight to Newburgh.
But there was actually a plane at the gate, which seemed like a good sign and a slightly earlier flight for Syracuse was loading, so I decided to look hopeful and see if that would help. It did.
But just barely. We were one of the very last East Coast flights to get out of Pittsburgh, and it was the a rare event for these days; a flight that was three quarters empty. We got to Newburgh a few hours before the snow began here - a very narrow window of opportunity.
Was it a sign or just a happenstance? I don't know. It doesn't matter. But the fact is that the readjustment to life at home has been a difficult one.
On the physical level it has been a real trial. The friends with whom I stayed in Kansas City knew that my time there was very hard and they went out of their way to take good care of me: good meals, good drinks, late nights (by my standards, at least). Since I was gone two weeks I had time to get used to a wholly different way of living the days and the evenings, and getting out of that and back into my usual routine wasn't easy. My body rebelled. I am hypoglycemic to begin with and dietary and life-style changes are always a challenge for people like me. My body doesn't like adjustments. And it let me know in no uncertain terms. I have been miserable for several days.
The more difficult, not to mention ironic, challenge has been on the spiritual level. In Kansas City I was completely out of my usual routine. No structure of Office to frame my day. No long periods of time into which meditation fitted naturally. And grief - a lot of grief - not to mention a lot of work, in the aftermath of Bill's death and the need for Betty's move.
But contrary to my expectation, this didn't produce any sense of spiritual dislocation. Whenever I could turn to prayer, it flowed. My sense of inner connection remained uninterrupted. It nourished me. It sustained me. I was more grateful than ever for my decision of some months ago to wear my meditation beads. Beads have been an aid to my prayer for years, and now I don't even need to reach as far as my pocket to have them in my hand. They are there any time I want or need them, and in a stressed time like this, it was a great benefit and a comfort to have them. They carried me through all kinds of times, including some periods when everyone else was watching the TV. I discovered that the television slid quite easily into the background while I attended to the Jesus Prayer. I have no idea whether anyone noticed what I was doing. At any rate, it didn't cause cause any disruption. And it did keep me grounded and centered, which I really needed during those days.
The ironic part is that when I got home and back into my usual routine it all fell apart. Here I was, back in the structure of the Offices, chanted with great beauty, and I couldn't attend to them. I had my usual times for meditation and I felt paralyzed. When I tried to force myself to attention and to focus all I could sense was a knot at the center of my stomach which resisted any kind of attention. Nothing I could do resulted in any sense of connection. I was completely adrift.
It lasted several days. It was partly physical, of course. Difficulties with balance in the endocrine system typically produce all kinds of emotional results, with resulting spiritual effects as well. And just letting down after all that pressure couldn't help but affect any kind of inner balance that I had. It wasn't really a puzzle for me. I understood what was going on. But I didn't manage very well when it came to having perspective on it. My capacity for just observing what was going on seemed to have taken a vacation. And I learned once more just how much suffering comes with the loss of one's capacity for noticing and observing. It was a good lesson.
Fortunately the one thing I never lost was the conviction that all of this was (probably) temporary, and was mostly an effect of the transition process I was in. I had lived through a highly stressed physical and emotional situation and had marshaled all my resources in order to get through it. My resources came through in a big way. They gave me strength and stability and they got me through. And the Lord was very good.
But then my resources claimed their need for some time off. I'd been on duty pretty much full time for two weeks and I am, after all, nearly 72 years old. They were right to take off and disappear. It's too bad that I couldn't take a vacation along with them, because that would probably have made the process better. But some long naps and a determination on my part not to press myself too hard did help. Otherwise it's been just waiting.
It's coming along. I'm not totally back yet, but I'm getting there. Last night after Compline I stayed in the Church and just let joy at being in that beautiful deep place fill my heart. Matins this morning lifted my soul at the beginning of the day, as it is supposed to. My attention still isn't what I would like and my brain is a touch foggy. But the process is moving and that's enough to sustain me for now.
Quite an adventure. I want to let it deepen my compassion, both for others and for myself. We are all seized by times like this and we flounder our way through them the best we can. I'd like to be more skillful in negotiating the next one. I'd like to deepen my prayer for people caught in similar conditions. And I'd like to learn to be more intuitive and more gentle with myself in the process. It is, after all, just a human process. It is, among other thing, the laboratory in which we learn to love God in the midst of all kinds of different conditions.
(And having Sushi with a friend tonight will no doubt help.)