Monday, April 25, 2016

The Biggest Walking Meditation Ever: My Journey Around Geneva Lake

I went in to teach ESL at the Holy Spirit Life Learning Center today and was greeted by Fabienne (my German friend) jumping up and down yelling “It’s summer! It’s summer!”

While it’s not exactly summer yet, it’s true that all of a sudden Chicago has burst into bloom. The trees have their leaves back, the grass is green, and every yard, it seems, has its own collection of daffodils, violets and tulips. Even the dogs in my neighborhood have shed their tacky little sweaters (mostly). Every time I step outside, I can hardly stop myself from filling my phone with picture after picture of trees and flowers, which I can’t help but share here:

A tree blossoms outside an apartment building in my neighborhood

the monastery grounds, carpeted in tulips

like a lemonade stand.. but for free, and with flowers

All this life and color is very uplifting for the spirits after months of winter blues, but it also reminds me that my time here is drawing to a close. I try not to dwell on that too much, but the thought of leaving makes me very sad. And the thought of trying to figure out what I’m going to do after my year here is over consumes a lot of my thoughts and worries.

Last week I really needed a break from all these thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head. Luckily the opportunity to take my mind off of things presented itself in the most unexpected way: with a mammoth feat of physical endurance.

Way back in the fall, I met up with Hannah and Heather, two friends from my first year at St. Ben’s, and we took a trip to Heather’s hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Inspired by our 5 mile walk along the lakefront, we set a date to return: this time our goal would be to walk around the entire circumference of Geneva Lake via the lakefront trail. And that date happened to be last Saturday.

Somehow, by chance, last Saturday was the first really beautiful, warm day of the spring. We started our walk around the lake just after lunch, at 12:30, from Heather’s parents’ house. We walked and walked and walked.  Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just walked in silence. 

At mile number 15, I thought I couldn’t go on. My feet were so sore I could barely keep putting one in front of the other. Only the encouragement of Hannah and Heather combined with the numbing effect of the ice cold lake water on my feet inspired me to forge ahead.

We finally finished our journey in the same place we started—the strip of beach in front of Heather’s house—at 10 pm. We had been walking almost continuously for 9 and a half hours. The last three miles or so we walked almost completely in the dark, picking our way along the path by the light of a cellphone flashlight.

For me, walking in the dark was the most significant part of the journey. In the light of day, it had been easy to look at the trail winding endlessly ahead around the vast expanse of water, and think “How many more miles is that? It looks like at least 10 or 11. Oh gosh, I can’t even see the other side of the bay from here.. I’m never going to make it!” and so on. But I found that in the dark, the lake, its neighboring towns, and the miles of trail completely disappeared. The whole world shrunk to the exact size of the patch of light illuminating the ground right in front of my feet. For those last three miles, I was so tired I couldn’t even think. But the empty space in my mind was a relief.

When we finally made it across the threshold of Heather’s front door, Heather’s parents were waiting up for us with brownies and ice packs. I felt like the survivor of a plane wreck who had just battled miles of wilderness to finally reenter civilization. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I did feel like a different person than the one who left that same house at 12:30. Because I did something that I genuinely did not believe I could do. So in that way it felt kind of a pilgrimage, even though the destination was the same as the starting point.

It’s been a week since our journey around the lake, but the experience left me revitalized and rejuvenated. That constructive time away has really helped me approach my service work as well as my own thoughts with a new perspective. And when I do feel stressed, I keep reminding myself that God will handle the big picture; all I have to do is follow that little patch of light and keep putting one foot in front of the other. If I can do Geneva Lake, I can do anything.


Enjoying sunset on the beach (7 more miles to go!)

Running away from the freezing cold water

In other news:

One of the alums of the sisters’ school, St. Scholastica Academy, wrote and directed a one-woman comedy called Late Night Catechism. S. Benita was kind enough to arrange free tickets for myself and Fabienne. We attended the show this weekend and had a blast!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Erin. Loved your blog. S. Josue and I are planning a one-day retreat with a group of novices & directors from other Benedictine monasteries and our theme is "Being on the journey with expanding hearts" If it is okay with you I would like to use this blog as a metaphor for religious life. Blessings on the rest of your time in Chicago, S. Helene (Mercier)