I ran my travel errands amid the reports of Hurricane Irma approaching Florida and two other storms, Jose and Katya, also churning the waters. Watching the predictions of Irma’s path, I’m focused on Atlanta and Charleston, the two cities where my sons live, and then I watch for our area of central North Carolina. Besides buying water and canned goods for hurricane preparation, I pick up my order of euros and pounds from the bank and stand in line at the post office to stop mail service. I have an unsettled feeling about the storm, but some of that restlessness is about leaving on a journey.
The critical voice in my head has been growing louder, saying, “Why did you plan a trip in September when hurricanes are most likely?” The gentle voice responds, “You’ve always wanted to travel in September, and now you can.” This year, when I felt the pull to go to Iona for my pilgrimage, I looked up the themes they had for the Abbey. The last offering for the year in the last week of September was, “The Pilgrimage of Life.” I said to myself, “That’s perfect.”
I’ll celebrate my retirement from twenty years of school nursing by taking a trip in September—the month that had been the hardest in that job. First, my husband and I will celebrate forty years as a couple—thirty-nine of those married, by traveling to Paris, London, and Edinburgh. We’ll part in Scotland. He’ll return to the States while I’ll board a train for Oban and on from there to Iona.
So now, I feel pulled wanting to go and wanting to stay. I’ve experienced that same tension with other journeys when there was no hurricane. Some of it’s the feeling of wanting to hunker down at home and stay safe, to not push myself to travel to the unknown.
I return to Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim. She talks about how going on a pilgrimage is in part a practice of being uncomfortable. While my solo journey to Iona will start when I board the train in Edinburgh, the beginning of the pilgrimage really starts at home with the anticipation and preparation. Whether it’s our trip together or my subsequent journey in Iona, it would be tempting to think of only the good things. People tell us how lucky we are and how much fun it’ll be. And that’s how we all like to think of travel, of journeys away from our everyday life. Paintner points out that we’re often taught that we should just feel happy when in actuality, we have ambiguity and contradictions in our experience.
Getting ready for any trip away from the safety of our home routines can be anxiety producing—even when there’s no threatening hurricane. There will be wonderful experiences in Europe with my husband, but there will also be times of tension and frustration, of tiredness and wishing we were in the easy routines of home.
The best I can do, or we can do as a couple, is to embrace what each moment has to offer. Right now, I have to accept the uncertainty. I can’t jump ahead to knowing the impact of the storm, if we’ll have to alter our travel plans, if it will change the course of our trip.
I will put my anxiety on my pilgrimage altar and pray for each step into the unknown, to know the assurance of the still small voice of God that leads me on the path.
What about you?
Do you experience anxiety when you’re preparing to leave on a journey?
How do you handle the pull to go and the pull to stay?
How can you embrace the ambiguities of life with gentleness and acceptance?