It’s my first night in Europe and, clinging to two hours of desperate sleep on the transatlantic red-eye flight, I miss my train from Barcelona to the little town of Manresa, where I was hoping to make it to the Jesuit community in the daylight. But instead, sometime around midnight, I’m wrong-turning down dark alleys constantly looking over my shoulder, aware that I’m clearly “not from here” obvious with my two backpacks, sandals and complete disorientation in the tight, winding roads. I finally find a bright street and, after sweeping around wide bend, I heave a huge sigh of relief as men and women in ceremonial dress emerge from alleys and apartments, streaming toward an old warehouse-turned-mosque at the bottom of the hill. I greet a man, asking him if it is Eid, the Muslim holy day that concludes Ramadan, the month of fasting. No, he said, his face lighting up, that’s the 6th; he paused and smiled: “Venga” – Come.
But by July 6th, I knew, I would be in Northern Italy, five trains deep into a journey to work World Youth Day events in Poland from the 10th to the 31st, so I just smiled and bid him good prayers and good night.
A couple of days later, a room and food secured, I followed a Jesuit’s recommendation to a local museum I arrived at to find under construction. Still eager to accommodate, the curator sent me up the elevator with the contractor, who happily described their renovations and detailed the footmap I could follow to the open exhibits. But seeing on my face that I’m one of those people who can get lost in a room with only one door, he quickly distilled his directions: “Vaya donde haya luz.” – Go where there’s light.
* * *
I’ve never journaled so fragmentedly, frequently, and desperately as I have in these last four weeks. I have terrible short-term memory, and with all the good people, good places and good times of these travels and work, I wanted them to sink in, I wanted them to stay, I couldn’t stand to let them float away unappreciated: I wanted to savor them now, I want to savor them later.
I chickenscratch interview with Ghassan, K’naan song / sunset, falafel with Tony, first successful French conv. w. French person, Argentine man gave me his dinner, tapas with B, Moroccan man’s help on bus, Olga, film festival, Gita chapter 9, new Mumford & Sons, Mont Blanc, hike with Stefano, basketball USA vs. Poland, blues jam with Jacques + Thomas, dinnertime Irish breakfast with Chelsie, Kuda’s bracelet, Mass at Montserrat…
The daily download. I had to do the same with my camera every night after shooting video all day, sometimes even at noon. Save it before you lose it. Make room for the new.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever read all these reminders again. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to read them again. But sometimes just the five seconds it takes to write them is enough to see the light each contains, to see these candlelike graces brighter side-by-side by the day, by the week, by the month. Come. Go where there’s light. Stay where there’s light and savor these places, these faces and these moments.
* * *
I rolled out of my hostel bunk at 3:50 a.m. in Dublin and packed my bags for the last time. I’m going home. With the twin allies of air travel and west-rolling time zones – 4,139 miles and 27 hours of travel somehow squeezed into one day – I walked into the silence of my South Dakota bedroom at 11:30 p.m., heaving a sigh as my bags dropped to the wooden floor.
All I want to do is to go to bed and sort it all out in the morning, but I know I won’t.
I start to unpack, if only to grab my pajamas, and find surprises tucked in every pocket – some Euros, Swiss Francs, Polish Zlotys, Italian bus fare, a Syrian bracelet, miraculous medals, leftover mint Mentos, pierogi receipts and fragments of my disintegrating Eurail pass. I set each of them on my desk, recalling the faces and places and chances that each one represents.
These, along with the shorthand in my journal, are the lights of the summer, and I now know that, because I kept them, I will go back to them. Later. But with my backpack empty and my heart full, the transfer is complete and I fall asleep very, very content.
I carry these memories into deep sleep and then I wake in them, 5000 miles away from their roots, but I hear the same whispered invitations: Come. Go where there’s light.