You can always go home… or so they say. As for me, it seems that whenever I go home (or when I go out gallivanting for long periods of time) the blog starts to grow cobwebs and get a little moldy around the edges, until suddenly, like, a third of a year has passed and I look around, going, “Hmm… I feel like I’m neglecting something…”
Oh, yes. It’s you. So sorry about that.
In my defense, I know that the vast majority of my readers are “IRL” (“in real life”) friends who follow my adventures through Facebook (or other, more interesting, real life methods of contact… conversations over tea, carrier parakeet, etc.) and don’t worry about me when I go AWOL from the blog for extended periods of time. But I was also really touched and pleasantly surprised when one of my best bloggy-friends and then one of my absolute favorite bloggers emailed to check up on me. …And then I also failed to respond to their messages for a really, really long time. Sorry to you guys as well. (And, interestingly enough, when I don’t write anything for a long time, the blog still gets about the same number of visitors per day that I get when I write regularly. Let’s just say the number is so small, it’s a nice lesson in humility.)
But, I’m back, and after the long silence I have much to tell. So stay tuned. But first, a flashback.
When Rodolfo and I traversed the Camino Santiago in Spain last year, we became familiar with the notion of a triumphant entry. The trail to Santiago is marked with some very, very large hostels (or albergues), you know, the kind of mega-hostel where you can’t swing a wet towel without smacking at least five smelly Europeans… and, let’s be honest, that wet-towel-smack might be the closest thing to a shower any of them get this week.
But the last mega-hostel on the trail is actually about five kilometers outside Santiago, on the poetically named Monte do Gozo, or Hill of Joy, the last big stop before arrival, a tall hill from which, presumedly, in olden times you could see the cathedral on a clear day. Today, there are too many trees and suburban buildings in the way, and the joy of the hill comes more from the available bathrooms, the Cola Cao at the snack bar, and the proximity to the goal than anything actually visible from the hill. But the tradition for many is to stop here to pass the night in one of the 500 beds, even when they are so close that they can almost smell the cathedral (that is, if they’re not sleeping next to a smelly European that masks the glorious smell of imminent victory). The reason is based in medieval tradition; after a long journey into battle and back again, the triumphant king and his faithful, victorious army didn’t want to roll into town looking like something the cat dragged in. So they stop just outside, have a good night’s sleep, and enter in the morning refreshed and renewed, marching rather than limping, heads held high, looking more like a parade than a pity party.
In fact, we have a similar tradition here in Jerusalem. In 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II called ahead (or whatever the 19th-century equivalent of calling ahead was) to inform the city of Jerusalem that his impending visit would begin with a triumphant entry into the city, riding on his white horse and flanked by a full entourage. The gates of the Old City were built for defense, and their design specifically discourages that kind of entry for tactical reasons (and also, local legend tells, there was a superstition that a king entering the gates of the city on a white horse would come to rule the city, and they were actually hoping to avoid that). So, to solve both problems, they just knocked down a section of the 400-year-old wall immediately adjacent to the main entry gate to make way for Wilhelm and Co.
Meanwhile, there is Rodolfo and me. In our eagerness to get to Santiago, we decided to forego the triumphant entry in favor of the immediate entry, and went for the drowned-rat approach, tracking mud and carrying all of our gear directly into the church, in the same clothes that we had been wearing for a week, in desperate need of a shower and a good night’s sleep, but without the slightest idea where we would be spending that night. And we couldn’t have been happier. We literally dropped to our knees and kissed the floor of the church in a flood of emotion. And then we promptly had a short catnap on top of our backpacks in the very public square in front of the church. Yeah, not quite the way the kings of yore would have done it.
And, let’s be honest, most of our own “triumphant” entries into Jerusalem entail us tumbling out of a sherut shuttle at 4 in the morning following a 24-hour journey, dragging our unwieldy luggage up three flights of stairs to our apartment, and fumbling for our keys as one of us calls “shotgun” on the bathroom.
Let me introduce you to a beautiful and loving couple. Rodolfo’s aunt, María Guadalupe (“Pita”), and uncle, Jesús (“Chuy”) live in Monterrey, Mexico. Tío Chuy is Rodolfo’s mom’s brother, and they are our padrinos de lazo, for anyone familiar with Mexican wedding traditions (see above). And they came to visit the Holy Land this week with the biggest group I have seen so far: 750 pilgrims from all over the world! If you thought the herding mentality was bad in a group of 30 or 50, you should see this group!
But on their very first morning in town, we made them drag themselves out of bed super-early and leave their hotel outside the Old City to go to a private Mass in the Holy Sepulchre, inside the empty tomb of Christ. I felt a little bad making them wake up early on their first morning in town, but it was the only available Mass, and in fact, I realized later that it was the best that could have happened. For one thing, a seminarian that spent the summer at our church was leaving that same day, and so his final act in the Holy City was to join in on the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus in the place where it really happened. His was a triumphant exit.
And for Tio Chuy and Tia Pita, their first entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem was not on a tour bus, in a group of 750, being herded like cattle through holy sites as though it were Epcot.
Their first entry into the Old City was, in fact, triumphant, heads held high, walking at our side through the cool morning air to the center of the Christian Universe as the sunlight broke across the ancient stones, continuing a 2,000-year-old tradition of Christians who have moved Heaven and Earth to be in the Holy Land. And it was glorious.
PS. If you’ve been able to see past the idiocy of Miley-gate this week, you may be aware that things are pretty shaky in our corner of the world right now. Please pray for us, for our neighbors, and for our world leaders.