While plotting a weekend trip to the Twin Cities a few weeks back, I was delighted to find my travel companion, Marie, and I on a very similar wavelength about how our Sunday might go down.
“I kind of enjoy going to Mass when I’m traveling,” I said, wondering if she’d think me strange. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? Why go through the trouble? Why not just sleep in one last time before returning home to a busy life?
“Me too! And I’ve always wanted to go to the Cathedral in St. Paul,” she said, her voice excited.
It would be a cinch, she promised, with her GPS, or “Tom-Tom” along. “I’ll just plug in the address and it should be no problem.”
Since my only experience with a GPS ended in me verbally chastising the “lady in the box” who’d led me off course and then refused to hush up, even as she continued to err, I wasn’t so sure about “Tom-Tom,” but decided to trust Marie.
All seemed to be going well Sunday, the final day of last weekend’s trip. The lady in the box seemed to know her stuff, after all. Until we passed by what looked very much like a grand cathedral similar to the one we’d seen in photos. “Hmmm, I wonder why she didn’t tell us to take that exit?” I said as we passed it from the Interstate.
“Must be a big wrap-around on the other end,” Marie responded, hope-filled, still trusting the box that had been chirping at us to “keep right,” and “in one mile you will turn right,” and “after the exit, get on the motorway.” (Where does this lady come from, anyway, that she would not call a highway a highway?)
“Maybe that wasn’t it? Maybe that was the Basilica?” I said as I watched the big church fade away.
But soon, I began seeing familiar sights from our shuttle trip to the restaurant the evening before. “Isn’t that the road we took to get to Buca?” I asked, pointing to a side road. Maybe the Cathedral was closer to Buca than we’d realized. They were both in St. Paul, after all. Hmmm…
And then, up ahead, wouldn’t you know it? A train. And not just any train but the slowest-moving train this side of the Mississippi. By this time, we were already losing hope that we would make the 10 o’clock Mass that we had to make if we were to make Mass at all. As the train slogged by, the van clock seemed to speed up:
It wasn’t looking so good.
“She’s saying we’re close, though,” Marie said. “Once the train passes, we’re almost there.”
“It just doesn’t seem right,” I said. “Where’s the big dome?”
Finally, the train passed, the cars thinned out, and as we rounded one last corner at the command of the GPS, the lady in the box announced very assuredly, “You have reached your destination.”
Marie and I looked at each other and started laughing. We were not at the Cathedral at all, but back at Buca di Beppo!
“I must have put in the wrong destination address!” Marie said. “I can’t believe it!”
After recovering from our attack of mishap giggles, I got my wits about me and told Marie I was determined that we would go to Mass, even if we were a little late. “Look, we saw it from the Interstate. We will find the Cathedral of St. Paul Cathedral if it kills us!”
So we back-tracked…and about fifteen minutes later, a sight for sore eyes:
It was rather overwhelming, to be honest, but in a good way:
Even at the risk of a misadventure and some hearty chuckles realizing the lady in the box was smarter than we were, Marie and I concluded that some things are seriously worth the trouble:
I breathed in and out deeply, feeling overwhelmed with happiness over finding the Cathedral, and from the sight of babies and old people and everyone in between joined there for refreshment of soul. And throughout Mass, I couldn’t help but think again of Emilie, the friend who had brought us to this city on this particular weekend. I kept recalling a particularly poignant post she’d written once for her blog, lemmondrops (May 18, 2006):
“I used to go next door to the Cathedral when I was stressing about things. Sometimes I’d sit in a pew. Other times I’d walk around and look at the architecture, the powerful statues of the Gospel writers, the stained-glass windows, the engraved words: ‘Truly this is none other than the house of God, the gate of heaven.’ Other times I’d kneel in front of the Mary statue and stare at her innocent, childlike face and try to figure out what her big appeal is to so many Catholics. I’ve never had a thing for Mary, although lately I’ve been thinking about her more, trying to find new ways of imagining her, wondering if being a mother to a son will make me identify more with her. Anyway, being in that big Cathedral when it was empty and quiet calmed me down. I haven’t done that for years. Maybe I should go over there today. I used to say a simple prayer while I was there – I’d ask God for grace, peace, courage and wisdom. Sometimes I’d just say those four words, over and over, like a mantra. ‘Grace. Peace. Courage. Wisdom.'”
It brought me so much joy to know that this was the very space where Emilie had been comforted on those off days, where she’d come for solace on an occasional lunch break. Marie and I were seeking solace, too. Aren’t we all?
After Mass, as we headed out to the van, we stopped abruptly in our tracks at the sight of a building just inches from the Cathedral, the place where Emilie had been employed during that time of her wandering next door to the Cathedral midday. It was the office of The Catholic Spirit, the place where she and Christina had met as co-workers (see yesterday’s post), the newspaper for which she wrote her last column just days before her death.
What a way to end our trip, feeling this echo of a beautiful life still with us somehow. I can’t imagine what would have been loss if we’d let our misadventure completely re-route us, if we’d been denied the chance to be here in these spaces where Emilie used to pray and work, work and pray…for solace.
Over the last week, I have obsessed here about Emilie Lemmons in one form or another. It must seem strange, this continued grieving I’ve done here a little over a year after her death. And yet, for me, it has been part of the healing process, and I hope for others as well, regardless of what it is you are grieving.
Doors close, and sometimes it is terribly hard to stand on the other side of a closed door. But when, after a long, winding adventure, you finally find the next open door, the realization comes that, yes, it is definitely worth it to keep seeking.
I will, Emilie. Thanks…