This week I decided to take a little two-day road trip to a town a couple of hours south of Tucson–Bisbee, it’s called.
Billed as arty, funky, and creative, it’s an old mining town basically built into a mountain and is connected by endless flights of steep, cardio-enhancing concrete steps.
It’s also seen, or is looking forward to, better days. Like all towns supported by the tourist industry, the locals who own and work in the shops both depend upon and seem to resent visitors. A haze of pot smoke hangs over the place, bikers roar by blaring Fleetwood Mac, gaunt guys with long white beards wander about, and I walked by a group of perhaps meth-heads hanging on the sidewalk who seriously looked out of Mad Max.
Nothing especially wrong or surprising about any of that except that the last couple of days I’ve been thinking I would not feel the need to return.
It’s also very beautiful, as was the drive here–cooler in temperature than Tucson, and with a corresponding plethora of annuals: morning glories, cosmos, something that looks like goldenrod.
The back porch of the place I’ve been staying, “Bliss Bungalow” (not a misnomer), looks out over a stone wall and a kind of mini-meadow alive with butterflies, cicadas maybe and tons of wildflowers and birds.
Since turning 70, I basically think about death ALL THE TIME. Not in a morbid way but in the sense that my death is always before me. People don’t tell you this about getting older, but I have to believe the psycho-spiritual shroud that envelops the ELDERLY is a universal phenomenon.
One of the forms it’s taking for me is that part of me just wants to sit around pulsing with the weirdness of, and gratitude for, existence. Another part is screaming, Don’t just sit there. Time’s a-wasting! DO something. Give ALL of yourself! Make use of every second!
This is the Cross, or part of it, this unresolvable tension.
To that end, since returning from Ireland I have woken at 3 a.m. every morning. I attributted the first couple of weeks to jet lag but now I sincerely think the good Lord is waking me so He and I can have more time togther. So I can pray more.
In prayer, I realize I don’t have to do anything special that I’m not doing already. Every day it seems someone calls who has a problem or situation or crisis. Every day someone emails to ask if I have any advice for an aspiring writer, or to comment on a piece I wrote, or to ask me to do something or other.
Every day practically I jot an idea or reflection down in one of my zillions of notebooks or pads of Post-Its, and many days I actually write a little something on it.
I’m right up the hill here from St. Patrick’s Church, a huge edifice, currently undergoing renovations of some kind, that dominates the landscape. It’s open all day and, as is largely true these days of Catholic churches everywhere, the times I’ve walked by hardly anybody’s in it.
Yesterday I attended 7:30 Mass there, which was held in the basement of the gift shop or maybe rectory, in a room that was a little close and hot, and that was presided over by a priest so full of spirit and joy that tears seeped out of my eyes just to hear him.
“This is the most miraculous Sacrifice! This is the celebration of God’s infinite love and care for us!” Not in a creepy, fanatic way: in a grateful, reverent way with a little life in it. I wonder if priests know how unbelievably hungry we are for a word of consolation, of corroboration that we are “in on” the world beyond this one–because this one, much as we love and are grateful for it, leaves us forever hungry, forever lonely, and forever unfulfilled.
The day before, I’d gone into the main church and just say for a while alone in the sanctuary.
I often think about how a Catholic church is one of the few public places, if not the only one, where you can sit quietly, bury your head in your hands, mouth the Rosary, kneel, sigh, be in anguish, openly weep, without being stared at, thought crazy, or judged. Everyone instinctively gets that you’re just talking to God, or praying, or suffering, or for that matter giving thanks.
Anyway, a dear friend and I had arranged a phone call this morning at 9 and my original thought, especially since I’ve been waking so early, and I haven’t been bowled over by Bisbee, was to take off at the crack of dawn, hightail it home, and be back well before noon.
But when I woke at 3 this morning, instead I thought, Do I really have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off? Sit with God, do my stretches, watch the sun come up, gently pack. Go to 7:30 Mass again. Take a little walk afterward and say to Bisbee, “I will not let Thee go unless Thou bless me” (See teh story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, Genesis 32: 22-31).
Because even if I can’t “feel” it, my time here has borne fruit. I’d heard a lot about the town, I came out of love, I noticed, walked the hills, am leaving the bungalow in tip-tip shape out of love. So I don’t need to rush off; I don’t need to cut my visit short. I’ll come back from Mass and a stroll, have a little breakfast and a cup of tea, and settle in for a chat with my friend overlooking the wildflowers and the stone wall.
The 11th Step in 12-Step spirituality says, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
God’s will, I sense, is to do what’s in front of me. Quit thinking I need to embark on some giant project. Pay attention to the people I love and who, miracle of miracles, love me.
You know what? Bisbee is a great town. If you have a chance, you should visit yourself.