I have returned. Three weeks without a blog-peep (although the keen of eyes will have noticed I sneaked in now and then to update my BOOKS section). This trip -- which ultimately became a true pilgrimage -- is almost beyond description. It was full of so many encounters, so many insights, so many hardships, so many small (and big) delights, so many miles, so very very much that I'm left mostly just shaking my head at the grandeur of it. I know, that may sound over the top, and believe me, I never intended it to be as rich as it was. But the truth is this trip was and is one of the greatest episodes of my life. Not, mind you, for all the typical reasons (i.e., ceaselessly breathtaking scenery, flawless enchanting ease, perfectly goals fulfilled goals, immense growth, etc.), but for all the right reasons.
I made it home (which I was stunned to find I'd left so clean!) about 1:30 AM last night (Tuesday). I was able to sleep an hour later. My return leg began in Rome about 4 PM Sunday afternoon. All in all, then, by train, plane, bus, taxi and foot, via Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei, I was in transit over 50 hours. It was a very taxing return, but actually a fitting end to what I realized on the way to Hong Kong was one of the most active episodes of my life. I'm simply stunned by how transient I have been in the last few weeks. Bus to Taipei, plane to Frankfurt, train to Köln, tram to my first stay, walking all around Köln, buses, subways, trams and walking all over Köln, a night train to Rome, walking all over Rome, train back to Frankfurt, subway to the airport and, finally, the return leg described above.
The journey was not without perils, of course. I have been sick and tired for weeks. I had sore muscles week after week. I had sores break out on my skin. I fell down stairs. I broke my camera. I got lost more than once. I had to wait in seemingly interminable lines just to eat or use the bathroom. I was cold and hot and hungry and thirsty. I had to change plans and miss out on opportunities. I cried. I missed home and sometimes longed for a travel companion. As soon as I got home last night -- exhausted, spent, sore, congested -- I was told very sad news by one of my dearest friends. And yet I do not mention a single one of these perils as a complaint. The perils were part of the very texture of this feast of experience, and I'd ask for (most of!) them again if given the chance to replay it all.
There were also so many good things to cherish. I have been blessed to enjoy more of the world than some people can imagine exists. I have made friends from all over that same vast world. I got to learn Polish and Italian from native speakers. I got to brush up on my German, Spanish and even Chinese. I got to adore the Blessed Sacrament in chapels throughout Köln and Rome. I had the time to read more books than many people read all year. I was privileged to cram into train after bus after train my Catholic siblings from around the globe. I got to see Pope Benedict XVI smiling with such paternal joy from little more than two meters. I was given items of devotion, in acts of generosity, which together have strengthened my faith immensely. I was able to try over a dozen flavors of authentic Italian gelato. I saw the tomb of many popes, including (my) dear John Paul II -- then turned the corner and fell to my knees before the remains of St. Peter. Above all, I saw my pilgrimage punctuated by numerous twists and turns of providence which encouraged and humbled me knowing God was guiding me in a home away from my home away from home.
And now I have been able to return home just before a typhoon hit Taiwan, a typhoon which will cancel school tomorrow, thus giving me one more day to recuperate. I think in sadness of the people of southeastern USA. Only God knows their sorrow adequately. Only he can save from the flood, for only he dared enter it and re-emerge in Christ. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
I of course hope to resume my "blog itinerary" as described in the previous posts below. I'd also like to add more details to my journey tale, specifically in the form of photos, as time permits.
Strange to say, but though I've never met most of you, I miss you. May we all someday be known of each other in the Lord, at that great heavenly wedding banquet. I am so glad to be home; I am so thankful to be at home in the Catholic Church, where I continue await Home as the Bridegroom approaches.