On pilgrimage in time of pandemic

I do not know how to vacation.

Other people do, apparently, and when you say that you are taking vacation they say, “Good for you. You deserve. Let all this go. Leave it behind. Have a great time.” And when we look at popular depictions of vacation, they seem to involve theme parks, extravagance, and money.

I struggle to measure up to those expectations of vacation. Because we aren’t crowd people, anything with crowds feels stress-inducing rather than stress relieving. We don’t eat out that much anyway, and the thought of spending that much money isn’t appealing. Because I look to the future, I know that the time will end. And I will go back. And there will still be work and deadlines and expectations.


That burden is less now that I am not in charge of things.

There will not be a backlog of traumatized families to meet with, for example. There are other, more excellent chaplains who will meet with people, hear pain, find next of kin, provide support.

But being vacation-challenged right now is connected to that work.

In my heart, as is true for my co-workers, there is a backlog of traumatized families met with, of frustrations with bad thinking all around, with faces and stories. I cannot easily let go of the last many months. “This has been hard on you,” our daughter said the other day.

She is right.

When Nancy and I went away last November, we didn’t know what the next few months would hold. We thought we were catching our breath and then coming back to things settling down. Instead, the next three months were awful for our hospital and our community. And the time since then has been challenging.

I do not know how vacation would help. I’m still carrying people with me.


And then as I got into the shower on Friday, a word came to mind.


This is our sixth time in recent history heading to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, our third year on the same coast, our second year in the same small cabin. We visit places that one or the other or both of us have visited off and on for six decades. We retell old stories. We worry about new ones. We look at the sunrise and the sunset and the waves and the falls and the lighthouses. We remember.

And in the remembering, we start to metabolize some of the grief and the frustration and the fear that we’ve absorbed since our last trip. We aren’t getting away from, exactly. It’s more like we are getting away to.

We’ll both have laptops. We’ll both have books. That’s how we pilgrimage. We bring our lives to the place where we can think. We rent someone else’s geography to retell and understand our stories.

The Israelites understood pilgrimage. They went up to Jerusalem for feasts, for recalibrating, for acknowledging that the story was bigger than their daily lives. We’re going up to Paradise for the same thing.

I’m happy to fail at vacation, if I can, instead, be refreshed by our pilgrimage.


I was going to start writing anew in October. For one more week, however, I’m bringing you old prayers.

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