The days were pure bliss as I walked up into the Ox mountains and down through the meandering countryside of the monastery and adjacent farms. I felt delight in the playfulness of the landscape with trees that seemingly had personalities; their knots and twists and bends only added to their charm. Seeing those trees, I also felt the savage gale winds and sheet-like rain that they had lived through, for none of them were tall, but cut short and sturdy by wind and rain. Just touching their stubbornness felt like it could equip me to survive. So like the Irish family I come from, they were small and mighty, with a very tough outer “skin.” Yes, they were survivors. As I walked, I also watched the daily dance between the clouds, the sun and the rainbows across the sky and fields next to the monastery.
Each day I seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the quiet soil of my soul.
And then came the nighttime. I am a city kid used to streetlights, sirens, railroad whistles and cars on the road. The lit-up hum of the city at night has always been comforting to me; by the noise I know I am not alone. When I got to the monastery, there was very little moonlight. From my hermitage windows, I could feel the ominous dark of the countryside. I imagined that there were creatures with yellow eyes. I could almost see them peering at me through the windows. I pulled down all the shades, but I was convinced that they were still out there in that black wildness ready to do me harm.
Each night, I had the same battle with the terror. It wasn’t rational, but I began to feel a kinship with all the Irishmen who told dark tales of the banshee coming for them in the night. In order to deal with my night terrors, I got a book of hilarious Irish short stories from the monastery library. I read these as medicine before I went to sleep at night.
But one of the stories was not funny. It was the story of a near abduction of an Irish girl by a man who was driving a white van in the countryside. The girl ran and the man finally quit following her. She later learned from the police that another girl had been abducted that very day by the same man who drove the same white van; and that young woman had been murdered. It was a true story.
I slept very little that night. The next morning when the sun finally rose, I went out for a walk in the daylight. As I walked along the heavily wooded area next to the monastery, I saw a white van that had pulled into the driveway of an abandoned cottage. I went on full alert and quickly turned and walked/ran back to my hermitage. As I flopped down at my desk, winded from my run, I asked myself, “What is all this about? What is the matter with me? Why am I so afraid?”
And then I remembered, when I was 5 years old, I was terrorized by a group of boys ages 9 and 10 in the woods next to my house. The woods were the closest to “the wild” my young life had ever known. I loved the woods and was drawn to its mystery. I was told I was never to go in there alone. Being an adventurous child with little supervision, that is just where I went to play. I played among the trees and creek for many imaginative hours, undiscovered by anyone. But one day I was ambushed by a group of boys. They eventually let me go, but it was a terror that stayed secretly lodged in my heart for many years. I NEVER TOLD ANYONE until I was over 50 years old. Being in this wilderness alone, in the dark, in Ireland, God had paradoxically brought my deep fear to the LIGHT to be healed.
I began to write with a tremendous fury. Over the next days, the feelings came pouring on paper. Terror, Panic, Desolation, Humiliation, Hatred, and Shame…. until I was spent. I shared my writing with my soul friend, Sister Pat, and she listened lovingly and grieved with me. The monastery and Sister Pat provided a safe and sacred place to reveal and heal this memory. She was a loving, tender witness to my pain. My night terrors had been just a clue of a deep fear, and ultimately, those terrors were a gift. I WAS on my Wild Walk to face my fears.
After days of grieving, Pat asked me a question, “Now, can you bless those boys? “ I was stunned. She continued, “You know this is a memory for them, too. Do you wonder how they are living with it? Can you pray a blessing on them?” “The Chicago Zen Master” had spoken.
Praying a blessing on them would be a deep form of forgiveness. I knew it was the next step I had to take on my Wild Walk. I began using my breath as a form of blessing for each one of them. The fear began to soften, and each night the sky was brighter outside my hermitage with the light of a waxing moon. I saw the increasing moonlight each night as a mirror of Love’s Light into my Dark fears. Inside the hermitage of my heart, I began to feel safe and quiet.
The night I left the monastery to return home to Michigan, the moon was full and high in the sky. I walked unafraid in the bright moonlight from my Hermitage to the waiting car at the bottom of the hill to take me to Sligo to begin the long journey home. And, I was at peace.
On the way back from Dublin, I had to go through security in Chicago. I had stopped at the duty free store in Ireland and was bringing back a bottle of Irish gin for my Beloved’s birthday. When I sent the gin with my backpack to be x-rayed, I set off a flurry of TSA activity and I was called over, told I had to be patted down and the bottle sent through another inspection. The bottle failed the inspection. I later learned that the alcohol content was too high. All this was in front of many curious passengers.
I was told if I wanted to keep this bottle I had to go with a TSA agent back through security and have the bottle packaged by the airline and checked as baggage at the Delta counter. Or, I was told, I could dump the bottle out and proceed through the checkpoint to the airplane. I calmly stated that I would choose the first option. As a result, I was accompanied by a TSA agent out past hundreds of curious passengers to check the bottle as baggage. I realized that my journey had come full circle. My worst fear about the TSA was happening. And, surprisingly, as I walked past all the passengers, I noticed that I was not ashamed and I felt no fear. I decided, “I am safe. I am strong. I am brave.”