Friends Who Pray Together Stay Together

For most their year starts on January 1st full of new year’s resolutions, for me, mine starts on the 6th of September.  I neatly place 5 ironed and folded white nurse dresses into a compact ‘Ryanair approved’ carry-on. Taking a direct flight from Dublin to Biarritz, followed by an organized bus from Biarritz, arriving at my final destination… Lourdes.

Let’s take a couple of steps back… every year over 600 helpers travel over to Lourdes with the Dublin Diocesan. Volunteer’s travel united by one purpose; to ensure the stay of the 150 plus sick pilgrims at the ‘Accueil Notre Dame’ is an unforgettable experience. Volunteers come in the form of doctors, nurses, final year secondary school students (aka blue shirts), college students and the average Joe Blogg like me.

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Lourdes is known to many as a religious place in the South of France. For me, while yes, it is still a small village in the south of France; it represents so much more than that. It represents community, friendship, laughter and a chance to reflect.

It is often presumed that those who travel to Lourdes do so for a religious purpose, this is not necessarily true. It is true that during the pilgrimage there are many religious services, opportunities to visit both the Grotto and the Baths. There are also sings songs, tea and coffee gatherings, decorating of the wards, a picnic and a party the evening before everyone departs home. Lourdes is a place of no judgments, where everyone is on a journey of their own, religious or otherwise.

Silver Medal

I have made this journey for seven consecutive years, each year more rewarding than the last. Every year coming home with new friends, new memories and a fresh perspective. I have tried many a time to pin-point why it is exactly I return year in year out. While the hours are long and the work can be tough, I always come away feelings refreshed and grounded, ready to take on the world.

Those who travel belong to a community. We often joke; ‘those who pray together stay together’, however, as much as we joke it holds some truth. Last year I moved to California, 2 days before I left I attended the annual Lourdes reunion in Oil Can Harrys. I was inundated with well wishes, and offers from people wanting to help me get set up. Throughout the past year this same community has kept in touch, checking in making sure I am doing ok and eager to know about my return.

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This year I made the difficult decision not to return to Lourdes. Informing the Diocesan of my decision not to go was one of the toughest emails I have ever written. This decision was based on me living abroad and only having two months remaining on my visa. You can be sure that I will be back next year, as the famous saying goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Good luck to all those traveling over the weekend on this years pilgrimage, can’t wait for all the snaps 🙂

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Curing a dose of homesickness

Over the last couple of months I begun to have a real bad case of homesickness. While a flight home was out of the question, a flight to NYC was more within my reach. Everyone I know in San Francisco I  only know as long as I have been here myself, however, in New York there are a lot more ties to home. I am very lucky that the company I work for has an office in NYC and was very accommodating in letting me work from their NY offices to facilitate my 12 day trip.

Highline, NYC

I stayed with Maria, one of my very good friends from secondary school. We must have only been with each other a little over an hour when I noticed her ‘tunnel’ ear piercing. Without thinking I said in disgust ‘what is that?’, she immediately turned around and laughed, followed by an ‘I’ve missed you’. Similar to me she moved to NY without knowing anyone. We have both become so accustom to people filtering the truth or being too polite to say what they really think.

During my first week I met up with an old friend from Irish college. At one point in the evening he started to roll a cigarette, a habit he has had on and off for years. Me being me, not so discretely said, ‘you’re not at that again’. He quickly told me off. It was so refreshing to spend time with people who told you exactly what they were thinking without it being put through a filter.

Friends Abroad

The day before I left NY the question was asked ‘do you still feel homesick?’. My answer at the time was of course as sarcastic as ever, but truthfully on reflection those 12 days away spent with friends and family was exactly what I needed. One of my biggest fears when moving abroad was that I would lose touch with those at home. This trip amongst other things has taught me how blest I am to have some really great friendships, that no matter the length of time between when we see each other, things always fall right back into place.

Today I am 9 months in the US of A, something I cannot believe. Time has flown by and continues to do so. One of my closest friends is coming to visit in just 5 weeks!! When she originally booked her flights it felt like it was forever away (fabulous use of the english language there) and now it is just around the corner.  That looming visit will be an adventure of its own…

Taking some time out