On endless zippers
Photo by Clare Lee
This time last year, I wrote of my suitcase heart. My seemingly boundless capacity to grow in such affection for more and more and more of God’s people. My capacity to love, quickly and greatly. I was coming off the high of a mission trip, a stint in England that set my heart and soul ablaze.
Now, too, I’m coming off the high of a trip. This time, it is the utter joy and chaos and miraculousness of World Youth Day that I’m reeling from, that has left me with a profound sense of gratitude for God’s goodness, hopefulness for the path He’s set me on, even happy confusion about what He’s done and is still doing deep within me. In these days since my final goodbyes to my friends made in Poland, I’ve adjusted to Eastern Standard Time, spent some precious time with my parents at home, and unpacked and repacked and Uhauled my way to a new apartment in the city. And that’s where I find myself now, surrounded by boxes and bags of belongings waiting for their proper place, looking around at bare walls and the frames that’ll cover them. I’m feeling unsettled but happy. In transition but deeply contented. With a mind full of memories waiting to get out, to be cemented in words, however short they’ll fall of what I truly experienced.
It’s my suitcase heart that I return to first as I reflect on these holy days that have passed. You were born with endless zippers on your suitcase heart, my mom told me after my trip last year. And mothers know best, right? But—I cannot take credit for this phenomenon, not in the slightest. This swelling heart of mine exists only because of its Creator, its Sustainer, its Teacher. There is no other way that 41 Koreans from California would have made their way into my heart so deeply, leaving such an imprint, filling me with such sadness, even now, at my distance from them.
41 Koreans from California. We were randomly (or not so randomly, as the case may be) placed together: I as their guide, they as my group. I received the list a few weeks in advance and began to pray for them by name, wondering what our time together would bring. And then I found out: delight. Such delight. Headed wonderfully by Fr. Eugene (more on him later), they came prayerfully and uncomplainingly, ready to embark on this great adventure. We walked endless miles together, shared meals, got caught in downpours, prayed, attended Mass, slept (or not) in a field, suffered and rejoiced. Day after day, we braved the crowds, fighting to stay together, led by our waving flag at the front. That was one of my greatest joys—to converse with the ever-changing flag bearer, stealing away one-on-one time in the midst of the commotion. We’d speak of faith and travel, hobbies and dreams. I’d be interrupted every so often with a call on the walkie talkie (Emma! Can we stop? We’re losing the stragglers!), and I’d happily pull to the side and revel in the moment to just be.
How can it be, that barely seven days with complete strangers from the across the country can yield such depth of connection, of love? It’s a testament, I know, to God’s overwhelming grace. To the unity of the universal Church. To the unstoppable union of divine power and an open heart. I imagine God, our Father, looking down on His children, His sons and daughters, with such joy at our togetherness. His family has grown in love, and that is something to celebrate. So, celebrate I will—I will continue to reflect on the abundant graces of the trip, continue to reap the benefits and turn over the memories in my mind, continue to foster friendship with these beautiful souls He entrusted to me for a brief time. I rejoice in the unzipping of a new layer in my heart, full to the brim with His marvelous people.
And though our separation gives me pain, it brings me solace to know that we are deeply united—united in prayer, united in the Eucharist. We share in the Body of Christ. And the thousands of miles that keep us apart are no match for God. He will hold us together.