Monday, October 20 Sultanhani to Konya, Turkey!!!
(written Tuesday morning after a deep, long sleep)
I can see it now. It was a year ago almost to the day that I initiated this pilgrimage of shedding, shedding, shedding. Late last October (after also a painful and awkward break up with a girlfriend/close companion of three years) I watched as a St. Vincent’s Thrift Store drove off with 90% of my possessions. I was feeling constrained and boxed in by the life that I had chosen (or found myself in). Over the next ten months I found an arrangement where I could housesit for just a share of the utilities in exchange for watching over the place while it was for sale and empty. The savings from that arrangement allowed me plan for and prepare for this pilgrimage.
Yesterday I arrived in Konya after a day of riding that was, in some ways, harder than it might have been and, in other ways, easier than it could have been. When I woke up in the morning it was freezing outside. I mean this literally, not figuratively. The Celsius register said zero degrees, 32 degrees for those of us in America. Two hours later as I straddled my saddle with four layers of upper body clothing that thermometer had jumped all the way to 36 degrees. Yippee!
It was the coldest day on the bike of the whole pilgrimage and I rode hard more just to stay warm by keeping the muscles working than by the magnetic force of seeing the finish line just 105 kilometers away. It took a full three hours before I felt warm enough to relax and just ride. This final day reminded me of the passage in Isaiah where the prophet cries out, “Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places shall be made plain.” You get the point. The road was flat and straight and just faded away into the horizon.
Part of the joy today was that the Department of Transportation must have planted signage aware of Konya as a pilgrimage site. Nowhere in Turkey did I find consistent signage telling me how far certain towns and cities were. At certain crossroads there would be some mileage indicators, but I can’t think of a time where the mileage was posted as a courtesy between major intersections. Today, however, every ten kilometers there was the same sign: “Konya 100 km; Konya 90 km, Konya 80 km, etc.).” I had fun stopping at each one and marking the countdown to my pilgrimage destination.
The other joy today was a brief encounter with a shepherd whose large herd was crossing from one side of the highway to the other through a tunnel underneath the road. I stopped to watch the ambling, curious sheep funnel into the tunnel. The shepherd who was receiving the sheep on the other side saw me, waved wildly and shouted what has become the usual question, “Where from?” I answered, “America, U.S.A” and he scooted across the four lanes of highway with a face so full of joy I imagined it going on posters for kindergartners learning words for certain feelings.
Language,of course, was a problem, but broad gestures and shared sign language has become routine for me. I folded my arms across my body and shook to say, “It’s cold today!” He nodded and then in English apologized, saying, “Sorry” as if he was responsible for making my ride as comfortable in his home country as possible. Then, in a moment that I will have to store in my memory because a picture would have spoiled it, I said, “Mevlana pilgrimage,” to let him know I was headed for Konya to pay tribute to Rumi. His eyes immediately softened even more with a love that allowed me to see into his soul and feel it also radiating out. Whatever it was about his relationship with Rumi (Mevlana) I felt like I had just said, “I am going to visit your sick mother.” This man knew Rumi intimately and deeply and I wondered how much of that was the source of the joy that was written into every fiber of his face. I rode away wishing I could have taken a picture of his face, but settled on holding onto the memory and the image.
There isn’t much to report about the ride except for the attempts to stay warm, the every ten kilometer countdown, and the straight narrow highway that ushered me right into the center of town. After having challenging and even unnerving experiences with major cities—Rome, Thessaloniki, and Istanbul—I was anticipating having to steel my nerves one more time to get into Konya. It never happened. In fact, it was the strangest experience coming into a city this size ever (Konya is one million people and I was using Portland as my image for what it might be like to ride into a city of equal size).
Konya is heavily industrial. Maybe because of such heavy industry the roads were unbelievably wide. Shoulders were anywhere from eight feet to twenty feet wide. Of course, the twenty feet wide shoulders presented a little bit of a problem because cars decided that it constituted a whole lane and then I didn’t have a white line telling me where I should be and where they should be. My Turkey contacts had told me that lines indicating lanes are “suggestions” in Turkey. That is totally true! I have had a number of “What the hell” moments as vehicles completely shift into another lane to take a corner, straddle the white line, and even drive down the shoulder the wrong way. A few times I have looked up to see a vehicle coming straight toward me in what I consider the wrong way down the highway.
But, what I really want to report today is how thankful I am for the way this pilgrimage (which really began a year ago with a breakup and the shedding of most of my worldly possessions) has unfolded. Before I even flew to Rome on September 3, the shedding continued, despite my best intentions. I had written a grant that included some consulting work on my end working with churches needing to think about their legacy in their final years. For reasons beyond my control our presbytery didn’t get the grant and part of the income I was hoping for upon my return evaporated. Then, just a couple weeks later, I reported that a half-time position as a pastor fell through at what felt like the 12th hour! Suddenly, I was leaving for Rome with no job waiting for me, no plan for an income, no permanent home to return to, and only a thin cushion of savings and health insurance coverage.
What a gift it was! What an unbelievable, wonderful, and fortuitous gift it was! If I was returning to a pastoral position I don’t believe I would have had the breakthroughs that I did. I either would have censored myself or, more likely, I would have still declared my truth, but there would have been a defiant and resentful spirit to it. I needed to do this for me and the complete shedding of almost everything I could count on (with exception of loved ones) gave me the freedom to find my voice, my passion, my love, my call, my life! What I didn’t shed was shed for me in what has felt like a gift from the gods (or God Herself if that would make you more comfortable!)
I have a few things to attend to when I get back to Oregon. But, honestly they don’t seem too overwhelming. There is the matter of having an income and deciding what to do about health insurance. I have a plan for a home (which I’ll keep personal except to say that it has to do with that blossoming love in my life!). I’ll need to attend to all the normal issues associated with moving and setting up a new life in a new place. I’ll need to help my 19 year old cat get re-acquainted with me.
But, seriously, after this complete experience of shedding those things really seem minor now. I know the foundation I am starting with. I know my boundaries. I know what I am willing to compromise on and what I am not willing to compromise on. I know what and who is important to me. I know that this path that I chose (actually I feel like it chose me) thirty-five years ago is not going to go away. I know that I will keep writing, probing, questioning, stirring, digging, needling, and loving the people, organizations, and communities around me to settle for nothing less than for the full discovery, enjoyment and expression of their Soul and passion. Life is too short. Life is too rich. Life is too good to settle for anything less than meeting face to face with the Source.
And sometimes the only way to get there is to shed, shed, shed.