My status

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Serenity of Saint Louis

"Let me show you something...", I urged intently, gliding her embraced hand into mine as we strided down the side path of the aged, stone corridors of Jackson Square. The French Quarter festival was in full swing with merchants and visitors clamoring equally for their fair share of the revelry playing out on the beautiful Saturday afternoon. The streets were packed, albeit without vehicles, as is often the case in New Orleans during celebrations where the pedestrians far outweigh the flow of traditional traffic. City streets become nothing more than free-flowing sidewalks to balance the density of the entertainment. Loud music, colorful tourists, bold artwork, alcohol and Cajun food seemed to ooze from every pore of this magical crescent city. Like a pasta machine on full power, the richness extruded forth effortlessly and the flavors of fun permeated the air with an uncommon ease. This city was truly a sight to behold. We were both proud to call it home.

As our walk eased to the far corner of the square, I slowed our pace as we neared my planned destination. The black iron gates stood menacingly and protective in front of this large tower row house built in 1838. As we both stared at the brass historical marker emblazoned on the aged column reading its bold text, the once forcefully loud music playing nearby dimmed to a silent whisper. "This was my great-great-great Grandfather's home, Victor David" , I mentioned with a slight hint of pride and homage. "He was from Bordeaux, France and he met his wife Ann Rebassa and married when he was only 19. The number 19 immediately echoed within my soul since that age is precisely where our lives were permanently altered. I made no comment about this irony. The iron work is studied in architecture classes since each landing is unique and hand-crafted."

I ceased my historical dissertation. Sounding like a cheap tour guide, I chided myself inwardly for my excessively prideful commentary and waywardness. Leaving out parts about his travels, success and even his marriage in the nearby St. Louis Cathedral, I took her hand in mine and eased across the street. We turned back briefly, looking up at the four-story home. Now showing some of its 175 years of age, but looking amazingly well preserved, its slight leaning and aging burgundy paint adding nothing but character to its glorious facade.

Summing up the moment as complete, we turned down the nearby alley, the same in which my ancestors certainly walked upon, and headed back towards Jackson Square. The sidewalks here were more like gray stone streets with a curious draining cistern trench carved out in the middle. The concrete narrow trench made it difficult to walk without consideration, especially in collective stride abreast with one another. This was when sober. I could not imagine how arduous this would be when sipping on the nectar of the city that flowed in greater quantity than tap water. Alcohol kept this city afloat nearly as much as the Mississippi River itself ever did. We continued our walk turning south towards the Square, the white Cathedral wall to our immediate left. We both smiled without words at the whimsical placement of our steps in order to maintain our pace. We smiled for so many reasons, every moment just as perfect as the one prior. We smiled just to reflect the beauty of our souls.

Reaching the sea of the colorful populous before us, I turned left without knowledge nor intention but my heart guided us towards the front of the Cathedral. Reaching the vertical surface of the white facade, its mighty height and steeple overwhelmed. Triple sets of aged, castle height doors towered nearly twenty feet towards the mid-day sun. The center set, a bit more decorative was fenced off with iron gates, obviously reserved for special events such as funerals and weddings, with the opposing pairs allowing access for all those intrigued enough to enter its formidable walls. Knowing my relative across the alley was married within these walls just a few years after its completion make this journey that much more personal. Wondering how amazing following in that tradition would be, I smiled briefly.

As we ascended the stone steps, our hands remained intertwined, as is always the case when we are together. Like two soul-seeking adventurers, we know our greatest strength lies not in our intrepidly adroit and capable selves, but in the magic that unification brings forth within our aged spirits. We are simply just better together, and it is demonstrated in each moment we share as one. Upon the sixth step, our feet reach the marble floor landing and immediately a sense of tangible awe encompasses the vestibule. A gift shop to the left is sealed with a small black iron gate with only an unleveled crude plastic sign marking its purpose and  superfluous revelation that it is not opened for business. To the immediate right is a large black candle rack that seems to have been in place for hundreds of years, continuously burning the faith that so abundantly pours into the air. Flames and glass, an aura of spirituality hovers over the candles.

After a few moments to gather our spiritual bearing, we proceed to the inner pairs of wooden doors separating the vestibule from the main worship area. Stopping briefly, I place my right hand into a stone vessel coating my skin with holy water. Unconsciously, I make the sign of the cross in perhaps an effort to quickly wash my sins. Perhaps in an effort to make myself worthy enough to enter this sacred place and stand before God. Pushing upon the mighty wooden barrier, our bodies move forward. Reaching the back walls of the church, we cease our walk and tighten our embrace.

The first emotion felt upon entering is the sheer immense size of the St. Louis Cathedral. 50 rows of aged wooden pews stretch our endlessly before the casual visitor, separated by an aisle nearly 10 feet wide, hand painted murals tower a hundred feet into the air. Scenes depicting Angels, Heaven and Hell equally span out across the arched ceiling supported by tremendous stone columns with thick gold caps emblazoned upon their stately Corinthian architecture. Memories of the Sistine Chapel immediately filter into view within my mind, but this is New Orleans not Vatican City. A scaled down version not stylized by Michelangelo, perhaps a cheaper rendition offering flattery to his glorious work. In any case, it has stood on its own and elicits similar emotions of humility and grandeur ; truly a testament to the reverence of God.

The hoarding masses numbering in the dozens are quiet and respectful. Choosing to remain in the rear alcove of the church, perhaps not to offer disrespect to those here for worship, perhaps feeling uneasy about their own lack of willingness to do the same. Photos snap. Right, left, center everyone capturing this moment, but  not upon their hearts. iPads, phones, professional and disposable cameras alike point towards the ceiling, the rear facade, the alter. Everyone seizing the aesthetics and not the spirituality of the moment. For a brief instance, it forces me to wonder how blasphemous this scene would have been even 20 years ago, much less  back in 1794 when it was first erected. Times have changed. Certainly, not all for the better.

Instinctively, I move us to the right rear of the room and choose to proceed down the right aisle towards the alter. I pause at the first large column and decide to make rest here, slightly isolated behind the immensity of the towering stone support. As we glide into the warmth of the smooth antique skin of the oak pew, I am cognizant that this will truly be a magical moment. We sit in quiet reverence of both our own love and the respect we have for God, for our home here in this place, for our souls that have known such abandonment of peace over the last twenty years apart from one another. Intently, I stare into her eyes and smile while exclaiming, "I love you. Let us give thanks to God for this love. Let us be thankful that we have been faithful enough to believe that He would restore this love back into our lives." I pause my impromptu sermon and laugh inwardly at my own pastoral debut. We sit in near silence and observe everything individually, but feel the weight of this moment - truly as one. Scanning the ceiling, the floors, the walls and the casual pedestrians. Everything in motion, I feel nothing but stillness.

Without words, I reach for the kneeler and she assists me to lowering it to its intended position. The Catholic upbringing in both of us manifests forth effortlessly, as we smile into each other's eyes and I ask humbly, "Do you want to pray?" She nods perhaps startled that I would choose to share such spiritual intimacy with her and obliges. We kneel before God, before this love that has taken so much away from our lives two decades prior but we are still here together, side by side, ready to reclaim the serenity that this conversation elicits forth so joyously. Silently, we uncouple our hands and become unique souls before God. For a brief moment, I feel alone. Not abandoned. Isolated. Removed from everything else in the world that has ever existed, released from the rigors of the world, exiled from the noise and clamor of the masses nearby. An aura of understanding and peace hovers over us both and I feel its tangible warmth and embrace. God is truly in this place, and He is so blessed that we have maintained our faith in this love. His love.

As I pray, I close my eyes before God and ask for forgiveness. I humbly offer the deepest praise for the woman beside me. My spiritual counterpart. My dearest friend. My most beautiful angel. As we complete our reflection, we both return to the pew in silence. We smile and gaze into each other's eyes knowing without question this moment is truly life-changing. Grasping her hand, I steady my stare. "Do you feel like you are home?", I ask with a direct, almost palpable inquiry. She nods with an immediate and steady rhythm coupled with smiles and deep reflection of appreciation. "Yes, Andrew. I am home. I am finally home", her words flow sweetly like honey through her angelic lips. Smiling, we hold onto each other and continue to feel mesmerized and protected equally at the marvelous revelation that our faith in God, our faith in love, has led us back as two servants ready to choose God, to choose love always.

"Only one more circle left to complete in this lifetime", I whisper, leaning in close while staring at the fingers on her empty left hand. She immediately understands my cryptic message and grins, "Yes, Andrew. One more circle."

"Indeed. One more circle. One lifetime of love.", I proclaim inwardly in silence reading each word as it crosses the backdrop of my mind. I hold her tightly, embracing her body and soul equally. Smiling while soaking in the warmth and serenity of God, we depart with an uncommon peace. Releasing ourselves back to the grandeur of this city. The city that unites our souls, both now and twenty years prior. The city we both proudly call home.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Choice.

Tears flowing, heart racing...her voice cracks abruptly across the miles and my soul wrestles with the sensitivity of the moment. "I am in a very bad place........", she exclaims with the soaked syrupy coating of sadness barely enough to balance each word she utters forth. I pause. Knowing she just departed from legal proceedings was stressful enough, knowing how the canvas is now painted emotionally, my heart sinks to understand the weight of the recent sentencing. I listen. She chides herself outwardly, "Why does this happen to me? Why is life so difficult and unfair? I am a good person. Why is nothing ever easy?" I am moved by her expressions of somberness. I ponder the words to state in response, when every inclination within my soul is simply to hold her close. I begin to sob silently, but choose words of support instead of adding my weight to the moment. I am torn. My arms are not that far-reaching, physical touch and comforting embrace is what she needs, not my idle words, you idiot...... Impotently, I reassure her the only way I can here in these scenes. I respond to her pleas of despair, "You will be fine. We both knew this could happen. At least you have this conversation and so many friends and family members who love you dearly....Be strong. I am holding your hand....."

My words sound as hollow as the shell casings lying in disarray from the the recent ambush she has just endured. I feel her uneasy, weakened frame as vividly as I feel myself falling deeper into the depressive nature of the scene playing out on center stage. She is distracted repetitively during the conversation, and this leads itself unintentionally to a disjointed and non-linear sequencing of events. Causing me to I feel inept and incapable of balancing the darkness with my words, I shutter from the knowledge that I may need more time to contemplate the way to lead her back to the light. I just wish I could hold her....

"I love you", softly rolls off my tongue. Knowing it is not profound, I am still captivated by the magic contained in those words. Those three little words. 3w always, I remind myself. Love has always been enough, always been sufficient for us both. It is has always been the road not chosen. Painfully holding us both hostage to the barren pathways that have elicited nothing but thieves and hidden truths, love has kept us searching for peace in spite of our own unworthiness.

I reach for her hand in the darkness and find it immediately. She is here. She is still believing in the sanctity of love, the beauty and simplicity of this conversation. I smile knowing that even in darkness, she can sense the uplifting spirit that unifies and washes an indelible wave of understanding and peace between the shores of our souls....I intertwine our fingers together immediately feeling the warmth that only this love could ever provide..... I am at peace knowing that this time the only limitation on love is what we choose.

Whatever the cost, I choose love.
Whatever the cost, I choose you.