It was uncomfortably hot for me on the quad at St. Xavier College during graduation in May 1986. Not only was it from the heat of that day, but also from my anxiety in wondering if I was really graduating. I’ve never been quite stellar at P-Chem and my last final in that class was only days earlier. The professor had not posted the grade and I wasn’t going to ask. “Dad is going to kill me if he is here at graduation and I am not graduating…”
I can look back and laugh at that true life scenario now. I graduated with my BS in Chemistry that day and Dad was proud. Not bad, considering I was a college dropout only a few years earlier. I did not attend most of my graduations after that. Perhaps this experience is the basis for my not wanting to attend graduation ceremonies still today. Except, for the “hood.” I wanted the hood given to Ph.D.’s at their graduation. That hood was a personal achievement for me and validation for Dad. He stuck by me during the rough period. I wanted him there for the hood as well. We both celebrated “not bad for a college dropout” that day in DeKalb, IL.
Graduation for my kids was a different experience. None of them needed to pass P-Chem. Except for the scheduling of my deacon ordination on the same day as one of my daughter’s high school graduation, they all went pretty smoothly. The ordination “crisis” was averted thanks to Cardinal George and then “Fr.” Barron for allowing me to be ordained with the transitional deacons at the seminary that year instead.
About the time my oldest daughter entered college, I developed an interest in traveling to the Holy Land. Previously, I had always wanted to go to Rome to see St. Peter’s Basilica and experience Vatican City. During formation, I remember asking my spiritual director, who was also a local pastor, if he would rather visit Rome or the Holy Land. “Jerusalem,” he answered without much hesitation. That reply took this public school and CCD educated Catholic off-guard. I thought at the time that the response for every priest would be “Rome.” He went on to explain that in the Holy Land one gets to see the actual locations of the Gospels. “Wow,” I thought. “How cool would it be to walk on the same roads that Jesus walked on?” Ok, change in plan. I was now going to Jerusalem!
To put this in greater perspective, I should also note that strange things often occur to my plans when I travel. I am guessing that I am one of the few who have had a flight cancelled because of rain while in a desert. I try to book nonstop flights because I often have to run through airports like OJ to make and ultimately miss my connections. International travel opens whole new ways for me to have plans potentially diverted in strange lands and where English is not spoken as the first language.
Putting my travel experiences aside, I told my wife that I wanted to go to the Holy Land. “Not me,” she said. “You can go without me.” It seemed two Gulf Wars and 9/11 had diminished her desire to see Gethsemane in person. Valid point. My explaining to her that Jerusalem is probably “the best place on earth to die anyway” did not convince her to change her mind. To be honest, the thought of traveling to Middle East with my travel luck and the thought of flying over an ocean did not excite me either. Yet, Jerusalem remained my destiny.
Sometime later and after mentioning going to the Holy Land again, my wife said, “You’re not going.” Huh? What part of “walking where Jesus walked” didn’t she hear? “Yes, I am,” I defiantly replied while taking a step back to be outside of an arm’s length of her. She looked at me and said, “No, you are not going until college is all paid for.” “Isn’t that what insurance is for?,” I replied with my defiance and other appendages intact. “That’s the deal,” she said. “When college tuitions are over.” Sadly, knowing that the probability of my arrival in Jerusalem coinciding with a bombing of Israel was statistically significant with my travel karma, I agreed. Wait, was she meaning “my” tuitions or the kids? Hmmm.
During these past college years, I reminded my wife of the deal as deacons I knew traveled to the Holy Land or parish excursions were planned and executed without me being involved. I eagerly read Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage book where he detailed his trip to the Holy Land and I recommended it to others considering a such trip.
My trip became a family joke for my wife and me. Someday he would go, alone without his wife and after his kids graduate from college… Each time a skirmish broke out in Israel, I believed I got that “I told you so” look from my wife. Oh’ I knew that look. It is the same one I got after wanting to buy a vacation home on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi right before Hurricane Katrina hit and leveled the condominium complex I was interested buying into… Yet, in my defense, insurance would have covered that loss too.
With joy, the milestone weekend that United Airlines and I have been waiting for arrived. My youngest daughter has graduated from college. A co-worker once told me that every college graduation was a pay raise. Amen to that! Not only did we celebrate my daughter’s achievement, my wife and I were thankful to have been blessed to enable our children to graduate from college debt free. The gift our parents had given us was successfully passed on. The financial yoke we carried for over a decade has been lifted.
With great joy and on the way to the graduation I began to sing “Jerusalem, My Destiny.”
Immediately, my wife got the point. Another milestone that I have waited for had also arrived: I am now free to travel to Jerusalem.
It amuses me now to realize that, at this point in our lives, I would rather focus on my retirement date.
Of course, I still would love to “walk where Jesus walked,” but now I have come to know that it is more important to try and walk “as he walked” instead. “Seeing” his Gospel is less important than trying to live it. If Jesus is not in my heart and at the center of my life, I will not find him in Jerusalem either.
Realistically, I do not know if I will ever set foot in the Holy Land. It is less important to me that it was during all those years I waited. Now, just being “free” to do so seems good enough for me.
I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away,
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.