(for about 2 weeks, I've been gradually writing this blog post series. My hope is that through writing this, I will better understand my Crossroads experience and that by reading, you will get a deeper look into my life as a walker.)
I have spoken of Crossroads multiple times since I completed my walk, but never with much clarity. I can very easily write of the wonderful people I was with, or individual circumstances, but when it comes to piecing the entire picture together, I wander around and never really reach a conclusion. And still, there is a certain confusion surrounding those three months.
Time does so much for the heart.
Sometimes, time heals, and other times, it causes deeper hurt. It completely depends on the situation.
Josh writes on his blog of his thoughts after giving himself some time without really thinking of the summer. I highly recommend that you read his post, because while I am obviously not the same person as he, and therefore didn’t go through all that he did, he says some things that I think are relevant to all of us who walked last summer, at least on Northern walk. I really respect those who can just “not think about” a life-changing event for a while. I think it’s wonderful and possibly one of the best way to process. Iwish I could do that. But at least at this point, I can’t work that way. Right now, I’m struggling to not think about it every day, every hour.
This isn’t healthy.
I can’t keep living in the past. It doesn’t do any good, and won’t help me learn. That being said, I have been able to spend some time over the last three months simply thinking and journaling.
Why did I decide to walk Crossroads? I’ve been called crazy for doing it, and in a way, I agree with that adjective. You can’t be completely sane if you decide to walk across the country for an entire summer. To fly to the other side of the country, meet up with people from California, Missouri, Wisconsin, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Ireland; and essentially, upon meeting, entrust them with your life. We quite literally kept each other alive this summer.
I was completely comfortable with my decision to walk Crossroads all of last semester. It wasn’t until the morning I left that I started freaking out. I had a breakdown, which doesn’t happen except rarely, and I thought, there’s no freaking way I can do this. I had processed my summer in advance (as much as I could), gone through all the logical succession of what I would encounter, and accepted that it would be difficult. But the morning of May 16, I questioned my sanity.
So why did I do this? When I began, I honestly didn’t know. I’ll be 100% completely honest. I still don’t know. Well, that’s only partially true. I know that I walked for the unborn. I know that I needed to stand for life at all stages in a concrete way. But I didn’t need to walk across America in order to do that.
I believe that Crossroads was put in my path (no pun intended) because I needed it.
I just got finished saying that I don’t fully know why I did it. That’s because it takes me a heck of a long time to process anything. (You can ask anyone I walked with how true this is. I was the most indecisive person on the walk, by a long shot. In fact, we thought about having a week when Mr. Philosopher (Peter) couldn’t philosophize and Ms. Disney (Kirstin) couldn’t talk about Disney and Ms. Indecisive (yours truly) had to make all the decisions. It didn’t happen...) We all took the Myers-Briggs test during week 2, and I came out as 100% introverted each and every time (I took it 6 times because I didn’t trust my own answers). Wait. So I did a walk, with strangers, where I had to talk to people at Walmart about my mission every time I went to buy peanut butter, and I’m an introvert? whyyyy????
Because I needed a challenge. And I didn’t know that I needed it until it was over.
Oh, now naive I was at the beginning! I expected the physical challenge, but not once did I think about how emotionally and spiritually draining this summer would be. I shared some of these challenges already, but I want to do so in a little more detail now.
The physical strain began right at the beginning, week one. In the course of 5 days, we walked through the city of Seattle, along the highway, over the mountains, and began entering the desert. We reached the highway on the first day. It had been drizzling all day long, but as rush hour hit, the rain got harder. We had no rain gear with us, and after about a mile, we gave up avoiding the 3-inch-deep puddles, stopped flinching when we were hit with water as the semis drove by, and embraced the squoosh of our sneakers. Paired with the fact that we (Josh and I) drank over a gallon of water that shift, necessitating frequent stops at restrooms, we were quite uncomfortable. Later in the week, we conquered the mountains. Although it was late May, the snow had not yet melted, and we could see our breath as we walked through some snow. Pressured by the fact that this stretch of road would be dangerous in the dark, we pushed to finish over 30 miles each day.
It was a few weeks later that I asked myself, “Why the heckam I doing this?” for the first time. I guess it had something to do with the fact that we had re-walked a section of windy road, through a ravine, that day shift had already finished for us. It was partially our fault, partially their fault, and neither group was thinking that day. It had been a difficult night, and when we discovered our mistake, we were all ready to just give up. When we tried to sleep in the van after we walked, an animal outside kept us awake the whole time. We all got about 45 minutes of sleep that night. Yet we had to remember what, who, we were walking for. It’s the sacrifice that we’re there for, and we had to embrace that suffering.
Each one of us had our moments of physical weakness. One member of the group had to go home not once but twice because of health challenges. Another member had a serious cold for a couple weeks. Someone else’s foot got infected, shin splints weren’t uncommon, and blisters were abundant. I had a sort of allergic reaction to some sausage and spent a night pacing in a Walmart parking lot, and later got heat exhaustion twice.
During this time, I learned perseverance. I learned the value of suffering, especially in silence. There is a difference between saying, “Gosh, my legs are killing me!” and giving a mile-by-mile update at how badly you ache, how thirsty you are, how you can’t wait to just go to bed. Hearing a constant update would be tremendously discouraging, and while you’re suffering anyway, the last thing needed is discouragement.
Then there were the times when emotional and spiritual suffering really kicked in. I think each of us had days when we were really struggling. I look at our journey in two ways- our physical progress across the country, and our spiritual journey as individuals and as a group. I believe we all began by fighting the battle of Crossroads- the challenges that we were fighting because we were a part of this tremendous journey. And then came a week when we all conquered, so to speak, this “Crossroads challenge” and entered deeply into our own personal difficulties that we brought with us from home. We all got there at the same time.
And so began Hell Week.
There was not a single person who wasn’t “off” the week of July 2-6. On the Saturday that ended "hell week", I wrote in my journal: “Well, we all made it through the Week of Hell…………………this has been such a crazy week, a crazy summer. I know I'm going to look back and just laugh. It's a huge lesson in trust, and it's a lesson I haven't really learned yet. It's a lesson in humility- having to admit you're weak or you're wrong. In honesty. Faith. Joy, Friendship. So many good lessons. I hope to all hope that this week goes better than last ..."
That week, those who usually kept the group encouraged were discouraged themselves, those who lifted spirits with laughter weren’t laughing. There were a couple (read: very, very few) encouraging texts flying around, but not close to as many as usual. We didn’t talk a lot during dinner. Long car/RV rides were stressful, not fun and exciting.
That week, I had this text conversation with one of my teammates. They wrote, “Okay, so something definitely seems wrong. Just wanna say I’m here if you want to talk. If not, I won’t bug you about it…” to which I responded, “Thanks. This has been a rough week for me and I got to the end of my “put on a happy face” rope this afternoon…” Who was I to talk? As if enough hadn’t already happened, I had just lost this teammate’s saint medals in the wash, and they were disappointed, yet they didn’t get upset at me. Had I been in their position, at least that week, I would have lost it. Lose it I did, later that night in the car. Just silently.
Yes, I frequently “put on a happy face” this summer. Is it a bad thing to fake happiness? I honestly believe that it depends on the situation. There were two or three of us this summer who frequently took the role of being the happy ones. We tried to keep the morale of the group up. But it can get really hard to always be that person, especially when those who you’re trying to cheer up are still not happy. I say this not to point fingers, because honestly, its just my personality to try to cheer people up even when I’m having a bad day. It’s not a chore for me. But sometimes the cheerer-uppers need to be cheered up too.
And that week was when I realized how much Mass meant to me.
If I didn’t have Jesus that week, or any day, for that matter, I know I would have fallen apart more often than I did. (Surprise, teammates! I wasn’t as together as I appeared! *sigh* Oh, the beauty/confusion of being somewhat of a stoic…) Mass united me with the universal Church, and I knew I could depend on the graces of Communion to give me a spiritual boost. Mass also united me in a deeper way with my team, as we all offered our entire selves on the altar and asked for the graces to make it through one more day.
An even greater challenge for me was to open up to my team. Being an introvert, it takes me a little while to feel comfortable sharing any part of myself with others. Yes, I fully realize that we’re not supposed to share our hearts with people the first week we know them. But when you’re living with people for 13 weeks, it’s kinda strange if you don’t share anything. After I had recognized and accepted that these people were actually trustworthy, I was able to, little by little, share bits of myself with them. I found that some of the best conversations occurred during night shift. I don’t know what it was about walking at night, but there was just something about the stars being above you and the road expanding as far as you could see in the dark.
For me, I had three conversations that really stand out to me as being truly blessed. The first was, in fact, during night shift; we were doing a 10-mile walk, the air was cool, and it was a conversation in which, at the end, we both really understood where the other was coming from. The second was difficult and deep, and again happened at night, but this time was at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s home for the elderly where we were staying the weekend. This one was so hard for me to begin, because it was born of my “I’m driving the struggle bus” experience over the previous 3 weeks. But ultimately, I’m so glad I had the conversation and I will be eternally grateful for the other person’s willingness to let me share my heart and to be open in return. And finally, the last was sitting on the gravel in an RV park during the last week of the walk. I was able to really share with someone who I hadn’t been able to previously, and vice versa and that pouring out of hearts has continued past the walk.
I have learned what a blessing vulnerability is. Frankly, vulnerability is something I’m quite horrible at, but this summer taught me that it can be ok to open up to people. Not everyone is going to betray my trust. Now, I have some very concrete examples for myself of occasions when vulnerability paid off, both for myself and others.
The hardest thing that happened this summer was the passing away of Andrew, one of the walkers on central walk, after he was struck by a car while he was walking. Although none of Northern Walk had ever met him, there’s a certain camaraderie you have with a person who is going through the exact same thing as you. That week, we learned so much as every one of us debated whether or not we were going to continue the walk. It’s not easy to think about not finishing something that you’ve dedicated your summer to. For some, it was an easy decision; others debated for a couple days. Ultimately, our entire group remained on the walk. Walking was even more meaningful following the accident: we were walking not only for the unborn and for our own growth, but also for Andrew. We were finishing what he was unable to finish.
Crossroads was truly a unique experience. Most people can’t say that they’ve walked through 14 states in one summer, touring the corn fields and stumbling across hidden towns featuring "World Famous Milkshakes". Or that they’ve slept in an RV with 11 other people for a weekend. (or gone 5 days without a shower? sshhhh…. Hey. Just bein' real.) Or that they’ve brushed their teeth in a pasture. Washed altar linens in an outdoor spigot. Or that they made lifelong friends in a matter of weeks.
I have quite a few really good friends. Some I’ve known for 12 years. Others I met in high school. Some I met in college. But the only people who I can claim I really got to know within weeks of meeting them are my Crossroads teammates. I can say with certainty that if I ever need something, I can call any one of my walking buddies and they’d respond in an instant. And I can state with equal certainty that if any of them ever need anything, even if it’s just to talk, I’d drop everything to help them.
I hate tossing around the words “I love you”. I have a quote hanging in my room that says "And Love is a word used too much and much too soon"; I think those are special words for special people. But I can tell you with my whole heart that I love these people. They are and forever will be my family.
It's interesting, when I got home in August, I was able to see my 2 closest friends (that I've known since Kindergarten) for a couple hours. At the end of our time together, they both said to me, "You've changed, and I don't really know how. But it's for the better". That's exactly how I feel. I can't put my finger on how I changed, or what precisely brought about that change, but I do believe that it was for the better.
Maybe now you have a better understanding of why I can’t easily explain my time on Crossroads. Yes, I can give a pretty darn good talk at a parish. I can convince people to donate money and ask them to pray for us. But explaining my own personal experience? As with anything life-changing, it’ll takes a little while. Still, it’s a story I’m more than willing to share.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, it’s easy for me to think about Crossroads, but I have come to the understanding that in order to truly grow from this summer, I need to digest it all and let it penetrate my life. I’ve obviously changed, so I need to let that change fully happen and fully effect me. I hope that through these few, weak, insufficient words that I’ve put together, you’re able to gain a deeper insight into the walk and into my heart.
If you have a spare week during a summer, or maybe even a whole summer free, I’d encourage you all to think and pray about doing Crossroads. I can assure you that you will grow like you never grew before. You’ll laugh harder than ever. You’ll overcome personal fears, and you'll conquer mountains, figuratively and literally.
Lastly, I’m going to ask you to pray for Crossroads and everyone involved. Pray for our directors. Pray for all of us giving talks for Crossroads over our Christmas breaks*. Pray for the first-ever Australian walk that starts in 6 days. Pray for all walkers, past, present, and future. It’s a difficult mission, yet also oh-so-rewarding, and I can say from personal experience that there’s definitely a spiritual fight going on in Heaven over this amazing organization.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about what I’ve said. You can either leave a comment if you’d like me to address it on my blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d prefer I email you directly.
Lots of Love,
*I’ll be speaking to about 5 classes at my high school before Christmas… yikes. I feel old. I remember Crossroads people coming to speak when I was a sophomore in high school. And now, 4 years later, “those people” is me.