My First Pilgrimage Was a Scavenger Hunt

My girls made the “please do not remove” note for me years ago when I was suffering from depression and couldn’t get out of bed. It’s one of my most treasured belongings, even though it’s just a ripped piece of paper. It was one of many that lined the streets – secret messages taped to the walls, telephone poles, and benches.

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They left a trail of little notes leading from my bedroom door, to the front door of the house, all the way through Oxford, and up Headington Road to the park.

At the park my girls were waiting for me with a little picnic. They said, “Hooray mommy, you made it!”

It was amazing walking down the road, seeing little flags fluttering here and there, taped onto signs, tied to branches; they were everywhere. Each one said something like, “Good job, Mommy!” or “You’re almost there!”

Those pieces of paper will be fluttering in my heart forever.

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A lot of scraps of paper will flutter from my heart forever.

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The Victoria & Albert Museum schedule on top was a pretend syllabus made by Sean the day he drove me to London for an Oxford field trip. The faux-syllabus listed all kinds of ridiculous and wonderful things. Under Lunchtime Activities Sean wrote, “Meet Sean at café to avoid panicky social interaction with fellow students.”

I always needed to do reconnaissance missions before going anywhere new, so a field trip to London entailed going there beforehand with a safe person, and maybe looking up a blueprint of the building online so I could see where escapes and private places like bathrooms were located. And Sean had to wait for me nearby so that I could call him, or run out of the building, and he’d be there to give me sanctuary.

Without all of this labor intensive planning, fretting, and nursing, I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere, ever.

Under “Personal Reminders” on my itinerary, Sean wrote, “Get a foot rub by Sean at the end of the field trip,” as if I’d ever forget such a thing. He parked illegally right outside the museum so when I walked out, he was right there. He knelt at my side, with the passenger side door open, took my boots off, and massaged my feet. It was the most wonderful illegal foot rub ever and best part of the field trip.

So my girls, and then Sean, coaxed me out of hiding with little notes that made the world seem friendly and benign.

My pilgrimage across Europe in 2017 started with many smaller ones, sometimes just from the front door to Tesco’s, three blocks away.

One step at a time,  I made it all the way from England to the Vatican by myself, my heart covered in little scraps and flags and ribbons as if it had crossed this finish line a thousand times already.

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