By John Rieping | Published 10 May 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
I hadn’t flown since 1998 nor taken a true vacation in 11 years. But love beckoned, and change followed — as so often happens.
Curiosity about a minor detail of a photograph on an online dating website began a correspondence that ultimately led to my leaping into the sky between the aluminum wings of Alaska Air and Horizon Air passenger planes. The first hop carried me to Oregon and the second left me in Washington state.
Both states were far more hydrated than my seemingly cloud-repellant home of California.
Across the U.S.-Canadian border sat my destination of Vancouver, British Columbia. The following days reacquainted me with the tree-seasoned metropolis I had last visited as an older child. Little seemed to have changed compared to the few and incomplete memories I still had of the mostly familiar yet mildly peculiar land.
Updated oddities included the emergence of plastic polymer Canadian currency in 2011 to replace the older paper bills that, as a child, had astonished me with their colorfulness.
What draws me to our northern neighbor always seems to be a dear person in my life. This spring’s journey of mine sought time with a chaste lady friend of mine. My previous trip in September 1984 had been to see Pope John Paul II with my family, who drove there from Madera as part of group from St. Joachim Catholic Church.
Back then the Hough family, strangers to us but devout fellow Christians, generously shared their home to my family and I for the week, fed us and led us to lovely places. We all belonged to a multi-religion movement known as Focolare (www.focolare.org), which focuses on living out the Christian gospels to build a unity born of love and truth.
We saw the steam-powered clock in Vancouver’s Gastown, crossed a long and narrow rope suspension bridge in a grand park, gazed out like an eagle from the lofty Vancouver Lookout viewing deck, and more.
I even randomly met a U.S. actress of the day, Erin Gray, then star of the TV sitcom “Silver Spoons.” I approached her to ask for an autograph, but turned around when faced with two serious and muscular men — presumably bodyguards — who flanked her. The trio’s expressions were unreadable behind sunglasses.
She was not the star we came from afar following however. We met John Paul II, canonized this April by the Roman Catholic Church, at Abbotsford Airport.
My father had an impressive camera with him for the occasion while I had my cheap toy equivalent. He and I waited for what seemed an eternity at the edge of our assigned seating area to try to capture the pontiff when he passed by before the open-air Mass. Yet, shortly before the anticipated moment, Polish mothers with their children in traditional ethnic clothing commandeered the barricades and routed many adults there, including my dad. As a child, though, I stayed and took the desired photograph in an unexpected reversal.
I felt like such a hero, though fittingly the secret to my triumph was my littleness.
The only words spoken that I recall from my youthful adventure in British Columbia were not by the pope however. They weren’t even significant. I had overheard the Hough’s daughter practicing her numbers in French, and became concerned she had her Spanish wrong. So I spoke with her parents to try to help. They patiently listened and explained it was not the language I mistook it for.
Yet even there in that humbling moment was a message I still remember clearly: love. I saw it in my family, in the kind Houghs, in countless strangers, and even in the Polish mothers who perhaps wanted the bishop of Rome to see an echo of his homeland.
In his Abbotsford sermon, John Paul noted: “During the whole of Jesus’ earthly life, this heart (of his) was the center in which was manifested, in a human way, the love of God.”
Our own hearts were ever meant to do the same, Christians believe, for we humans are made in the image and likeness of a God who is love. Yet we can fail gravely in this. Is it any wonder then that some struggle with or despair in belief of God?
It is only natural to find it difficult to believe in what is unseen or contradicted in our lives. But God was never meant to be invisible. Let us who claim to believe ask for divine help to show God to all through our love.