“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
— C. S. Lewis
I turned twenty-five on Sunday.
I spent the day before my birthday and the day itself with some of the people I love best, and am looking forward to a few friend-dates in the next week to get together with the ones I couldn’t see this weekend. When I was growing up my birthdays were almost always exclusively family affairs, as having a summer birthday meant the majority of the few good school friends I had were away on family vacations.
As far as milestones go, it’s the only one I’ve had so far where I’ve felt like I’ve really come a long way from where I was the previous year. The first half-and-a-bit of 2015 has been all about self-discovery and growing up – about coming to terms with what I’ve experienced in the past and learning to let it go so that I can move forward with my life. I’ve grown stronger in all aspects of my life, even the ones where I was already doing pretty well…but I think the biggest difference between then and now is that I’m finally starting to be strong for myself.
Going the distance – not just physically but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – is something I’ve had difficulty with for my whole life. I’ve got a few victories under my belt, but I’ve never really been able to say I’ve done everything I’ve set my mind to do. And something huge that I’ve come to realize in the past couple of months is that truly going the distance really is an issue of mind over matter. I can set my mind to anything, but I have to keep those goals at the forefront of my focus if I’m going to achieve what I’ve set out to do.
The other thing I’ve realized is that part of keeping presence of mind regarding those goals is doing them every day. Long-term investments of any kind take time to give you a return, and when it comes to personal goals and personal improvement there are no shortcuts.
Hot damn though…once it starts paying back, it really starts paying back.
I can’t really quite describe how it feels to wake up, throw off my duvet, and stretch my legs any which way and see muscle lines where there used to be nothing but wobbly flesh. It’s not just the fact that my legs are actually starting to look good – it’s the fact that now I can run farther and faster on them, and not just because they’re stronger. I’ve lost enough weight to realize I can run – and, even more surprisingly, that I like running. In fact, this former borderline high school Phys Ed failure enjoys running so much that she’s decided to train for a half-marathon next June.
But there’s something else that I’ve wanted to do for much longer than running a half-marathon – something else that symbolizes going the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual distance that I see before me.
Montreal is home to Saint Joseph’s Oratory – founded by one of Quebec’s very own saints, Saint Frère André, whose close relationship with Saint Joseph earned him not only the nickname bon ami de Saint Joseph but also the reputation of a miraculous man whose devotion allowed the intercession of Saint Joseph to cure seemingly countless pilgrims seeking relief from various afflictions. Pilgrimages to the Oratory are still fairly common, and because it is built so high up on the hillside the most direct route upwards is an impressive series of stone steps. In between the two stone staircases is a wooden one reserved for pilgrims, specifically those who wish to complete their journey to the Oratory on their knees.
I was meeting one of my closest and oldest friends for Mass last night at the Oratory, and the walk there from my new apartment is literally only ten minutes. As I stood at the bottom of the hill, texting Elizabeth to let her know I was on my way up, I decided to make the kneeling pilgrimage up to the Oratory. Yeah, I know I’m weird – who wants to celebrate their milestone birthday by getting to church on time by going up a hillside of ninety-nine exposed wooden stairs on their knees when it’s almost thirty degrees outside with the sun on their back?
But that’s what I did. With a young couple praying the rosary up ahead of me and a young woman behind me making the same pilgrimage in place of her wheelchair-bound mother waiting at the top, I climbed 99 steps on my knees – praying all the while and giving thanks for everything with which I Have been blessed so far in my life.
Just as I can’t quite explain how it feels when I see strong healthy legs in the morning instead of twin cans of Pillsbury biscuit dough, I can’t quite explain how it felt to stand at the top of that staircase, using the last few spare minutes before Mass to see, quite literally, how far I’d come. After Mass, I stood at the top of them again with Elizabeth, looking at the sky as the last of the light from the sunset faded to the black of night…and as we descended together I passed the memory of myself – and all my past fears, insecurities, failures, and hurts – where I left them on my way up.
I’m pretty sure there’s at least one of each on every last one of those stairs.
I went to bed last night a newly-minted twenty-five-year old who felt, for the first time in her adult life, like she truly was older, wiser, stronger, smarter, and more loved. And while everyone in my life who celebrated with me, in one way or another, helped make me feel that way I had to make myself believe that by taking the first ninety-nine steps out of my past and into my future.
The view of North Montreal from the Basilica level of Saint Joseph’s Oratory at the end of sunset.