May blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go. Irish Blessing
On this sunny, windy-brisk October mid-morning, we almost refused to buy the walking sticks sold at mountain’s foot, near a statue of St. Patrick. It’s not that we didn’t feel the sacredness of this one-day pilgrimage up and down Croagh Patrick; my friend Mary and I, still in the first week of an Ireland immersion, were eager to climb the ancient path in the footsteps of pilgrims who have been doing so for millennia. It just didn’t appear that high or that difficult, not like trails we both had experienced through the Rockies or Alps or Pyrenees in Spain, and, besides, for two women in our sixties, we were in pretty good shape. However, our salesperson was persuasive. There was no merriness in his Irish lilt; just concern. We could break an ankle or a leg or take a terrible topple, he warned, so we relented, each of us paying the equivalent of five dollars, and, with walking sticks in hand, began our journey up the well-marked path. And we were right. Crough Patrick is not as high as those Rockies in our country’s west. And our walking stick salesman, he was right too. We needed the extra support. This well-marked, well-trodden trail was a challenge from the get-go — wobbly boulders, often wet, sat in the midst of the trail. And, as morning, tipped into afternoon, as we made our way toward the summit, the trail became a bed of loose shale-like rock, nothing but loose rock. We leaned on our sticks. We placed one foot gingerly down to see if the ground felt stable, then placed the other, never releasing our hand-carved wooden support system. At one point, we crawled our way up a particularly steep shale incline, clutching the sticks as if they were our life blood. And then, there we were, on flat stable ground, no walking sticks required.
I wonder this St. Patrick’s Day about the mountains each of us are facing, wonder what support we are leaning upon, wonder if we can find the adventure in our particular journeys. In the year 441, St Patrick fasted for forty days on the summit of Croagh Patrick. It is windy on the summit, so gusty that there were moments it felt as though Mary and I were going to fly away. And the weather is moody, rain clouds blowing in without an ounce of warning, and then sunshine again. It was a lovely place to linger for a while, to munch on oranges and cheese and crusty bread, a place sacred and special enough to scatter some of Mary’s husband’s ashes, but it was not a place I wished to meditate or fast for forty days. That was St. Patrick’s calling, not mine. And I do want to tell you, that despite the loose shale, the moody weather, the call to complete mindfulness, the day was filled with joyous moments and laughter, of sun breaking through, sometimes lighting up the white sheep that navigated the mountain in a brilliant blaze. And there were the rainbows! Rainbows in Ireland over the most sacred of Irish mountains!
So here we are, each one called to navigate this time, our won sacred mountain in a way that feels right and good to us. I’m not too proud to hold tightly to a walking stick when needed. And I’m not too stubborn to clutch what no longer serves when it is time to let it go. I am calling this an adventure, a time to be mindful of our steps, yes!, but also to laugh as freely as Mary and I did as we placed one foot in front of another, as we climbed that sacred mountain before us. So here’s to the rainbows shining down on all of us and the Irish blessings that are lighting our way.