Reflections from Day 7

Author: Timothy Deenihan

I have ankles like a 70-year-old Hungarian grandmother. It’s a bit disconcerting.


I’ve been very fortunate to stay ahead of any injury thus far. I don’t wait to see if something is going to turn into a blister or not. The moment I find myself noticing my toes or the soles of my feet (I mean, seriously, how often do you notice that you can feel your toes?) is the moment I start a mental clock. If my feet are still getting my attention in the next mile or two, I have my shoes off and apply moleskin to protect the hot spot. So far, so good – a couple hundred miles and I remain blister free.


My ankles, however, look like I make a mean pirozhki.


I commented early on that I couldn’t possibly tell you everything there is to tell you about the days on this Trail. And every day since only further underscores that statement.


What can I tell you about today? Would you like to hear about Chairman John Warren of the Pokagon band of the Potawatomi Tribe meeting us just after sunrise on the land of his ancestors to speak to the Creator on our behalf and to pray for the blessing of safe travel? Shall I tell you about the smoke ceremony or him blowing the eagle bone whistle once in each of the four cardinal directions to alert the Creator that something special was going on?


It was beautiful – especially so because it was sincere. No pretense, nothing to attract attention. Whatever picture of ‘Indians’ it is that you colored when you were in grade school, this was different.


This was a man who loves life and respects the souls and life of everyone he meets, sharing that respect and love with us, travelers across a land which is more than land to him.


Bill Borders and I were walking near each other after the ceremony, discussing the similarities between the Native American traditions of honoring that which is holy and the Catholic traditions doing the same. The smoldering fragrances, somehow turning the tangible into the intangible. The whistle, like church bells chiming in time of prayer.


Before we left on our way, Chairman Warren wished us all Bama-mine-kowabmen, that deeper sort of farewell that wishes safe travel until we meet again, wherever or whenever that may be, in this lifetime or the next.


That gets us to just after sunrise. Then there’s the rest of the day...


I could mention the fact that over the last seven days and entirely under our own power we have either walked or biked 219 miles up and across Indiana. I feel that’s worthy of note.


Shall I pause and observe that this is the last night our journey consists of only the core group? Tomorrow evening we will welcome about a hundred new pilgrims to this Trail. We’ll share dinner and then head to bed perhaps much earlier than they might have expected. Hopefully they’ll be smart enough to do the same and get what rest they can when they can.


How about the fact that we are closer in every way to the ending of this experience than we are to its beginning? That’s a shocker to everyone I talk to. We really don’t know what day of the week it is, so to realize that we’ve crossed the halfway point in terms of time and the two-thirds point in terms of distance was a bit of a knock to the solar plexus.


It seems worth noting that the freshman class has arrived on campus over this past weekend. The kids we once were, excited to start something larger than themselves, starting something much larger than they can imagine.


How about if I talk about the experience of having so many questions and still waiting for an answer, wondering if you’ll happen upon one alongside the road somewhere?


Movies and television are how we learn about everything now, and so I know that when you go on a significant journey, when you face a challenge, you receive some signs along the way; pearls of wisdom which, individually, may be interesting, and then you string them together somewhere in act three and they become a thing of beauty. They become enlightenment.


I’m not feeling much enlightenment.


I did get a sign today. Literally. I took a picture of it.


It was early. We had walked down a long hill and crossed a river on a high bridge then walked up a fairly long and fairly steep hill on the other side, directly towards the low sun. As we approached the crest of the hill, there was a sign silhouetted by the sun rendering it all but unreadable and thus something of a mystery. Only when we finally got right up to it could we see it was one of those signs, familiar to any driver, warning of a t-junction and the need make a turn: a simple black-on-yellow directional sign with no vertical line forward, only a horizontal bar with arrows on either end simultaneously pointing both left and right.


To add to the confusion, there was no indication of what either path held over the horizon. No list of nearby towns with distances and additional arrows – Suchandsuch two miles to the left, Whatsitville 9 miles to the right – just a visual klaxon and a challenge: The road you were on ends here. Now make a decision.


Sometimes you ask for a sign. Sometimes what you get is a single arrow pointing two directions at once.


The Trail, of course, answered the question for me (left, as it happens). The Trail is a specific journey, predetermined for us by Father Sorin and the indefatigable Katherine Lane (SMC ’92) whose task it has been over the past year-plus to put all this together. So, in the moment of the walk, the Trail relieves me of needing to decide – but only for the moment and only on the walk.


The larger questions remain. And no matter how much I would appreciate a blinding and unmissable bolt of light to tell me what to do, I doubt it will happen. And, begrudgingly, I have to believe that’s a good thing.


Our choices are our own to make, which is what ultimately gives them meaning. We don’t get to take credit for the choices others make for us, just as, vice versa, we don’t get to shift responsibility and still claim the crown.


The things we think when we have nothing to do but think...


Things are changing quickly. Soon our numbers grow. And soon after, they grow some more. And soon after that, our journey is done.


And soon after that, we’ll be off the Trail and need to make a choice – left or right – ready for whatever adventures lie ahead, whichever way ‘ahead’ may be.