Relics of Valentines Past

Music is the way I filter the world. I narrate my day using music. My life — seen through my brain — often looks a lot like a movie montage, cued to the perfect music. I have Spotify playlists for every occasion. Seriously, I love orchestrating the perfect mix.

Love is no different for me. Punk songs will immediately have me strolling back to shared seats on yellow buses huddling closer to my cd player with first loves. Softer, folksy tunes remind me of new beginnings in salt-tinged winds. Pop synth beat drops talking about love fearing millennials takes me back to his long, wavy brunette hair that I loved to envy. Summer anthems never let me forget the thrum of possibility that courses through my veins as temperatures warm.

Each relationship — whether it fizzled out or went down in flames — elicits an immediate musical response. ‘Fools Gold’ by Fitz and the Tantrums belongs to a mediocre first date. Unrequited love? There’s a song (actually ten) for that. Even the fabric of some of my longest friendships are deeply based in melodies. Even when the feelings fade, music is the last bastion for these memories.

This playlist started at about 100 songs. Now, I’ve narrowed it down to not-quite-the-number-I-was-aiming for. What started out as an inspiration playlist for an upcoming post (stay tuned!), turned into a sensory-filled ramble through the haunts of loves past. There’s a song for plenty of milestones and moments in my life: first love; unrequited love; relationships that never made it to the l-word; the aftermaths; the anthem for when I love myself and want to wear all the eyeliner; when I want to celebrate my singledom; when I loathe my singledom; how I feel about love right now; and for the deep, unyielding love I have for my friends.

This list was painful to narrow down — I had to leave off plenty of songs that I adore and make me swoon. But it’s three days before Valentine’s Day, I’m single and it’s 2018 — you’re gonna get a weird mix. Without further ado, here is my carefully curated list of songs in no particular order for 2018’s Valentine’s Day. Let me know in the comments what songs make your own Valentine’s Day list!

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A Diaversary.

All of us have days we celebrate — card companies thrive on it. But for most people, there are also dates that we silently choose to acknowledge. Dates that represent a before and after; a past and present; a life that you can never go back to. For me, that date came 12 years ago today.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, my whole world flipped upside down. Doctors were suddenly throwing around foreign terms like “boluses” and “basals.” I had to learn how to count carbohydrates, measure up a hypodermic needle with insulin, and pray that my math was accurate. Food suddenly became a life-or-death algebra problem. And I will be the first to admit, algebra was never my style.

I spent one very intense week at Yale’s 7-4 unit — filled with doctor’s trying to erase 15 years of habits and introduce a lifetime’s worth of new ones. At that time, I could only think about what my life was like an hour ago, twenty-four hours ago, a week ago. My mind was so immeshed in what I had lost that all I could do was dwell on what my life was before.

Now, 12 years later, that “before” seems like such a small blip in my life. I find it hard to remember life without this incessant companion. I can’t recall the taste of a sip of regular soda. I’ve lost the impulse to have orange juice with every breakfast. Carrying around extra pump supplies is second nature.  The bionic technology trying to replicate my pancreas no longers feels like an intrusion.

12 years of perspective.

 

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That is almost a year’s worth of sleep lost. Ain’t no rest for the wicked.

 

As I sit here and write this I realize I have an adolescent-aged disease. Next year, my disease will be a teenager (a grumpy, petulant teenager seems like an accurate description). I hoped after 12 years with this disease I’d have a better grip on it. And yet I sit here, still hoping someone will revoke my diabetes card.

Diabetes has never and will never be an easy road. The amount of hours of sleep I’ve lost from highs, lows, and the fear of both is innumerable. As both my disease and I have aged, I now worry about things like adequate insurance, and the rising costs of insulin. I often find my mind wondering what ill-effects my blood sugar or a1c will mean in the future.

Perspective doesn’t make the difficult times disappear. I still wish I never had diabetes. It definitely crosses my mind when I’ve been woken up for the sixth time in one night by my continuous glucose monitor’s alarm. It surely pops up on those days when I’ve done everything right and I still can’t keep my numbers in-range. And always during the winter, when I’m usually nursing away my third infection of the season.

But perspective has been an incredible educator. No one is immune to hardships and tragedy in this life. But through mine, I’ve cultivated a strong sense of empathy. I now celebrate small victories like when my a1c decreases by a point. I’ve learned what my breaking point is after a few years of trying to handle this disease on my own. I own that it truly takes a village: endocrinologists, nurse practitioners, a therapist, understanding friends, and caring family. It’s given me a unique sense of humor that’s accompanied me through life’s many peaks and valleys.

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You know you’ve got a good crew when they steal signs for your group photo. (2012)

I love my Diaversary; maybe even more than my own birthday. My birthday is arbitrary, I had no choice in the date. But I choose to celebrate and acknowledge my Diaversary. The day represents a re-birth. A start of a new life, a new journey. Stuck in 7-4,  I couldn’t even begin to imagine having this disease for a year. Then it was five years and later a decade. Now 12 years have gone by.

Diabetes was a reckoning in my life. And as my diabetes ages — going from adolescence to puberty — I hope that I never stop learning from it. I hope to keep lowering my a1c, giving myself the best chance for the future. I hope to one day not live in fear of the night. And deep down, some part of me still holds onto that hope for a cure. But for now, I am lucky enough that I get to live, survive, and thrive.

Cheers to many, many more.

Road Trip of America, Part I

In August 2016, my mom and I embarked on the first part of our road trip across America (year long pit stop included). Initially I was stoked to take this trip. It has always been my dream to live in an RV and travel the United States. Yes, my idea of a life goal is to live in an RV. Which to anyone who works in social services knows this would classify me as homeless. No, the irony is not lost on me.

Of course there were nerves leading up to the big move but I saw this trip as the start to a brilliant new adventure. Every great new chapter starts with the vast open roads, a mixtape and junk food. Not to mention I would travel to several states I had never been to before.

In typical “me” fashion, two days before I was to leave, I started experiencing severe issues with my back. My doctors all suggested surgery, which would have forced me to postpone my journalism internship by at least a month. For the first time in my life I faced two options where neither seemed like the right answer. In one scenario I’d be given more time in my beloved California — more time in the city I was suddenly struggling to leave. However, I feared that if I didn’t leave now, I’d talk myself out of this new pursuit. It would be so simple to let my fears win.

In the end I decided to move forward, albeit a few days delayed. In pain and completely unsure if I had made the correct decision, I set out in the early hours to watch the sunrise over the San Bernadino National Forest. The trip took us through California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas and finally to my new home in Missouri. This is a (very) brief look at the astounding beauty that cajoled me over the hills and mountains to the Midwest prairies.

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Somewhere between Los Angeles and Vegas. Everyone from LA will recognize this route by it’s utter desolation.

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No one should see what Vegas looks like during the day.

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This is the point of the trip where the sprawling desert and tumbleweeds turned into unique rock formations. This is the west I had been waiting for.

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Salt Wash View Area, Utah

Salt Wash View Area is a rest area in an uninhabited area of Utah on route 70 that makes you question how strong your cell phone service is. The mountains and formations were truly breathtaking. If I remember correctly, they found quite a bit of dinosaur fossils in this area.

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On the road, you can find inspiration anywhere. Especially on roadside pitstops.

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This was our dinner reservation for the evening.

We made it from California to Utah to arrive at our first overnight stop in Green River, UT. It was the only city for miles and we wanted to settle down for the evening. What we didn’t realize was that we settled into a ghost town. Our first go at dinner didn’t go that well (see: above). However, according to Wikipedia, it was the setting to the only movie I watched when I was sick as a kid, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.

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Vail

Day 2 found us getting much higher… in altitude. Our pit stop of the day featured Vail, Colorado. It’s a picturesque ski town nestled between two mountain ranges that makes it feel as if live moves differently here from the rest of civilization. I just remember the colors being so much more vivid in Vail; the range of greenery in the mountains, the type of blue sky that gave Crayola the name, cotton for clouds and wildflowers in every color. It was a refreshing pitstop that left me craving for more.

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The grave of William Cody, aka “Buffalo Bill”

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long till our next pit stop. Although we didn’t go into the museum, we did walk around and see the grave site of Buffalo Bill in Golden, CO.

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Cornfields for days

We decided to get into Kansas so our third driving day would be relatively short. It was a bit jarring to go from the winding mountains to the flats of East Denver and Kansas. It seemed as if the border crossing instantly transported us to the stereotypical Midwest images I grew up with. Now, I find so much beauty in these methodical fields that feed us. But back then, the dearth of humans and buildings over three stories tall made me question what I was really getting myself into.

 

 

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Group L still smiling in the pouring rain. 

I’ve posted a lot about Poland. I’ve covered Auschwitz, Old Town, Americans in Poland, and World Youth Day. In fact, I have a photojournalism spread in the National Catholic Reporter of my travels during World Youth Day. I feel like I summed it up pretty well in that spread:

Part of the allure of going to World Youth Day is immersing oneself into the host country’s culture. It is estimated that 3 million pilgrims converged in Kraków, Poland this summer for the chance to see and hear Pope Francis in person. These photos reflect Poland through the eyes of a pilgrim and not merely a tourist. They document the rise and fall of a nation and a country that continues to march on.

 

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Some of my favorite moments include getting to experience Poland with my brother and his girlfriend, Krissy. There’s something special about getting to experience the land of your ancestors with your family. (Thanks Jessi for this wonderful photo!)

I’ve been fortunate enough to write quite a bit about WYD and Poland, so much so that there’s not much more to be written. But I do want to show some of the behind the scenes photos that weren’t able to be published but still mean the world to me.

The monuments and memorials were so powerful and will stay with me forever. But behind the monuments was a life-changing experience with some of my closest friends. We learned the wonders of “niegazowana,” that frites are the best way to end the day, underneath Old Town is some of the best Italian food and that experiencing another country is best with friends (old and new).

Cheers and love to my Group “L.”

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Casey and I in Warsaw. My first time out in Europe and couldn’t get enough of the cobblestone.

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Andrew hanging a rosary at Our Lady of Częstochowa in Jasna Gora. The walls of the shrine are filled with ex-votos, offerings for miracles.

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Violinist in front of Zamek Królewski (the Royal Castle).

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Julia and I sporting the same sunglasses at our Warsaw hotel. The hotel was a bit far from everything, but there was a park across the street with a light up fountain that was perfect for running through.

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Mike Tyson, the unofficial sponsor of the normally empty field of Błonia Park

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First night in Kraków, Elizabeth and I got caught up in a flash mob in front of St. Mary’s. Every night thereafter they had to close down the square because of the amount of pilgrims. This was the calm before the storm.

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Laura and I hanging with the Pope. Well, sort of. Here we are attempting to translate the Pope’s speech in Italian into English.

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Getting in trouble for eating the floral arrangements. Who can blame me when there were over 200 pilgrims to feed?

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On our final day in Kraków I snuck out and did some sightseeing. I wish I had more time to explore Wawel Castle, as it’s an incredible piece of history and architecture. St. Leonard’s Crypt was particularly neat, with tombs dating back hundreds and hundreds of years.

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They’re pretty adorable, aren’t they?

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Group L keeping in classy in Jasna Gora. (And a big thanks to Jessi and her act of heroism of carrying that huge camera around so we can actually have nice photos).

“I’m ready to leave, I’m ready to live”

It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve visited 21 U.S. states since setting out for Kansas City a little over a year ago — with ten of them being completely new to me. During that time, I’ve called four different states home. I’ve seen absurdly large balls of twine and shuttlecocks; ghost towns and metropolitans; majestic mountains and endless cornfields.

The more I travel the U.S., the more I am captivated by it’s beauty. I embrace the differences and celebrate our similarities. Each new place represents a chance to learn, listen and experience. There is something enthralling about being in a place you know nothing of. By interrupting our mundane, we give ourselves a chance to learn about ourselves. How do we react when we’re lost? How can one embrace another’s life, another’s culture? Each place I’ve visited, no matter how briefly, has revealed a part of myself.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. —Mark Twain

I’m still processing all that’s happened in this whirlwind of a year. So I hope you’ll bear with me as I sort through photos, stories and mementos of these travels. It seems like a waste to have all of these stored deep in my computer and brain. I’m excited to share some sweet spots from places both local and far.

An ode to the one I was never supposed to fall in love with

None of this went accordingly.

One year ago you barreled into my life on a dare. At first your presence reminded me of all the things I desperately missed in LA: the family that I rediscovered and loved me through some intense periods of growth; friends that accompanied me through the trenches — a group I traded battle stories with at a Main Street bar, trying to make sense of the unthinkable things we witnessed the previous week; my spiritual gurus who taught me the equal power of prayer and action. And, of course, the breezy, salt tinged nights that helped quiet my soul and convinced me I was home. Everything LA was, you were not.

To the say we had a rocky beginning would be an understatement — your sheer proximity filled me with trepidation and second-guessing. I wanted stability, you made me waver. I needed roots, you kept me wandering. I craved familiarity but instead you offered only beginnings. All the signs that lead me to you felt like one gigantic, cosmic joke.

I can’t pinpoint when things changed, when trepidation turned to acquaintance and eventually to enjoyment, which paved the way for an earnest love. What I do know is that gradually you revealed your quirks and oddities to me, drawing me in further until I was in too deep. For your peculiarities and idiosyncrasies complemented mine. The irony of loving you is that by depleting myself, I found what was missing. All along I was meant to meet you and find a missing puzzle piece I never knew was gone. You loved me even when I didn’t love you, when I couldn’t love you. But you persisted. To most people you are over-looked, glanced at from a far. I am so happy I took the time to discover, to look beyond the surface.

You have given me so much. You’re the reason for a whole new group of friends, full of fiery passion and drive, friends that continue to inspire me with their determination for a better tomorrow. You’ve given me a job, career and hobby all rolled into one. But most of all- you’ve forced me to grow in ways I never expected. I have a confidence in my writing that I’ve never knew possible. I have a renewed sense of passion for nuances and justice — learning to dive headfirst into the gray and in-between. Your love has strengthened my independence and interdependence; realizing that my tenacity comes from a community of support. And I’ve learned to love this breathtaking part of the country: the symmetrical intricacies of a cornfield, muddy rivers that once transported people to their dreams and the cotton candy saturated sunsets that hold fast to the corners of the sky till the last possible second.

I never counted on you. You’ve given me so much in this one year, yet I offer so little in return. Instead I vow to carry your lessons, your diversity and your resilience with me wherever I go.

So, so long for now, my dear Kansas City. I never planned on loving my foster city this much. But I’m sure as hell glad I did. You’ve left an indelible mark that will stay with me as I move forward to new paths and journeys. I am so proud to say I lived here, in this little city with too big of a heart to be contained in just one state.

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Uncertainty, fear and the ACA

This was originally posted on Beyond Type 1, a website and community exclusively for type one diabetics, and those who love them.

The original story can be found here.


Fear can be a powerful tool, if you only let it.

Fear is the only word I can use to describe the feelings that engulfed me in the early hours of November 9, 2016. Daylight was still hours away from being able to chase away the fears that came with the election results. So there I was, left alone to ponder what my future would look like. Left to wonder what would my future as a diabetic with other autoimmune disorders would resemble. Left to wonder what would happen to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a lifeline for so many.

For you see, only nine days earlier, in honor of my 26th birthday, I lost my health insurance. For the first time I was left with no security, no assurance, no guarantees. When I allowed my mind to wander to those thoughts of the future, it appeared — and unfortunately continues to appear — grim for those of us who require assistance from the ACA.

Diabetics are a unique breed. We do not get a free day when it comes to our diabetes. Denying its existence is a recipe for disaster. As people with diabetes, we become hyper aware that each moment counts. We know one hour our sugars can be in perfect range, the next we’re spilling ketones. We are always conscious that yesterday’s cold can be tomorrow’s pneumonia. We are never allowed to forget that each and every reading on a glucose meter requires immediate attention.

To be diabetic and uninsured for one month, one day, even one minute is walking a dangerous tightrope.

At the age of 25.5, on that dangerous precipice of being uninsured, I was offered a second chance to pursue my childhood dream of writing. When the first opportunity to write presented itself, I hesitated, letting my fear steer me so far away that I never thought of it as a career again.

Life doesn’t grant many second chances and this time, I was ready. Now I would no longer let fear dictate my direction — not with my dream so close, so tangible, so irresistibly within reach. I took the internship knowing that the ACA (and the pre-existing condition coverage) would be there, a safety net created especially for millennials like me. A security for those still trying to make their mark in this world, yet unwilling to compromise their paths, plans, and dreams.

Despite my sincere appreciation for the ACAs existence, I have had a contentious relationship with it from the moment I picked up the phone to enroll. Yet, one can simultaneously express gratitude but demand change. I know that for the ACA to be truly effective, it requires reform.

So far, I have spent over five hours on the phone with the ACA employees — two hours and ten minutes of that time just on hold. It has required patience, patience I never thought I possessed, especially when their mistake left me ineligible for insurance for two months. My mind has been questioning how I will afford my healthcare until I meet my deductible.

It took me only five days into my ACA coverage to put it to the test. I rang in the New Year with an infection that suddenly took hold of my sinuses and chest. It didn’t take long for it to become clear I needed a doctor’s attention. Now I am left working off my deductible, a task that seems like using a toothpick to chip away at a block of ice. Yet, I get back up and hope the next couple months are some of my better months.

But if they’re unpredictably not, then I know my out-of-pocket expenses won’t be astronomical. It’ll require a serious dip into my savings, a luxury that not many have, but it will be doable. I won’t be confounded by never ending doctor’s bills, so buried under insurmountable debt that I’ve seen drown so many others.

My advice to the many diabetics who are navigating the unsteady waters of the ACA for the first time: For now, forget the news and the headlines and get signed up as soon as possible. I encourage you to do your research about plans, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays. Ensure that your plan covers your essentials. The ins and outs to the ACA are never ending, and you can never know too much. And if does get to be too much, do not be afraid to ask for help. Know there are people whose sole job is to sign people up for the ACA. Locate clinics near you that serve the underinsured. Research the financial assistance for diabetics and for certain medications.

As I write this, I do not know how long my advice for navigating the ACA will be valid. However, what I do know is that insurance is not a luxury for me and so many others with type one diabetes. Access to health insurance is not nearly enough — all people should be guaranteed adequate coverage. Our health is not for sale, a partisan game to be played. I should never have to ration my lifeblood, my insulin. I should never be faced with the decision of which medication to forgo for another. I shouldn’t be forced to stop seeing the specialists that help me carry this considerable burden.

The fear I felt the day after the election is still here, but I won’t let it cripple me. My fear reminds me that never again should people be robbed of their right to health insurance because of the genetic hand they’ve been dealt. My fear prompts me to use that info to inform others. Fear can be an agent of change. Combined with the inimitable strength that our journey with diabetes provides us, we can help change the system. 20 million are counting on it.

The Final WYD post

As I get ready to make the flight back to New York, here’s my final post from Poland and World Youth Day 2016.

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Besides the occasional siren, a stillness settled here beginning on Saturday afternoon, creating a brief reprieve from the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that have called Krakow home this past week. In a city with hour-plus wait times for food, queues just to enter the town square, and bathrooms frequently lacking toilet paper, the almost sudden quietness seemed unsettling. Peaceful, but lacking the excitement that pilgrims seem to bring with them wherever they go.

The mass exodus began early Saturday morning with pilgrims eager to secure a spot close to Pope Francis at the outdoor venue southeast of Krakow, called “Campus Misercordiae,” for the evening vigil and Mass. To get there, they walked many miles (my own Bridgeport, Conn., diocese walking 10) in 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and pedestrian congestion that added hours to the already long trek. Most carried heavy backpacks with everything they would need for two days of arduous travel and a night in an open field. They picked up box lunches at makeshift stations, if there were any left. All of this to keep vigil underneath the stars with millions of others and ultimately to catch a glimpse of the pope.

A pilgrimage indeed.

Then there were those of us who kept our own vigil. Almost 200 of us crammed into a hot, stuffy room on the fourth floor of our hostel in Krakow to participate in the events the best we could. We surrounded a single television transmitting exclusively in Polish to watch the vigil and Mass. While not physically present with those who flocked to the field, it was impossible not to feel the passion with which Francis spoke as he addressed the youth of World Youth Day and of the world.

Our group sat in awe watching Francis speak to the gathered pilgrims while we simultaneously listened to the English translation of his speech from an iPhone. The pope struck a deep chord in my heart when he said this: “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate,” to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark.”

His genuine concern about the direction of our lives was clear. The pope seemed to speak to the depths of my heart. At the core of this statement is the very real fear that our lives will be unremarkable, unexciting and unimportant. The fear that our lives will leave no indelible mark in the world. What person doesn’t have that thought cross their mind?

During a private moment, a priest asked me a serious question: Why am I here? Why am I halfway across the world in Poland, learning about God’s love on this mentally and physically taxing pilgrimage?

I could easily be listening to talks and praying on a retreat in the States, in my own diocese. The priest further explained that the answer to this question could take days, months or even years to manifest, but the important part is that you ask yourself this question no matter where you’re at.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been stumped by this question. It would be easy to answer that I wanted to be with my friends, witness the country of my ancestors or just curiosity at what exactly it’s like to share communion with a million other youth.

But I believe the answer is much deeper. I’ve bore witness to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkneau, the joy of St. Faustina’s trust and the deep flowing mercy that St. John Paul II practiced. I’ve seen the Church at its best — a place where unity, love and acceptance is abundant and free-flowing. Every event during this pilgrimage has left a mark on me. Now how do I use that as a vehicle to make a mark on the world?

As I get ready to depart this beautiful city, I know the work of World Youth Day is not yet done. If this is a true pilgrimage, the witness to this event is just the beginning. Now it is our turn to answer the question of why we are here and to live that answer. It is our responsibility as pilgrims to carry these witnesses of terror, joy, love, community and mercy back to our homes, families and friends.

To show the world that our generation is not full of couch potatoes but ready with their “boots laced,” as Pope Francis called us to be.

WYD Update #4

Reminder you can find the original post here.

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Prior to my departure from the States, I vowed to immerse myself as fully as possible into the World Youth Day experience. In life, I often find myself straddling the line between participant and viewer; trying to collect as many dynamic experiences in this life while simultaneously writing my next Snapchat caption for such moments. Disengaging from my social media feeds fraught with politics and letting my emails pile up has been the key to truly enjoying this pilgrimage. It’s what has allowed me to immerse myself in my writing and my periodic social media updates.

So when speakers from the World Youth Day events on Wednesday, July 27, spoke about the shooting that took place in Munich and the martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel, I was shocked to hear about such horrific events. It was incredibly difficult to comprehend that hundreds of thousands of Catholics were here in Krakow flamboyantly expressing their faith, yet somewhere else, someone was being murdered for simply practicing it.

Throughout the day, speakers referenced these violent acts. At the World Youth Day USA event, a group of almost 20 pilgrims from the San Diego diocese took the stage. In front of almost 20,000 pilgrims, one of the leaders took the microphone and spoke about the group’s experience of getting to WYD. Recounting their story, he spoke of eating at a restaurant in Munich when shots rang through the streets and the group was forced to witness the bloody aftermath of the shooting. Emotionally scarred and wondering whether the group should continue their journey to Poland, the group leader thought of St. John Paul II and his first speech as pope, begging the world to “be not afraid.” Answering this question, he said, “Should we continue on? We must.”

Later that evening during a praise and worship event, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron from the Los Angeles archdiocese tossed out his original talk, instead speaking about the current “age of martyrs” we are experiencing, inspired by the death and martyrdom of Fr. Hamel. Bishop Barron wove the stories of Fr. Hamel, St. Maximilian Kolbe and other martyrs together to remind the pilgrims that our Christian faith can not be lived out by hiding it from the world. Bishop Barron said, “our Christianity is not for our private consumption.”

At times it can be hard to conceptualize issues such as martyrdom and violence when one hasn’t personally experienced it. During his homily, Cardinal Sean O’Malley discussed issues that many pilgrims could relate to: the refugee crisis, homelessness, addiction and environmental issues. “We need to find a new route to take us where we need to go,” urged Cardinal O’Malley. Cardinal O’Malley added, “As people who are forgiven, we must learn how to forgive and be people of mercy.”

 

All of this was a stark reminder that despite turning off the TV and shutting out social media, the world continues to turn. Tragic events have and will continue to happen. This “bubble” of worship and camaraderie felt during World Youth Day will soon end as each pilgrim returns to their home country.

So how do we overcome that? How do we continue to let the light of God shine in us without letting the world extinguish that flame? Joel Stepanek, from Lifeteen Ministries and the last speaker before Eucharistic adoration, told the pilgrims that mercy is key. Regarding mercy, Stepanek said, “healing in the world is possible but has to start with us.”

Mercy is not an easy choice. It requires forgiveness and compassion, both simple enough words that are incredibly difficult to live out. But if each pilgrim could remember and carry with them to their country just an ounce of the love and compassion that is so evident here in Krakow, I believe the world can be a different place. That is the light I continue to hold onto, even in the darkest hours.

WYD #3

Find the original post here.

If it had been any other time, seeing youth of all ages piled on top of the Adam Mickiewicz Monument in the Main Square in Krakow would be alarming.

Thankfully it was just the eve of World Youth Day’s official opening.

Youth from around the world flooded the square the night before the official opening Mass to celebrate and join with others in Krakow’s main hub. The Adam Mickiewicz Monument, framed by the imposing St. Mary’s Basilica behind it, became the de facto spot for pilgrims to show off their countries’ colors and best chants.

At one point, a group of priests came out with guitars onto the monument and serenaded the crowd to promote vocations. The city was alive and rich with the spirit of camaraderie and joy, with impromptu conversations with pilgrims from near and far. It was a beautiful sight of unity, with the gorgeous background of ornate Polish history.

The featured event for the next day was the World Youth Day opening Mass in Błonia Park. The first officially sponsored event for pilgrims, I was finally able to see for myself the massive amount of people that were in attendance. The event itself was like nothing else I have ever witnessed. The best way to describe it would be a strange mix between the World Cup, Olympics and Coachella. Then add a Catholic flavor to make it one uniquely blended event.

However what made it truly different, what separated it from all those other aforementioned events, was the desire to be united within the Catholic community in these moments. As young adults, it was comforting knowing that our identity in Jesus Christ surpassed all the language barriers we faced.

Right before we were to depart for Błonia Park where the opening Mass would be taking place, the skies opened up. Conditions quickly became less than ideal. I can say that at this point, it finally felt like a pilgrimage. Since the beginning of our formation for the trip, we were reminded that we are pilgrims, not tourists. Tromping through mud, puddles and grass to get to our spot in an enormous open field, this felt like the perfect reminder.

We sat collectively, and not just as a diocese, but as Catholics, among the weeds and the bugs, who seemed immune to the bug spray we all preemptively doused ourselves with. Sitting on the bottom of a hill, only having our fellow pilgrims backs to look at and the voice of a very foreign language, the Mass could have easily become frustrating. Yet we all sat there in solidarity. Laughing about our improper translations of the parts of Mass. Assisting each other before we fell into the mud. Soaking in the absurdity that gathered in one space, we represented over 180 different countries.

All the weather conditions aside, it was a moving experience. Pilgrims proudly held their flags above the crowds. These flags included countries being represented for the first time in World Youth Day history, like South Sudan. Flags from Iraq and Syria floated in the distance as well, reminding me that for some there is so much more than the monetary cost it took to get here.

Thankfully, sections of the field were not separated by language, and I had the privilege of sitting next to Polish pilgrims who proudly sang Mass songs in their native language. The dynamic choir and orchestra led us in universal song, as pilgrims sang out on the 100-plus acres of land in the heart of Krakow. Each country added their own flair to the Mass, highlighting the beauty in our differences.

The spirit of the Mass seemed to carry with us as we made the trek from the field to the hostel. Despite the absurdly slow pace, music blared from the orchestra and choir. Countries continued their chanting and taught others their traditional dances. We all clapped along to the tambourines and drums that resounded with people’s native tunes. As we shuffled down the road to the exit, the residences that lined the streets greeted us with flags, cheers and waves. Clearly the enthusiasm was catching on.

The spirits of Krakow’s residents and the pilgrims alike are awake and fired up. Now we’re just waiting on you Pope Francis.