Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Greetings from Down Under! I’m writing you from Sydney, Australia, where I will be for the next fortnightish number of days (till February 10, when I fly home to Seattle). The flight was actually quite good, thankyouveddymuch, which is pretty astonishing given that it was 2 hours from Seattle to San Francisco and another 14 hours from San Francisco to Sydney. Normally such experiences make me think of Manchurian Candidate brainwashing experiments: the endless roar of the engines, the inane movies, the strange experience of crossing the dateline and losing a day, the weird periodic wake up calls (if you sleep) when they feed you strange airline food in the dead of night for no particular reason. If (as was the case the first time I did this) you simply can’t get comfortable and therefore can’t sleep, the experience can become utterly hallucinatory.
However, I am delighted to report that, with the grace of God, I must be graduating into the category of Seasoned Traveler since I was actually able to sleep pretty well this time (basically eight hours in two shifts), leaving me a mere six hours to diddle about with writing stuff, reading the Lord of the Rings (again!), watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and drinking a lot of water.
The sleep thing matters to me because, typically, I don’t get a lot of sleep the night before a flight. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying. I’m not. I think flying is cool! It’s just that I find great distances… exciting. So I often don’t sleep the night before I head out.
Sound weird? I s’pose it is. But to me it just sounds romantic. Something in us responds to great distance. Say you’re walking a half mile to go get a quart of milk at the grocery store and that’s not very exciting (unless you are a little kid who wants to come with daddy). But say you are going 14,000 half miles and something awakes in the soul: the romance of travel. Yesterday I was in my hometown: ordinary old Seattle, with its typical pine, fir, cedar, and hemlock. Familiar grey skies (Seattleites have 38 different words for grey just as Eskimos have 40 different words for snow: cement grey, battleship grey, St. Helens ash grey, gray grey, grey gray). Familiar sights. Familiar speech. Familiar food. UW: check. Blessed Sacrament parish: check. Lake Union: Check. Space Needle: Check. Safeco Field: Check. Seatac: Check. All present and accounted for. A place for everything and everything in it’s place, as ever. Normal, thy name is Seattle.
But all that is about fall away. As we get closer to the airport, I’m feeling the excitement build. In an hour or two, I will be in a plane rumbling at high velocity down the runway and then—magically—hoisting its tons of girth into the air! Everything gives way to sheer distance. All those poetic phrases from childhood kick in: over the hills and far away, my bonnie lies over the ocean, beyond the deep blue sea.
Of which, more tomorrow.