The boy raced up the stair case ahead of me, his toy car running parallel on the marble railing. I stifled a laugh as I eyed his mother, too busy taking pictures of the angel statue welcoming you, to notice her son’s play. I smiled at the boy as I sidestepped him to enter the church in Lyon’s Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière.
Here, along the baroque interior, the artwork took center stage. The stained-glass windows brought in a rainbow of light as I took in the mosaic trims and the intricate detail of the life and legend of St. James. In a corner, the red, blue and white votive candles flickered with the prayers of those that had lit them. I did a complete turn to take it all in—the dozens of tourists in various languages, the flash of the cameras, the stunning paintings hailing the Virgin Mary—and then I stopped. There, in front of me, were rows of chairs leading to the altar. A sign indicated that the front few rows were reserved for those wishing to pray. Sadly, I was not surprised to see that they were empty. I wondered how long it had been since anyone thought to sit down and properly reflect on where they were. I had been in and out of churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and I could not recall seeing one person praying. When did church become a tourist attraction that occasionally doubled as a place of worship? I understand, especially in Europe, that the cathedrals provided more than a door to God, but also a window into the art world as well, but I felt that latter had become the priority. Granted, it had been awhile since I had gone to church myself, but I like to think that I had not lost my sense of place.
Contemplation led me down the aisle as I decided then was as good a time as any to have my piece with God. I sat down and immediately rehashed my trip in my head. I had been robbed twice in a span of a week and a half. I had to go without money and food for four days waiting for the Western Union to open up in Pamplona, Spain. I had spent days sleeping outside, in apartment lobbies and under carnival rides because of my lack of funds. To top it off, it had been raining on and off my entire trip. Then it hit me: here I was in France on the trip of a lifetime and all I could do was complain? Somewhere in that train of thought I slapped myself across the face and told myself to shut up in one of those, “there’s a war going on and children are starving” type moments. Instead of praying for what I didn’t have or for my iPod to magically appear, I started thanking God for the good fortune I had overlooked thus far on my trip. There were the two girls from Utah who left a few Euros and a kind note at the foot of my bed in Barcelona after I had been robbed. Then there was the hostel owner that let me crash on a couch for free in return for watching the hostel for a night and thanks to his good nature and tango lessons, I had been able to take my mind off of the fact that I was penniless just hours after being robbed. I was alive to tell those that would listen that I had run with the bulls and lived. I had also escaped serious injury in San Sebastian, Spain when a carnival ride fell on three of us in a plaza. I still had my health and unknown adventures to look forward to before heading home. Most importantly, I was lucky to have family and friends thousands of miles away that could help me out despite an ocean between us.
It was a tough realization to stomach that I had walked down the aisle for the wrong reasons. I recognized that we all have our own “crosses” to bear in some way or form and it was our choice of how heavy we wanted that cross to be. Who was I to sit here and complain when somewhere, someone is shouldering theirs without complaint? I said one last “Our Father,” made the sign of the cross and headed back up the aisle. I had found my peace with God.
So yes, in the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, I started to look at what I had and not what I had lost. Amongst the babble of tongues and the flashing of cameras, I decided to suck it up, shut up and carry the cross that I had created.
I figured if anything, it had to at least be lighter than my backpack.