Chapter I: Mission Impossible? Not When It’s a Mission from God
What possesses a man to embark, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, on an unplanned trip that will take 36 hours, 1000 miles of driving, and absolutely no idea how he will pull it all off? Faith and prayer is what I chock it up to. That, and having a wonderful wife. Oh, and did I mention I took my entire family with me, and at a moments notice?
I just felt like we needed to be at the March for Life, is all.
Our associate pastor began his homily for the Mass at 1145 (note, I’ll be using military time throughout this post because it’s simpler!), so mark this as beginning at 1205. Father David mentioned the kids from the Catholic high school who came to the earliest Mass before their trip to take part in the March for Life in Washington D.C. I thought to myself, Neat!
By the time the homily was over though, I knew we were going too. Sure, there was a local walk scheduled for later that day in my town and we could have participated in that. But nothing screams “This is important!” to your kids like letting them miss a day of school to walk with hundreds of thousands of others in a march against the holocaust of abortion. A march that the New York Times has refused to report for three years running. I felt like they needed to be there. Our family needed to be there.
After Mass concluded, I asked each of the kids how their Monday looked. Any tests or projects due? No. Then I checked the weather, and noted that it would be clear, but cold. Having been to D.C. back in 2006 as well as just this past summer, I knew it was an 8 hour drive, if done at a speedy, Marine-like pace. Feeling a bit like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and knowing how she feels about cold weather, I asked my wife if she would consent to go too. Not thrilled, but willing…if I could work out the details. I got cracking on it.
As I reported to you yesterday, those details worked themselves out. Mass was over at 1315 and we were on the road by 1530. Not a bad turnaround for a bunch of hapless civilians. They must be ably led. Of course, I made sure they knew that there would be no luggage! Just deodorant, toothpaste, tooth brushes, a change of clean underwear and socks! Layer! Dress for warmth and keep it simple! Forget looks people, this is war! I modified this a bit and let them each bring an overnight bag, but we were traveling the lightest they ever have.
We brought the laptop computer, though, and a handful of movies for in-flight entertainment because I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. Can I bring my i-Pod? Yes! Can I bring my PS-4? Sure! Can I bring a book? Yes, but bring your gloves, hats, scarves, and coats because you are going to be cold and we have to get going!
My kids crammed into the backseat of our newest vehicle (no time for broken fan belts or flat tires here people!) like the Ford in the photograph above. They were like astronauts wedged into the Apollo command module as we shoved off for Quantico. We dropped off two trays of lasagna my wife had made for my youngest sons Cub Scout pack’s Blue & Gold dinner (important missions supersede planned events; they gave us high-fives and prayers!), and we topped off our fuel tanks and motored off towards the Capitol.
While I was fueling up, my family went in the store to buy soda’s and gum. My wife bought the Sunday paper too, which she started reading as I piloted us up the on-ramp. She tore out a little piece of the newspaper and said, “Hey honey, listen to what I saw as the thought of the day. It’s perfect for what we are about to do:
Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.
I said, “Well the Father of Empiricism is right; Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!”
All went well on the trip. We stopped at the half way point in Roanoke, Virginia to stretch our legs and for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant that was also showing the Jets vs. Steelers game on television. Go Steelers! Then a refuel pit stop and back on the road. The kids watched the movie Patton again, and later played video games or listened to their i-Pods.
There were a few glitches, because friction, as Clausewitz termed the simple stuff that goes haywire during wartime operations, never sleeps. For example, my wife asked if we were taking the 81 and the 95 freeways and I said yeah. So she mapped this on her i-Phone. As we came upon the 64, she told me this is our exit, and I confused the 64 for the 66, and did as instructed. Uh-oh, too early, I thought. A U-turn at the first exit remedied this situation and we were back on track. That is, until I stayed on the 66 until we were driving by the Lincoln Memorial (oops!) and I had to remember how to get back on the 395 to head south to Quantico again. A swing around the loop at Arlington National Cemetary and we were back on track.
Exiting the freeway and driving up to the back gate at Quantico, we were pleased to find out that this gate was closed. This made my wife a little nervous, because she knows sometimes I don’t let locked gates and such obstacles stop me. Another u-turn and a short drive up Hwy 1 and we were headed through the main gate.
We arrived at our lodgings on base at midnight. The parking lot was full, and I knew that it was a minor miracle that we had even gotten a room. That we got a suite with this crowd on hand is amazing. It was also 14 degrees outside. We unloaded the Escape and were indoors in a flash. Time to hit the rack! As I said my prayers, I asked the Lord to give us ample rest over the next few hours. To sleep, to dream…
I set our alarms for 0730, but I awoke at 0615 with Elton John’s song Daniel playing in my head. I prayed we would have a good day and then posted Elton’s song. Then I rousted everyone out of their racks. Once everyone was ambulatory, I headed to the breakfast area for coffee and donuts, lugging a few plate fulls back to the room with me.
Did I mention my wife is a trouper? When I got back to the room, she informed me that there was no hot water. She rinsed her face in the cold water, see? Then she had lathered up her face with the soap, while the water ran, and when she went to rinse again, surprise! The water was even colder than before. I checked it out too, and it was wicked cold, maybe 33 degrees. I went to tell the person at the desk, and they informed me that there was no hot water in the entire building. Why did I believe them? Because having been stationed at Quantico, I know that they pipe hot water all over the base with a system of above ground pipes, and as silly as that sounds, there is no changing it. Hot showers, and the luxury thereof, were out of the question.
|Marines in Blue Delta’s|
I’ll write my Congressman later about tankless water heaters, but happiness in the kingdom was wilting rapidly so I did what I had to do. I took the ice bucket to the coffee machine in the kitchen, walking around a bunch of Marines in blue dress Deltas and acted like I was going to make a huge cup of cocoa. I filled that bucket up with piping hot water from the only source of the same in the entire building. When I got back to the room, I made more hot water by using the coffee maker there too. Adapt, improvise, and overcome. “Besides, this is like camping!” I bellowed, as I went off to wash my hair in the sink. I told them that whenever I was out in the field, I had always felt civilized as long as I could brush my teeth. “So go brush your teeth kids!” Yes, my children think I’m weird.
It’s just as well that there was no hot water, because there really wasn’t time for showers. By now it was 0845 and the 1030 show time for Mass at St. Mary, Mother of God parish was rapidly approaching. All the Youth Masses required tickets, and they were sold out (no cost, but tickets were required). I Google-mapped the location of the parish on the laptop, closed it up and told the kids to load up the car. We’re moving out!
I had a vague idea that we would park at the Van Dorn Street station, and take the Metro in to Chinatown. That idea evaporated after I decided to get into the HOV lanes heading up the 95. As a result, I couldn’t exit off the freeway until we were at the Pentagon. Oops! Plan B was looking like we were going to look for parking in Chinatown near the church. I was underwhelmed at the prospect of this. As we drove up the 395 and passed the exit for King Street (another M station), I knew that we were committed to plan B. Time to pray.
I had my son open up the laptop to bring up that Google map in the cache. My wife was working her i-Phone frantically while I just made sure we didn’t bump in to any other cars. That was easy to do, as we were now creeping up the 395 through bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was Jesus Prayer time too. By now the clock was reading 9:30 and we were still creeping past the Pentagon. Mass in one hour! On a day like today? Think “Easter Mass crowd.” I had joked Allison and Webster that the CL New York Encounter they went to was like Woodstock for Catholics, but actually, that was where we were heading. The traffic started moving a bit and my wife made sounds that meant she knew where the church was and where we were too. Maintain an even strain, all will be well. Take New York to Fifth Street. Piece of cake.
Not being familiar with downtown DC though, when the 395 ended, we turned right down New York Avenue when we should have broke hard left. I caught onto this when I saw the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, off in the distance away on my left. We had crossed a bridge on New York by this time and eventually numbered streets disappeared altogether. I had my son pass me the laptop at the next stop light, checked the map and knew we had to get back to where the 395 ended. My wife reworked here i-Phone, I kept driving with my sense of direction, and we were back on track. Five minutes later, the i-Phone confirmed it (silly GPS devices!). By now it was 1010.
Having no idea where I was going to park, and having no way of moving traffic out of my way, or faster, I just prayed that it would all work out. As we retraced our path over the ground we had already covered, I just knew everything would work out some how. I wanted my children to be at this Mass, surrounded by young Catholics, just like them, and for the same exact reason.
|St. Mary, Mother of God|
As we turned left onto 5th Street, I spied a parking lot on the right with some empty spaces and another further on to the left. I told my wife and the kids that I would drop them at the church, go park and meet them. It was already 1015, see, and I figured that we wouldn’t have a place to sit unless they got inside pronto. Up ahead, we spied the church!
As I drove back up 5th Street, the lot on the right was completely full. I drove up to the one I had noticed that was across the street from the Safeway, and pulled in to find a spot. There were three left. Two of them, I determined were impossible to get into, hence the reason they were available. The third I worked my way into carefully, the whole time thanking God that I hadn’t brought the larger minivan that we usually take on trips for peace and comfort. There was no way that Grand Caravan would have ever fit into this space. The parking attendant helped me a bit and I paid him the non-early bird $10 for the day.
Looking at my watch, I noted the time was 1020. I jogged the two blocks back down to the church, no one wanted my ticket, so I just blessed myself with Holy Water and found my wife and family in one of the back rows of a full, and still filling sanctuary.
God is good!