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Rise Up Shepherd

Rise Up Shepherd December 22, 2021

 

It hasn’t been the brightest Holiday season. I’ve been struggling with my poly-cystic ovary syndrome, specifically the anxiety it causes. My nerves are in a constant jangle and I’ve had  a few nasty panic attacks. I thought the first Advent and Christmas with a car to go exploring in would be exciting, but the anxiety makes it harrowing. I thought we’d get home to Columbus and see my friends at least once, but it looks like that won’t happen, so I am depressed and lonely on top of anxious.

On the last Saturday of Advent, I had the harebrained idea that I wanted to see a great big busy mall at Christmastime. Steubenville doesn’t have a great big busy mall– there is a mall here, but it’s nearly empty and never seems to have any shoppers. I wanted to see the enormous mall in Robinson Township, over near Pittsburgh about an hour away. So when Rosie’s best friend got sick and we had to cancel our trip to hear the Nutcracker in concert, I announced we were going to the mall.

The drive to the mall was uneventful.

The walk around the mall was fairly pleasant. I got Starbucks just to see what it felt like to order coffee at a real mall in a bustling urban area, as if I did it all the time. I slipped off the mask to drink cold brew, pretending to be a normal person and not a strange neurotic woman from a bad part of Northern Appalachia, wondering what it would be like to live in a city all the time. My usual imposter syndrome blended seamlessly with my anxiety, making me feel like a spy on a secret mission.

Rosie treated herself to a stuffed hippopotamus with her allowance, and got her sick best friend a unicorn. We admired the mall Santa, who looks less tired than the one in Steubenville. We got a fast food dinner which we ate in the car, pretending that this, too, was normal, still feeling like imposters.

Then it was time to go home.

It was at that point that I realized I couldn’t see.

It had gotten quite dark and the rain had picked up, two things my astigmatism doesn’t like but I can handle them in uncrowded Steubenville. This place was packed and much more confusing. Driving in Robinson is tricky in broad daylight. Robinson is a maze, and not just a maze but a maze going 40 miles per hour in heavy traffic. Now, it was a maze going 40 miles per hour after dark, in mist and rain that was making it hard to see, and the windshield kept fogging up no matter what button I pushed. I could not see the line to the side of my lane. I could barely see the curb. I certainly couldn’t see the green sign telling me which exit I was taking. All I could see was blurry red dots in front of me and blurry white dots off to the left.

Can’t drive slowly with someone behind you. Can’t drive quickly in cold oily rain. I drove right at the speed limit, gripping the wheel, squinting, following the red lights in front of me.

Thankfully that person was taking Route twenty-two home to Weirton, or God alone knows where I’d have ended up.

The panic attack that had been biding its time in my stomach all afternoon rose into my throat, but I swallowed it.

Michael squinted out the window for road signs while Rosie squinted at her tablet and eventually fell asleep. I kept squinting at the red lights in front of me, until they sped up and got too far ahead. Then I squinted at the small yellow reflective dots that showed me where my lane was– my astigmatism combined with the rain and mist made them into shimmering stars on the ground. And I drove.

A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite. 

Swallowing that panic attack which rose up in my chest again and again, every single time another car passed me.

Wanting to cry but not doing it because it would make my vision worse.

Sweating in the heat but not wanting to turn the heat off, because it seemed to be getting the fog off the windshield.

Every so often, a driver would come by on the opposite side, going to Robinson late in the evening, and the bright lights would blind me so I could barely see the stars on the side of the road.

And still it rained.

Once in awhile the glittering dots disappeared entirely, replaced instead by reflective stakes stuck in the side of the road I couldn’t see. And I followed them.

Star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. 

Westward to West Virginia and beyond West Virginia to Steubenville.

There’s nowhere in the world I’d want to be less than the Steubenville and Weirton area, most of the time. I want to go home to Columbus or move to Pittsburgh and be done with this place. When I came out here to study at the university, I thought it was for a maximum of two years with regular visits home on the weekend. I couldn’t imagine that I’d end up stranded, poor at first and now not really poor but still not middle class, estranged from most of my family, without a parish to call home, without many friends. I couldn’t imagine that that state would last over fifteen years. I still can’t believe I’ve raised a child in this dark valley for ten.

When Mary and Joseph went off to Bethlehem, I wonder if they thought it would be a short visit. Go there, sign the census, get back to Nazareth so Mary can have her baby. But her time came in Bethlehem, and they had to find that stable. Next thing you knew they were fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt, in the dark of the night, not knowing what they’d do when they got there.

When the Magi went to find the new King, I wondered what they thought they’d see. They looked first in Herod’s house, where they’d expect a king, but Herod wasn’t the king they were looking for. Eventually they ended up in the cave in Bethlehem, and then they went home by a different way, and didn’t see that king again. I wonder if they spent the rest of their lives thinking it had all been a mistake.

The line of reflective sticks came to an end, and the line of glittering stars on the pavement resumed. I followed.

Follow, follow, rise up shepherd and follow! Follow the star of Bethlehem! Rise up shepherd and follow. 

The shepherds were taking turns minding the flock, in the dark, in the cold, perhaps in rain like this. And then an angel appeared and scared them half to death, and then the whole sky was bright with angels, crying out Gloria until the hills echoed. Then the angels were gone, and the night was dark again.

They got up and walked to Bethlehem.

I don’t know how long they searched Bethlehem, before they found Mary and Joseph and that mysterious baby. They found him and they worshipped him, and then they went off throughout the country, telling everyone.

What did they tell them? What did they understand about the bizarre message from Heaven and the baby they had seen? And what did they do after that? Did they just go back to being shepherds?

What happens to people when they hear a call from Heaven and drop what they were doing, to do something else?

Do they always end up stranded in a strange place, with a life that looks nothing like they imagined?

Are they like me? Do they swallow their panic badly, sulkily nurse their trauma, and find a way to live in that new place? Do they expect life to go back to normal at first, and then as the dust settles, realize it never will? Do they mourn “normal?” Do they wonder what it would be like if nothing strange or remarkable had ever happened to them? Do they wish the angel had never come half the time? The other half of the time, does the whole tragic misadventure seem worthwhile because they were granted that glimpse of Heaven?

We were exhausted and nearly out of gas when we rolled into Weirton and up to Three Springs Drive.

The rain had stopped when we got back into the car to go home.  I could see clearly: no stars on the road, just street lights and clear signs.

I crossed the bridge back to Steubenville, and home.

 

 

 

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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