I Dance the Labyrinth

This trip, like all of life, has so many layers of richness. It’s like peeling away the skin of an onion. In each moment there is an uncertainty as to which outcome will be produced. In some moments there is routine stability and no change in the physical state. In other moments there are tears. Those tears can come from either ecstatic joy or agonizing grief or anywhere in between. In this moment I am basking in the warm light. I couldn’t be more content.

unnamed-37I sit alone at Le Café Serpente at the foot of Notre Dame de Chartes Cathedral. I’m a third of the way into a carafe of Vin de Pays rosé and I’m enticed by a bowl of French olives and a few peanuts. My view of the cathedral is only outdone by the sound of a Chopin concert going on inside. Part of me feels like I should move inside the cathedral and enjoy that moment of sounds. Part of me has had enough moments of sensation already. I remain still.

This morning started with sunrise over the Chartres Cathedral. It was the first time we had seen the sun since our first day in Paris a week ago. That sunshine a week ago came as we walked the gardens at Notre Dame de Paris. On this journey there are two Notre Dames to explore and in the end one result. I learn that I walk a labyrinth of many possible paths.

After sunrise today, things stopped going as planned. The air temperature was a bone-chilling cold at 34 degrees, far different than we had visualized for our Easter Sunday outfits and our April in Paris vacation. Originally we had planned on attending both the Latin Mass 9:15 a.m. and the French Mass at 11:00 a.m. We would make it completely through neither because we were so cold inside this unheated palace of stone. We did get through the majority of the first service. In our minds we had visualized a scene similar to back home where Easter Sunday masses were attended by exactly that: The masses. In this small town, which by chance is home to one of the world’s most significant churches, we were reminded that first and foremost it is a small town. The labyrinth offers many surprises.

We arrived for the 9:15 a.m. mass at 8:30 a.m. to ensure we would get seats. As we arrived to claim our front row of the temporary chairs just in front of the altar we realized we were the only people in the enormous cathedral. In the halls of an empty Cathedral, we three fish swimming in the sea of our faithful journey were dwarfed by the magnitude of the moment. We three fish were then approached by a man in a blue staff jacket. He asks where we are from. We learn that he is the Pastor of the Cathedral. His name is Dominique Obere. He then went on to finish setting up the altar and climbed a folding step-ladder to light the Pastoral candle. In small towns, even if they happen be an UNESCO World Heritage site, there are many jobs to be done by those who volunteer. The labyrinth makes volunteers of all of us if we choose to follow the path.

Since we three fish were all chilled to the bone, we decided to head back to the hotel and re-group and warm up before Easter Brunch. One fish chose a cup of tea and a blanket. Another fish chose a nap. This fish chose a pair of sweat pants and Puma tennis shoes and I went to find another sacred space to call my morning dojo. My spirituality seems to require both religion and physical ritual. I had only attended to half of the path of the labyrinth thus far this morning. The other half awaited and I was all too anxious to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. The labyrinth uses its magnet to pull me in.

I decided to return to the same space I was lucky enough to discover yesterday. Part of me wanted to find someplace new but I was drawn to re-try what had worked well yesterday. Unlike yesterday though, there were no van drivers lining up to sell their goods. Perhaps Easter Sunday was a day off for the street merchants. I was grateful to have the park with the view of the Cathedral all to myself. The labyrinth reminds us that often the grass isn’t greener…it’s just different grass.

After about 45 minutes of martial arts forms and dancing around to my music I felt the vibration changing. The foot traffic was increasing and I was getting tired. I decided to follow the path back up to the Cathedral and visit Richard. Perhaps walk around the garden in reflection and mediation. When I reached the site that we spread Richard’s ashes yesterday, I found it cast in shade and attended by a gaggle of German tourists. For a moment my heart fell a little bit as I expected the path to be cleared for me and me alone like it has been so many times on this journey. Then I remembered the labyrinth in the garden below. I walked to the edge of the wall and looked down to find it completely empty. I began to descend the stairway. The labyrinth reminds us that it is there even when we forget to notice.

Shortly after I walk down to the labyrinth numerous families begin to join me. At first I expect to feel defensive, but surprisingly what I feel is joy. So many of my days back home lately have been spent in self-imposed solitude. On this day of rebirth and resurrection I find myself grateful for the company, grateful for the children running around the grass, grateful the Italian grandfather who stumbled down the hill hand in hand with his granddaughter. The labyrinth teaches us that the path is always meant to be shared with others.

Amidst my new friends I begin to dance around the circles of the labyrinth. I jump for joy. I cross over my feet with no concern of whether or not I might trip and fall. In this moment I remember that falling is part of the path. Despite the fact that others are on the path with me, nobody ever seems to block my progress. My feet always seem to be in the exact right position to tell me where to make a turn. I move in a graceful circle in the rhythm and current of life. I feel free. I feel at peace. I feel totally alive. The labyrinth always knows the direction of the current even when the navigator tries to over-manage the journey.

unnamed-38As I near the center of the circle I notice that many of my fellow travelers are heading back up to the main part of the gardens. When I reach the center I find myself all alone, exactly as I had visualized it in my head from the first time I formed the thought in my mind of re-visiting the labyrinth…long before I knew the labyrinth would entice me to dance. I lie down in the middle of the circle and I feel the warm light of the sun bask on my smiling face. I feel the energy of the earth flowing up inside me. I feel the heavens enticing me to fly upwards. I am ready to take flight. The labyrinth always knows where the path leads even when the traveler has no idea.

I dance the labyrinth of life in the gardens of the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Chartres, France. A year ago I never heard of this place. Now it has become the most significant memorial that I could have ever imagined. I wish I had never visited this place because the reason for my travels is one I had never hoped for. At the same time I am grateful for the lessons I have learned at the hands of one of my many mentors. In life he taught me so much. In death he has taught me even more.

The labyrinth already knows that on the opposite side of our darkest moments we will find our brightest lights. We who are still traveling the path must continue to walk, even when in darkness, to be reminded that there will always be light.

I bask in the light as dusk falls on Chartres. I am reborn. I look forward to the next turn in my labyrinth. That turn either expected or unexpected, serves as a reminder to me that I am still totally alive!

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About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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