The night is long, and I am driving. A pilgrimage, of sorts. I left at midnight, the dark highway unfolding in front of my headlights, the comfort of familiar things in my rear-view mirror. The flash and festivity of the Christmas season felt hollow, garish, false. I’m past the peak of adolescent angst, but still haven’t found my peace in young adulthood. I’m 19 and think I’m under no illusions. I’m running away from what I know, seeking connection and wisdom from a made-up ritual.
My story is unremarkable. An average child from a white, middle-class neighborhood. My parents are married, Catholic; my father a county employee, my mother a home-maker. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the constant background media noise of war, environmental degradation, and social inequality seemed at odds with my protected suburban life. When I looked ahead to find my place in the adult world, I saw only the depression of sheltered conformity, or the isolation of painful upheaval. When I looked to the past, to the unspoken stories of my family, I saw hope.
The hours of darkness and hypnotic whirr of wheels on pavement give my mind leave to wander. I contemplate my ancestral relationships. My bloodlines are mostly Celtic, and I imagine legions of relatives, pale, blue eyed, worshiping their God in wooded groves, untouched by the bureaucracy and power-struggles of the modern Church. Romantic and untested, the vision stays with me as I journey onward.
Miles later, I arrive at my destination. A circle of stones, much like the ones my ancestors frequented, but here the fantasy ends. I am standing in a war memorial, on a different continent, built to honor the passing of young soldiers. There is no forested temple, only a dark and gleaming ribbon winding through barren countryside while stars gleam overhead. It is cold, much colder than the temperate hillsides I call home. The icy wind blasts through the spaces between stones, and I am grateful for my warm coat. Still, that wind slips through the gaps, and soon my wrists and waist, as well as cheeks and nose, are burning with cold. I look for the dawn.
If you have ever waited for the sun to rise, you know it doesn’t suddenly appear over the horizon. There is a gentle brightening, a hint of what is to come. If you’re not looking for it, you might miss it. Gradually, you realize you can make out the shapes of things around you. But it isn’t until the light shows itself, the beams slowly illuminating all in their path, that you feel their warmth. And just like that, a visceral sense of relief and safety that is so hard to find in the cold blackness of night, and a deep knowledge of faith, fulfilled.
Alicia Tremblay is a doctor, writer, and homesteader. She lives in the Snoqualmie Valley with her husband, dog, and two cats.