I was an escapee from a Jesuit Retreat House. Walking the sidewalks of suburban Cleveland on a hot July afternoon, I didn’t know where I was going and didn’t really care. 

I was walking away from a six day silent retreat.  The safety of this wooded sanctuary seemed an illusion.  I didn’t really know anymore what was real and what was imagined.  I stood in front of a statue of Jesus and tried to remember how to pray.  I had long familiar talks with my mother, fifteen years dead, and began to doubt my sanity.  

My beautiful mother was loving and well loved, generous and good.  She was also unhappy.  I assumed as a child that when I grew up I would find a way to save her. I hung on to this mission even as I began to resent it.

Less than one month past her fiftieth birthday my mother was packing for a long awaited trip to Belgium. I was glad to see her go for selfish as well as unselfish reasons. I secretly saw her trip as a respite from my responsibilities to her.  She was not feeling well but I didn’t grasp how ill she was until one week into her trip, thousands of miles away, she died of a massive heart attack. I felt that I had ultimately, irrevocably failed her.

As the years went by I would converse with her.  Seeking forgiveness, I was reminded of her love. She, of course, forgave me for all my less than perfect actions and inactions. I kept coming back to her because I couldn’t forgive myself.  

There in the woods, I wondered at my own obsessiveness.  Just before I bolted the retreat house, I turned to her ghost one more time and asked if our repeated talks were somehow holding her back.  Maybe I was keeping her spirit from moving on by calling on her over and over again. She said to me, “You don’t hold me back… you hold yourself back. Let yourself go.”

And so I went… out the gate and beyond the watchful eyes of the stone Jesus.

Several blocks down the street I came to a park.  Young and old were picnicking around a pond, speaking words I could not hear.  In the middle of the pond was a drowning sparrow. As it thrashed its wings desperately I looked around to see if anyone was going to do anything about it. Nobody in this entire dreamscape seemed to notice.  I started to walk away thinking how cruel and temporary life is.  Then I turned back and started rolling up my pant legs.  As I approached the pond the sparrow amazingly started swimming towards me.  When it arrived at the waters edge I scooped it up and carried it to safety.  

The sparrow lay motionless in the sun.  I felt a horrible sadness. Then it moved. It was breathing and pretty soon I was able to prop it up on its feet.  I hovered over it, the situation still seemed precarious.  When a large curious dog started heading our way I reached over to grab the bird.  

It flew off.  Gloriously, beyond my grasp, it soared into the sky and out of sight.