It’s Only a Coincidence

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There are no such things as coincidences. I was reminded of that on Wednesday while on a Celtic Day of Reflection retreat. Carl Jung called these synchronicity. Some of us refer to fate and destiny. Whatever we call it, the world is interconnected in so many ways and those random occurrences float in and around us from who we sit next to in grade school to joining a book club, and including the world of the internet which has only brought us closer together, gathering with people who share the same hobbies, music, art, and so many other topics and then quietly moving beyond them.

In 1986, I was a college junior. I was dating a boy. Until I wasn’t.

Later that year, my friend who was student teaching in England invited me to join her there for winter break. Other than a lack of money there was no reason to say no. It wasn’t like I had a boyfriend. So I joined her. She made all the plans.

I arrived on the last day of 1986, ringing in the New Year in London’s Trafalgar Square, and we were off. Wednesday’s Celtic retreat talked quite a bit about thin spaces and in a place as old as the island of Britain they are everywhere the eye can see, and more likely beyond the eye’s sight. You will instinctively know them if you’ve ever experienced them. Stonehenge is one of those places. From the first sight of the giant monoliths, I felt something. The past swirls around it and blends with the present, and in the cold dusk of January with my breath visible amongst the stones, it was almost as if I was in another time long, long ago but also right now. It was visceral, and it defies description. Indeed that is another story for another time.

From there our itinerary had us traveling west to Wales. All of it was wonderful. Adventurous, thrilling, exciting with newness around every corner. I took it all in, and enjoyed every moment in every space.

And soon we arrived in Wales. Up until that moment I thought of Wales as an extension of England – don’t tell that to the Welsh – the thought is an unforgivable sin. The sun was setting, we were walking, trying to arrive at the youth hostel before it got really dark. However, something changed. The air? The sky? The way my foot fell on the pavement? All of the above?

From the minute I set foot in Wales, I felt something beyond anything I’d ever experienced before, including that recent excursion at Stonehenge. I’ve always believed in the supernatural, the spiritual, I’ve seen ghosts and Wales was…I don’t know what Wales was, but it changed my life completely in those few moments.

The road between Pen-y-Pass and Llanberis, North Wales, 1987.
(c)1987-2021

It was piercing, this strong feeling that permeated every fiber of my being. I felt an ache, a calling to me as if I’d returned to a home I never knew. There was something special and the word special wasn’t enough to describe the wonder. In that moment, I became Welsh in my own way. Something mystical changed in me. Magical.

It set me on a path of a mental immersion into Wales, the Welsh people, the land, the culture, even the language. It was through the language many years later that I met a native speaker who helped me translate some fiction I was writing and through that friendship that he was able to guide me where to go when the sudden opportunity to travel appeared, and this was a key in one of those not-coincidences. He recommended Caernarfon and visiting its castle. This suggestion shaped my whole trip. I stayed at a hostel within the remaining walls of the walled town. Emerging out from under the stone arch onto the Promenade, sniffing the sea air of the Menai Strait, turning just a tiny bit left, and there, right there in front of me was the huge stone wall of one of the towers of the Castle. It was spectacular.

While Caernarfon Castle is in Wales, it is not a Welsh castle; it was not built by the medieval Welsh. A few days later, upon leaving Caernarfon I went to a truly Welsh castle, Dolwyddelan. While the castle wasn’t there at the time, this was the land where Llywelyn the Great was born and grew up in the 11th century. This was one of his many strongholds where he commanded most of Gwynedd, in the North of Wales. He built the castle in the 13th century and over the years it has been added to and restored until finally falling into disrepair.

The mist and the rain of that day only added to the mystery and the mystical. Everything is green and there are gatherings of sheep in every corner of every field or so it seems. Some were so close to the road that I thought the car would hit one or two and I honestly don’t know how they were missed. They were close enough to touch their wool from the window.

In the interim, between this solo adventure in 2009 and our family visit in 2017, I went through some emotional upheaval and through that (a much longer story than what will fit here) I joined the Catholic Church, going through the RCIA program and receiving all the sacraments of to become fully joined with the church. Like the 2009 trip to Wales, my path as a Catholic was filled with an open mind and no regrets; no second thoughts about my conversion. It is the only thing I’ve done in my life that did not foster second thoughts and questions of my conviction. That in itself was an important sign in support of my choice.

But the coincidences were not through with me yet.

While going through the RCIA process, I had need to choose a saint for confirmation. It became my predisposition to find a Welsh saint. There are not that many but I felt strongly about my Welsh connection. I had narrowed my decision down to three saints (one of whom was Welsh) and in choosing St. Elen, her patronage of travelers and introducing the monastic church to Wales were both high on my list to affirming that she was who I wanted the connection through my confirmation. There were two things that really sealed it for me. The first was something that should have stood out to me from the start and that is that Ellen is my mother’s middle name. How I didn’t see it from the beginning is beyond me. The second is how the saint is known in Wales: as St. Elen of Caernarfon.

Caernarfon.

That place I’d never heard of before my friend suggested it seemingly out of the blue.

It only cemented my choice.

I tried to do research about St. Elen, but sadly there is very little. She is often conflated with St. Helena of Constantinople, mainly because of their similar names and their sons’ similar names, Cystennin and Constantine the Great. In this research I discovered a holy well named for St. Elen and was shocked and astounded to find out that its location was in Dolwyddelan, just down the road, walking distance from Dolwyddelan Castle where I’d actually been five years before.

When we made our family trip to Northern Ireland in 2017 I decided that we would add in a pilgrimage for me to visit St. Elen’s holy well in Dolwyddelan.

Holy Well of St. Elen of Caernarfon, Dolwyddelan, North Wales, 2017.
(c)2017-2021

It had come full circle. Arriving for the first time in Wales in 1987 at Betws-y-Coed by train and taking the pilgrimage to St. Elen’s Holy Well in Dolwyddelan in 2017, thirty years in between and a mere six miles apart reveals that coincidences do not exist, but providence does.

One Dose Down!

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COVID VACCINE THOUGHTS AND REACTION Updated 3/17/21 – see below

This post perfectly aligns with yesterday’s inspire for March: gratitude. I am truly grateful to have received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Much gratitude to all the doctors, nurses, health care workers, scientists, named and unnamed whose hands guided this moment to fruition. I said all along that I would take the vaccine when and if Dr. Fauci and Ron Klain said it was safe – they have, and I did. And I will also shout out a thanks to President Biden and his Administration for the roll-out!

At the FEMA site I received my vaccine at, it could not have gone smoother. Everything was very organized. There was plenty of parking and a shuttle to bring us to the site. The wait was minimal. I was in and out even before my scheduled time.

Knowing myself I did not eat breakfast. I have a nervous stomach when I’m unfamiliar with a place or what’s coming next. I did bring a bottle of water, although they had bottles of water to take.

A few notes:

  • Wear short sleeves – it’s easier to get jabbed that way.
  • It was recommended that I receive the shot in my dominant arm – they said that it hurts less in the long run.
  • No pictures were allowed in the medical area, but on the way to the exit was a sign for selfies. I am happy to say that I was not the only one taking selfies – there were at least two other dorks.
  • There’s a fifteen minute wait for observation, all socially distanced. You need to keep track of your own time, but there was a large clock at the front of the seating area.
  • If you’re getting the Pfizer or Moderna, they will give you a card with your next appointment – same time, same place.
  • They recommended staying hydrated and provided water bottles to take with you when the observation period was over.

Reaction:

It’s been about two hours, and I have no reaction or side effects. My arm doesn’t hurt at all, and didn’t since the initial poke. Gently touching it also does not hurt at all.

If anything changes or develops, I will update.

UPDATE 3/17/21: About 13 hours after the initial shot, I began to feel a little pain at the injection site – very, very little, minor pain, but more than was there all day. Waking up this morning, about 20 hours after the shot, I was a little stiff, but I rotated my arm and stretched and now all that remains is minor pain from the needle. No swelling, no hotness, no redness.

Yesterday afternoon, I did feel a bit achy and tired, but I can’t tell if that’s a reaction or my normal Tuesday afternoon. I’m inclined to think it’s just me and unrelated to the vaccine.

Continue reading

Inspire. March.

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“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

— John Milton, English philosopher

Original. (c)2021
Inspired by the following art:
Ruth the Gleaner, Suzanne Moore, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. 

I was too sick last week to publish this month’s Inspire post. I didn’t have anything come to me for inspiration, which to be honest, is usually how it goes. Either a quotation or a picture – something starts the post off in my mind, but not this time.

As I kept staring at the continually postponed space in the planner, nothing came, and as I recovered a few days later, I spent time catching up on everything I’d missed.

And still, the idea of gratefulness kept returning to mind. Lent has a way of turning thoughts inward. More praying, more meditating, more contemplation, and yes, more gratitude. It is a quieter few weeks as we think on the journey to Easter and the Resurrection, and in the quiet, we are able to be with our thoughts and see the blessings and the gratitude that we often miss along the way in our cluttered minds.

Was it not doom-scrolling on Twitter, checking each morning that the world was still intact? I was certainly grateful for that.

Was it the covid relief money that our family received this weekend? I am very grateful for that. I paid all of my bills on Sunday. We’re even considering a home improvement, although that will take more discussion.

Was it teacher friends getting their vaccines?

Was it new Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, a brilliant, direct, honest representative of the Biden Admnistration? Watch her daily briefings and see what I mean.

Was it just the very idea of the Biden Administration being in charge? Waking up this morning to a quiet Twitter, the President visiting with his grandchildren at his family home and attending Sunday Mass? It’s certainly different.

This week, I’m filled with gratitude. For the researchers, the scientists, the doctors, the ongoing competence with the vaccine roll-out, and on a personal note for everyone I will encounter tomorrow at the vaccine site where I will be receiving my first dose!

With credit to the gratitude I feel to those who have gone before me, I will publish pictures and a listing of side effects (if any) that I encounter.

I feel very strongly that everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, and I also feel that everyone should have all of the information available to them. Side effects are individual and not everyone gets them. Knowing what you may expect before you go is the first step in moving past the pandemic year. It may sound cliche, but knowledge is power. I hope to add to your knowledge and I’d be grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.