The ticket to Mass with the Pope at Madison Square Garden was an amazing surprise and gift. Getting sick the day of the Mass was also a surprise, just less amazing, and not so much a gift. Remember when I was invited to the Academy Awards, and I went with a 104 degree fever? Well, there was no fever this time, but still. I am beginning to think that I have some sort of sick ability to make myself ill for those things I am really looking forward to. At least that is what my husband says. Not to compare the Pope to the Academy Awards, because there is no comparison. Pope Francis is the exact opposite of the red carpet, self indulgence, and the desire for prestige and power. The Pope is humble and meek, and he looks like my father, which makes him all the more adorable to me. And I really, really wanted to catch a glimpse of him.
So did 35,000 other ticketed people.
We assumed we would walk right into the Garden. That is why, two hours early, we chose to sit in a dark and seedy Gyro shop across from MSG, you know, to kill time, and possibly contract some sort of incurable disease. We assumed we would walk in, flash a ticket, go through security, than enjoy concessions and confessions, while purchasing all sorts of Pope memorabilia. We had no idea that the line for ticketed people started at the door at 32nd street, but ended at 27th street and 8th avenue. And the only way to know that the line wrapped around the block up to 27th street, was by walking down to 24th street, over to 8th, than back up to 27th.
Almost four hours. We waited. On line. In heels. Sick. For almost four hours.
And it was interesting, really. Because when you are with total strangers for that amount of time, you see a lot of things. You hear a lot of things. And you begin to forget what you are even waiting for. You are just with these people...this humanity...these New York City folks, who are growing tired, and weary, and dare I say a little bit cranky. I started to wonder if the Pope was really in town...like maybe, this was just some social experiment. Maybe he just wanted to see how we treated one another. Did we love our neighbor? Were we kind? Did we reach out to the lost and forgotten? Were we self less? Do we show mercy? Are we humble?? How small are we?
As we inched our way at a snails pace, closer to the Pope, the heat burning our shoulders, I could not escape the irony. People pleading for spare tickets, only to be ignored. The homeless were slumped over on the side walk, sleeping on boxes, dressed in hats and coats despite the summer like day, while we all looked straight ahead, chewing our gum, popping our mints into hungry mouths, prized silver tickets in hand. A gentleman offered a spare ticket to a Priest, and as he walked to the end of the line feeling like he had won the lottery you could overhear the crowd, cynical and doubtful, "I will bet that guy's not even a Priest!" A woman used the name of God in vain, as the Sisters of Charity quietly walked by. And another tried to ditch the woman she ran into that she knew from work, exclaiming, "She is crazy." I was beginning to feel like I was on my own road to Calvary, and wondered if rather than spending money on getting Jennifer Hudson and Harry Connick Jr. to perform at the Pope pre-show, they should have installed the stations of the cross up and down 7th Avenue.
And is it me, or is there something very Hollywood and not right sounding about "Pope pre-show"?
Once through security, we dashed by the Priests hearing confessions because we were starving, which is ironic, considering it is usually a deep starvation that sends me running into confession. After waiting on another line for food, we journeyed to another floor in hopes of a shorter wait. I really wanted a soft pretzel. I had only eaten a bag of cough drops all day, and well, as good as they were, honey and lemon, I was still hungry. So we raced by the gifts...I had hoped for something small to bring home, maybe a magnet, to have blessed by the Pope and to stick on my fridge, because what says, "I saw the Pope" better than a magnet on the side of your fridge? But the pretzel was all I could think about. My feet might have been bleeding.
We got the pretzel. My friend bought two...one for later...we weren't taking any more chances. And water. It cost us $28, and was worth every cent. After crawling over the people in our row to get to our seats, I might have let out a sigh of relief as I got off of my feet, and popped a piece of warm, salty pretzel into my mouth. I ate that piece of pretzel as if I had been starved of every meal for the last year. And it was as we were chewing, that my friend looked up and said, "Is that the procession??? Mass is starting?????"
Yes. I am the woman that was shoving a hot pretzel in her mouth in the presence of Pope Francis during Mass.
The pretzel, sadly, went into my bag, and I tried hard to be in the moment.
That is the Pope.
There he is.
I want my pretzel.
The Holy Father.
I am so blessed.
Look at the Pope Laura.
My pretzel is in my bag.
I am not sure how I expected to feel when I saw the Pope, but I know I was not expecting to be wishing I could eat my pretzel.
I thought I would cry.
I thought it would be the holiest moment of my entire life.
I thought I would be hungering for Christ, not my over priced snack.
Next to me was a two year old who shouted, "I have to poop!"
All around me were cameras...people taking video and pictures through out the entire mass; looking through small lenses when right there below them was all they came to see.
Phones were going off.
People were shouting out to their Papa.
It was a spectacle, and I am sure great love was behind it all, but for me, the sick girl with bleeding feet, a throat on fire, ADHD, and a pretzel in her bag, I found it very hard to concentrate. It was difficult for me to find that spiritual connection, especially since to me, MSG means the New York Rangers, and spilling warm beer. I did pause when the Eucharist was placed in the center of my palm. I did bow my head in prayer, and threw out every intention from every loved one I had in my heart. I did try to connect. And when it was all over, I ate my pretzel faster than you can say, "Praise God!"
Now that I am home, with my box of tissues, cup of tea, and quiet, I am better able to see that day for what it was. For what it was meant to be. Interestingly enough, I do not think it was about seeing the Pope, but more so about my journey to him. My feet did not hurt when I was moving toward his holiness, it was in the standing still, the motionless, the stuck in place, when I felt the pain. But the journey? The journey was good. And it is now in the silence of my heart that I see the homeless I walked by. I see the faces of those strangers that stood by me. I see that annoying co-worker, her lipstick red, her eyes big and wide. I see the nuns clutching their large wooden beads, the dog walkers and cyclists. I see my beautiful and generous friend, who I got to know so much better as we shared stories over a diet coke, french fries and coffee on our journey back home. And I see myself, in a crowd of 35,000, waiting to see...wanting to catch a glimpse...making this pilgrimage, yearning to experience emotions large...and walking away from it all, still wanting to journey, knowing I am not finished, and feeling so incredibly blessed and wonderfully small.
"No one can grow without accepting smallness." - Pope Francis