Opportunity doesn’t always knock; sometimes, it shows up in your inbox. I had fully expected to sit Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia out with my Goldilocks of flat screens, nestled in my comfy chair in my cozy climate-controlled living room munching on some tasty snacks. I was perfectly happy with my “ticket” to this historic visit even if it wasn’t up close and personal. But when fate comes in a handy email and offers you the real golden tickets, you exchange your slippers for some comfortable walking shoes and quick.
To say we were excited is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic. Doomsday reports of unprecedented traffic snarls, logistical nightmares, and an expected weekend attendance over the million mark did not dampen our enthusiasm in the least. If anything, it just deepened our resolve. The Pope was rewriting history books with his inaugural address to Congress and his first canonization of a saint on American soil. Who were we to fold in the face of a little up close and personal time with our fellow man? Who were we to buckle under the promise of a day spent hoofing it? We laughed in the face of naysayers and rational advice. We were going all in for Papa Francisco. Go Big or Go to Philly was our new mantra.
Now we know Fate just loves this kind of hubris, but at the start of our papal adventure, we were catching lucky breaks at every turn. It was like being in Disney with endless Fast Passes. No lines, no crowds, no muss, no fuss. We half expected to find a unicorn or a tiny leprechaun doling out extra treasure around every corner. That’s the kind of luck we were having.
We were even—dare I say it—having fun. Our spiritual journal was turning into a total trip and we were loving every minute of it.
But then we literally hit the wall. The massive, impressive, immovable, impenetrable wall that only a crowd of 100,000 people can make. You can almost hear all the air fizzing out of our happy balloons.
Yeah. From the moment we hit the wall to the minute we crossed the security checkpoint took four hours. Soak that one in for a minute. Four hours of shoulder to shoulder shuffling at the rate of six inches every twenty minutes with no food or bathrooms or places to sit. Our buoyant journey had just turned into a true pilgrimage. There was now a little suffering on this road.
Every hour or so, our fellow pilgrims would pop a baby into the air and we would all clap. Sometimes a group would burst into song and everyone would sing. But, for the most part, we were all just shuffling forward, inch by tiny little inch, looking for the promised land known as the security checkpoint.
In the end, this is the closest we would get to a pope sighting in real life. By the time we made it through security, our golden tickets couldn’t get us into the mass any more. Cue the violins. We were fifteen minutes late and there was just no room at this inn anymore.
We were some sad sack pilgrims at this point.
But we did find a little rest for the weary on the steps of the Franklin Institute for us and hundreds of our new best friends.
After all the standing and waiting and shuffling, we were close but no Pope. Seeing Pope Francis would have made great fodder for our Facebook and Instagram feeds. Our papal encounter might have even become a great story to trot out at the holidays this year. We didn’t get to see Pope Francis that day but we don’t regret trying to see him at all. Despite the spectacularly suckalicious parts of the day like the line that would never end, we are still putting this day in the win column. Because, and this is not revisionist history or a Pollyanna spin, it still felt like we were part of something special.
Cattle lines do not usually inspire the best in mankind, but people weren’t just good that day—they were great. If any baby cried or toddler complained, we never heard them. If any person was rude or disrespectful, it must have been out of earshot. Strangers spoke kindly, warmly and generously to one another for hours in spite of true discomfort and a frustratingly long line. There was laughter, there was music, and there was brotherhood. It was then, and still feels like, nothing short of an everyday miracle.
In a life made up of thousands of ordinary days, there are not that many when we can say we were our best selves. We didn’t just show up for Pope Francis that day; we stood before him. Not just as individuals but as part of a big sprawling mass of people, we said something important with our sheer volume. We said, “welcome to our country.” We said, “look at our kind and generous and hopeful selves.” We said, in a profoundly real and brutally honest way, “we can be patient and loving and careful with each other.”
In a world gone a little mad, it was a beautiful thing to say. It was the loveliest of things to find.
We really did have the golden ticket after all.
Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”