I recently went on a trip to see my brother in law in New Jersey. While there, we took a day trip to NYC. I’d never been to New York before, and I had to be cajoled/coerced into it. As I said in a prior post, I’ve been struggling with anxiety. That anxiety tends to hit mostly when I’m surrounded by people. If I can’t find a speedy exit, I’m going to have a panic attack. NYC seemed like the last place I should go.
But I’m also a very curious person. And after watching the show White Collar and seeing numerous movies (like Ghostbusters) that all take place in the city that never shuts up long enough to listen to silence, I wanted to walk some of those streets myself.
The first place we visited is right around the corner from Penn Station. It’s the Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina in the Church of St. John the Baptist. I’ve always been a big fan of St. Pio. He was a large man who could be gruff and was known to yell at obstinate sinners. At the same time, he was a very tenderhearted man with a great sense of humor and a lot of courage.
Padre Pio died in the late ’60s, so we have lots of photographs of him, which I’ve seen. However, looking at someone’s photo, and reading their writings and the stories about them, doesn’t create the connection, the bond, that comes from physically being in their presence.
In the shrine are two relics of the saint: his sock, stained with blood from the stigmata he suffered, and one of the fingerless gloves he was known to wear.
As a Catholic, I’m used to relics. I’ve seen several. However, the relics I normally see are tiny bits of cloth or bone set in an equally small reliquary. I’ve never looked at something and recognized it. I’ve never looked at an object and was able to connect it to some portion of a saint’s life, like Padre Pio’s glove.
The connection I felt with the saint, at that moment, was nearly overwhelming. I trembled as tears fell. When my husband came to stand next to me, I looked up, half expecting it to be the saint himself.
Our last visit of the day was to the 9/11 memorial. I was sixteen when the planes took down the Twin Towers. I still remember the sinking feeling in my gut as I watched the footage. It felt as if all the violence I’d seen happen across the ocean decided to suddenly visit us, to thump us across the forehead so we’d know how it felt to lose someone in a terror attack. I had no family or friends, and I didn’t know anyone who had someone, in the Towers, but something crucial for me died that day.
What died for me that day was the sense that, in the US, I was safe. Until that moment, I couldn’t imagine something like 9/11 happening here. It was always ‘over there’.
As I walked pass the rushing water pouring into the old elevator shafts of the buildings, and looked at the names, I once more felt connected to that day. I once more felt the shock of it. I looked back on it with older, more experienced eyes, and, in a way, felt the loss more deeply. I stopped and read a few names and tried to imagine what they were doing, what they were thinking, moments before their lives were consumed by fire.
We all seek it. Whether it be connection with family, with friends, or with anyone, we all long for it in some way. We look for it in order to feel that we have some worth. We look for it in order to feel some form of camaraderie. We look for it so that we can better understand who came before us because that will affect where we have to go. It gives us a layer of meaning to our lives.
In NYC, you can brush up against someone, turn to say ‘excuse me’, and the person is already gone. People don’t meet eyes and you’re told not to look at the buskers or the people trying to sell you things. And yet there are touchstones where we seek connection. In this case, it was a shrine and a memorial. It goes to prove that no matter your religious beliefs, your class, or where you live, we all seek to be connected with someone. It is a commonality we share with all people.