I found myself thinking about my life’s paths the other day. While I am comfortable that most of my choices have been the right ones, I have pondered when I steered wrongly and wonder about those paths that lie ahead and those things that are out of my control like whether or not the economy will improve? Will we be able to continue to afford health insurance? Will social security and medicare be there for us in a few years? What about our children and their children? Will I live longer than my parents did? Will our senior years be comfortable? Have I been a good person, a good parent, a good steward of God’s good earth? All those types of questions that wake me up in the middle of the night and bring out the fret and angst and even some anger and that sometimes keeps me in the blue mist of worry until the sky starts to lighten again.
My Tom and I have often taken those roads in life less traveled and they have not always been easy and without consequences – most of them good, but many challenging with bumps in the road and all sorts of detours and even the path that led us, quite unexpectedly, here to the cutoff.
I was thinking about our varied paths the other day as Tom and I plodded up hills and through snow, me slipping and sliding, he sure-footed but still in his special boot, his foot still healing – and he still lending me a supportive hand. We decided to spend an hour or so in the sun and warming temperatures at St. James at Sag Bridge on Archer Ave. in Lemont.
St. James is the oldest Catholic country parish in the county with a cornerstone of 1833. It sits on a picturesque bluff overlooking an area settled by mostly Irish immigrants who helped to build the I & M Canal. From this bluff you can see much of the surrounding valley, making it a preferred vantage point for the French fort that stood nearby, long before the area was settled, and where Father Jacques Marquette, traveling with explorer Louis Joliet, was said to have conducted a mass.
The cemetery is a restful place, high upon a hill, where it surrounds the church with its towering steeple. We have visited it before when the season was more conducive to exploring, but it held a special lure on the still, cold day in early March. I marveled at how the church was built with stones being hauled up the steep incline in the early half of the 1800′s and I wondered aloud and in amazement at the steep ravines pall bearers and mourners have had to traverse to bring parishioners to their final rest.
The folks who settled here were survivors who came across the Atlantic on the coffin boats from a life of abject poverty in an Ireland ravished with the Great Hunger, only to be shunned by those already here. To have traveled even further from the east coast to the wilds of an unsettled Chicagoland was a difficult path to say the least and I can only imagine the conditions under which these immigrants lived and worked. These were people who made the choice to leave a land where they surely would die from hunger to go into the unknowns of America, where they might still die from hunger and far away from those they left behind. They then chose the path to cross the continent and they relied on their church and faith to see them through.
Some of the gravestones at St. James are so old they are cracked and in disrepair and the words engraved upon them are so worn they are impossible to read. Some make me want to weep at the ages upon them of children, babies, young men and women. Then, there are others of lives long-lived. We stood reading a very modern 20th century stone only to turn around and read of the life of a woman who came to America and to this area in the late 19th century and who lived to be 102!
As was the Irish custom in the 19th century, many of the stones are etched with the biography of those interred; dates, of course, but also the year and county and parish from whence in Ireland they came, and other information, like occupations and trades and honors and achievements. The graveyard is a history lesson of the great migration of Irish – and the paths they chose to take for the future of their children and the honor of their parents and the faith they held so dear.
This picture is of an icy path we chose not to take that day. I stood and looked and there at the path’s end was a lone gravestone. It is rather large and I imagine a family is buried there. I wondered about the paths they took and the selection of this burial plot so far from others and I noticed the way the sun was casting shadows along the path and, like all of life’s obstacles and choices, they lined up, row by row, and then the one long shadow, almost straight and not quite centered, and it spoke to me of a lifetime path I hope upon which I have honored no matter which way it veered.