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  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

And Then I Blogged Through Belgium


Thus far, my sixties have been the most exciting and fun part of my life. I never believed I would say that a few years ago. Sixty is, after all, a daunting age that marks the threshold of what we know as “old age,” or at least “older” age. And I certainly went through a time in my late fifties when I could feel my significance in the world, along with my smooth, tight skin, slipping and sagging away. But then I turned 60. I stopped working full-time, and started becoming the things I used to dream of when I was 20. Jerry Garcia was right, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

This preamble marks the lead in to a trip I never thought I would be taking. I am not a world traveler. During my work years, the weekends meant the grocery store, a hike with the dog and a nap in front of one of my favorite HGTV shows. When the sweet, young woman at the checkout counter asked me enthusiastically what I was “doing” this weekend, I was sure to give her a disappointing answers that did not involve Jell-O shots or Kama Sutra oils, let alone a trip anywhere . . .but I digress.

Next week, I leave for Belgium. This is a trip that has been a year and a half in the making. My friend Susan and I cooked it up one afternoon when we were sitting at the tea house talking about our favorite group of women, The Beguines–a group of feminist mystics that took root in the area around France and Belgium in the 12th century. “Let’s go trace their footsteps,” she said. “Let’s go sense their history,” I replied.

Now Susan is a world traveler and when she actually began putting the pieces of this trip together I totally freaked out. “You mean get on a plane and fly over the ocean to a foreign country,” I would scream over the phone. Week by week, we constructed a trip, a plan and a group of people who would join us. My gig once we get over there is to help people deepen their spiritual story through writing. Writing is my grounding wire. It’s what I do. It’s what I understand. Everything is a story and I am a student of story. I’ve taught creative writing in my spare time for over twenty years–but my students up until now have been troubled teens and incarcerated women. This will be a class of clergy, former clergy and really nice people. My girls in prison were nice people too, albeit addicted to meth and a few other bad habits. Somehow I am making this trip for them too, wanting to light a candle in a place where the Beguines once met, in hopes that the light, the warmth of the flame and the prayer it symbolizes will find its way to them, comforting them in the night.

So, I’m going. A week from Friday, I get on a plane for way too many hours and I travel to Europe, where I have only ever been one time, thirty years ago. And I get to sit with all these amazing theological students and seekers, spiritual directors and one retired judge who have given their lives to the constant exploration of faith and spirit that informs their lives. In a way I feel like the kid who got on the wrong bus. Then I remember that I have something to offer in terms of writing and story and I trust that if I can coax open the doors of story in a group of incarcerated meth addicts, this group might be a little easier.

This blog has never had a theme. When I am not practicing being a novelist, I write here, and it’s really nothing more than just little slices of my life, laid bare to the world. In the next couple of weeks though, my blog will have an actual theme, the theme of “The Grand, So Big, Once In a Lifetime, Wow, Trip.”

Meanwhile, back at the preamble, I love being in my 60’s. I write and study story every day. I write novels. I take naps (still in front of HGTV) and evidently I can travel. The significance in the world that I once felt slipping away has been replaced by an unfolding into a fullness of being that I could not have imagined ten years ago.

I have a phone call with my friend and retreat partner, Susan today. This might just be the first day we’ve talked where I don’t scream into the phone “get on a plane and fly over an ocean to a strange land–are you friggen’ kidding me?!”

Stay tuned for more stories about this travel rookie’s once in a lifetime journey to Belgium and my encounters with spiritual sisters from the 11th and 12th century! And I’ll let you know how my writing classes go. How joyous to be older and able to unabashedly nerd out!

#writing #blogging #travels #Belgium #inspiration

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