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Stepping on the dry, dirt road
It starts with a dusty road, or perhaps a tree
The other day we visited what is perhaps my favorite spot on earth. It certainly is not what you might expect. I will not play the game of “three guesses,” as you will not guess correctly. That spot is the National Shrine of St. Philomena in Briggsville, Wisconsin. Briggsville is a tiny community on the edge of Lake Mason northwest of Madison. They have one gas station with two pumps only. The station doubles as a small convenience store and bait shop. Briggsville has one bar and restaurant across the street from the station. And a post office, let’s not forget the post office. Oh yes, and a small hotel for overnight fishermen. However, just a small distance north on county highway A is St. Mary’s Help of Christians Catholic Church, itself quite tiny. St. Mary’s is the home of the National Shrine of St. Philomena.
(Photo of the National Shrine of St. Philomena in Briggsville WI by Walter Emerson)
The point of this post is not to go into the history of the shrine. However, my wife and I are very devoted to St. Philomena and have been visiting the shrine regularly for over a decade as of this writing. The shrine and area surrounding it is so wonderfully peaceful. It is “out in the middle of nowhere.” Except for state highway 23 and county highway A, one does not drive “through” Briggsville. One drives “to” it as a destination. Peacefulness and serenity await you at St. Philomena’s shrine.
Our recent visit was on a hot summer day with temperatures in the mid-nineties. A gusty breeze was blowing. It reminded me so much of those hot, breezy summer days I experienced as a young person in my hometown of Guymon on the high plains of western Oklahoma. About ten years ago, I had a similar “hot, dry, breezy summer day” experience in the fields of Illinois close to where we were living at the time. I wrote a poem at the time reflecting on those days of my childhood. Our recent visit to St. Philomena’s shrine reminded me of the same as I stood in the heat with the hot breeze blowing in my face. A half-century has passed since I first experienced the “hot, dry, breezy summer day” moment. Yet, it seems as if it is all one moment - my childhood, the day in the fields of Illinois, and this visit to Briggsville. One moment - experienced over a half-century in time.
Martin Heidegger expressed Being as Time, or Being and Time as one, which is the title of his famous opus. Time meant something very different to Heidegger than it does to most of us. Past, future, and present all create one amalgamated non-linear moment of being for Heidegger. I tend to think of this moment in terms of my Catholic faith and the philosophy of Heidegger’s acquaintance Edith Stein. Yet, I think this moment is reflective of his intent and of what he was trying to explain. Herr Heidegger, let me tell you what I experienced as Being and Time. I think you will smile.
Stepping on the dry, dirt road It began on dry dirt It happens sometimes to me It is unique to summer time To hot, dry, breezy summer days It starts with a dusty road, or perhaps a tree Why it is that summer’s lazy mood Over dry, pebbly dirt or fields mowed With distant leaves brushing playfully about Brings it to being, into astonishing bloom I do not know Still, I looked up from that dry and sandy road And I caught sight of one of those dancing trees Swaying in the wind through air thick with heat Then came the moment, the one that happens Slowly, firmly, halting my being More than a moment, it is a whispering call To be heard it stops time like a picture Though, it is yet greater still For this call transcends distance as well Making it not simply stillness, but Now There, like an irresistible unknowing It was there, appearing before me As I was standing on that dusty road And staring at that tree It was dry, hot, and breezy, the magical three I stopped, right there, going no more While my spirit continued outward through it To a time and a place of my youth When I also stood timelessly still Just like I was Now I wanted to reach out and touch That age and place long past, so far And wondered if back then I had Unsuspectingly reached forward to Now For a moment, it was one life, eternal Timid, the one with me looked curiously Suggesting maybe we should move on And this I thought, too For transcendence does not mean That time no longer has its meaningful space It is usually no use explaining The only thing one can do Is to simply step forward on the dirt Entering time, again, yet again But knowing, oh knowing, that heaven is there