Several years ago my mom and I came across a book series by a woman named Kathleen McGowan called The Magdalene Line series. The series explores real and “exceptional women throughout history who have changed the world through their courage”. We both devoured the fictional books in the series and are still waiting for the 4th which apparently is in the works. In the second book of the series “The Book of Love” the story centres around the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France, about 80 km southwest of Paris. This is the site of an ancient labyrinth built into the floor of the cathedral. Every Friday in the summer, the floor of the labyrinth is cleared of chairs so that pilgrims from all over the world can walk it. The love for labyrinth’s has increased in recent years and are cherished by many for their meditative qualities.
It’s a walking prayer and an expression of love for your faith. Whatever that faith may be.
When Mom and the girls were here we had intended to make the trip to Chartres to see this special place. But unfortunately a week of bad jet lag and my mom’s recent issues with her health saw us letting it go. It broke her heart to make that decision but she preferred sadness over the risk of landing herself into a medical nightmare. I’d hardly slept either that night so between the two of us it became the easier decision. We’d rock Paris instead. And we did.
My mom is an incredibly special women. Few people I know have overcome the adversities in life that she has. A victim of child abuse by a woman whose brain was twisted by the ravages of living through WWII in Holland and years of mixing and overmedication. Instead of following in the footsteps of her mother, which so many victims would do, my mom became a loving and caring mother to my brother and I. I was so excited to share Paris with her and my girls.
Honestly, watching the wonder in her eyes when she see’s something like this is the best gift she could ever give me.
Yesterday I woke up and realized it was Friday. My last Friday in Paris. I could either wander around Paris again which is always a good thing or I could take it up a notch.
So, even though she couldn’t be with me, as she was probably tucked in her bed sleeping at home in Trenton Ontario, I went to Chartres to walk the labyrinth in her honour. I meditated on the love between mothers and and their children and basked in gratitude that Mom became the mother she was and is so I could become the mother I am to my girls.
Mothers are the people who love us for no good reason. And those of us who are mothers know it’s the most exquisite love of all.
Forewarning : It’s a long video. I made it so mom could watch and imagine more clearly being there. These steps are for you Mom!
When I stepped into the church I had to go through back to back doors. I guess they don’t want to let light in that might disturb the otherwise darkened and quiet ambiance of the inside of the cathedral. I stepped into the coolness inside the church and didn’t mind the lower light as it just felt like the whole world outside was hushed up. There was a whole pile of people there with the same purpose I had, to walk the labyrinth. People of all ages, colours, and belief systems were in the space. Whatever you might feel about religion, walking the labyrinth can have a deep meditative quality, and with the cathedrals ability to lock out the sounds of the world you can fully expect to connect with the divine. Someone was playing the pipe organ too and the sounds of music swelled into every possible corner.
As with everything in France, it was overwhelmingly stunning and caught me off guard emotionally.
Already there were a few on the labyrinth. Walking at different paces. Some slowly. Some at regular pace. One toddler just chose to dance across, but I’m pretty sure she would have done that with or without the stone maze on the floor! As I approached I wondered how many people have walked the stones. They are very well worn, and should be.
I wondered at the wealth of prayers meditations and supplications that have been made from this path.
As I added my own feet to the 800 year old trail, a lump hit my throat, tears started to flow, as did my nose, annoyingly. I didn’t come to cry. But I guess that’s what needed to happen. I noticed too, that a very heavily pregnant woman was at the front of all of us walking incredibly slowly. She walked in a shuffle, her foot never moving further than the toes of the foot left on the floor. She was rubbing her belly, clearly praying for her unborn child. She looked fatigued, her face puffy, her eyes mostly closed (although she must have opened them at points to navigate) and for a moment I wondered if she was actually in labor.
I had a moment of irony when I realized her impending motherhood and me pulling up the rear of the pilgrimage, newly empty nested.
But it was even cooler when I realized how long mothers have been doing this. Praying for their children. For a quick and easy birth, for the child’s health and their own. And for a happy and peaceful life for the child. Before the cathedral was built it was the site where a fertility goddess was worshiped and mothers would come to the well at the site to pray for their children.
So it was more than fitting that the young mother-to-be was there, as I was; both of us praying for our children.
I started off at a good pace. Not too fast but not too slow. I was definitely going to overtake the 5 ahead, but the first 15 minutes it was a clear sailing. Then I started bumping elbows as the path wound beside others. One woman came back down the path, in reverse from the centre, to make her exit. There is no wrong way to do the labyrinth. That’s made very clear in the literature. But I found myself annoyed as she disturbed those going forward to get around them, and then would shake her hands like she was shaking off the bad energy she was picking up from the rest of us as she passed. Then I smiled. Who cares!
Some things in life, you need to let go of.
I found myself thinking of Mom. And in between sniffles had another smile when I realized she would be balling her way around the labyrinth too, should she have made it here. I come by this degree of emotion honestly folks!
I noticed that the stones were worn incredibly smooth, and the path was well defined, but still bumpy in spots. Little pits were worn into the stones at points as well. Not so worrisome as to trip someone up but they’re there. A lot like life in general I think.
When I came to the point where I had to slow down to honour the people ahead of me, instead of being annoyed I chose to be grateful. It meant I got to experience the labyrinth for longer.
It meant I had more of a chance to focus inwards and think about Mom, my girls, life, and my future at this juncture of massive change.
The slower I went, the more I physically had to seek balance and be aware. That was weird. But noted. When I had to stop, I closed my eyes. When it was time to move forward, I intuitively knew when I was free to do so. When I reached the centre, I stepped into it and stood for a full few minutes and said thank you. I felt lighter. I moved forward towards the altar and sat for a while while I processed the experience.
It was by far the most beautiful experience in France. I’m still processing the whole thing. And I probably will ponder it for a while longer yet! It was a once in a life time thing and I am so glad I braved the metro and SNCF train system to get here. I almost turned around when I couldn’t get the touch screens to work to order my ticket. I ended up ordering on my phone and then the touch screen let me print the ticket.
The things worth experiencing in life are totally worth working for.
And I do know this too…I am who I am, largely because of the love and support I’ve received from my mother. I have watched her life, her struggles and successes, and her unending love and it’s helped me to know what I want from mine and, for that matter, what I don’t want. I hope, in watching my life, I can inspire her the way she has inspired me.
How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers names.
Did you miss the last blog? Read it here!
Have you seen how “The Princess and The Whale” came to be published? It’s a pretty cool story in itself! Watch it from here!
Don’t have your own copy of “The Princess and The Whale” yet? Check it out here!