So what is hallowed ground to you? Did you make it, live it or savor it? It could be Iwo Jima, Khe Sanh, the National 911 Memorial and Museum, your home, a church cross, the ER or a table in a prison visiting room. It is what you make it; symbolism or function, your choice.
Me? Depends on the day. I recall being in New York December of 2001 visiting my sister Elizabeth. It was a somber very edgy time for that city and the country. There was a memorial in front of the fire hall located near their Manhattan apartment, recognizing the men from that hall lost in the Twin Towers. You could feel the reverence of the site, it defied words and conversation. Other than saying, “how ya doin” to the firefighters lounging around waiting for their next call, we simply walked by slowly, there were just no words.
I clearly recall visiting Haven Hospice in New York, where my sister would end her life journey. It was calm, unconditional, safe yet quietly strong and nurturing, a safe harbor amidst stress and grief. It was hallowed ground for me, amidst honking Yellow cabs and Bellevue Hospital. The nurses to the maintenance man all made it comforting and I was grateful.
Many were the times, I made absolutely certain to be one of the first in line to gain access to the visiting room in the Pekin Illinois Federal Camp for Women, grabbing a table by the window, a choice location. I would claim that site then buy food for lunch from the vending machines before they ran out; stocking up the table, all before Patty entered the visiting room. Then I would wait; that table was ours, like a kitchen table, it was hallowed ground for the moment. When you drive 2 hours for each hour of visiting with your wife, after four weeks of absence, you create hallowed ground out of necessity, even if it’s only for 6 hours in a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) visiting room. Sounds dorky right? Wait until you’ve been there for a year or two, you’ll get it.
Taking that scenario a step further, when Patty came into the visiting room, she had changed, every time. Her hair was longer or shorter, more tanned, sometimes with a spunkier demeanor or more subdued, the impact of a month was subtle but relentless, every time, every season. We would plunk down at the table, our little place, and catch up as husband and wife. It was pretty basic routine yet it was absolutely critical to the viability of our marriage, our future, our health. Here I was in fact creating hallowed ground; I would not be denied. Of course saying good bye for another month was just plain sad, always. Nothing like standing by your car in a prison parking lot, 100 feet from your wife with no fence, waving good bye and having to turn away; nobody crosses that invisible barrier or it’s considered attempted escape. That’s not hallowed ground, that’s “No Man’s Land.” Trust me, there was heartache to spare, but everybody had their game face.
Going to church, while Patty was incarcerated, was a survival move that was instinctual as much as it was discretionary. I was pretty much baked and needed emotional down time and refueling from the pace of my life at that time. I’d sit alone in the back row of church, week after week and watch these young people on stage singing with such youthful joy and enthusiasm, pounding out their loud worship music. I recall being amazed at their happiness and saying to myself, “wow, that’s what happy looks like.” They filled me up, they had no clue. The service would end and it was back home to my emotional cave, home with Chili our loyal Malamute. This just is fact, not a pity party. In hindsight, what I was doing was shifting between the hallowed grounds of home and church. One I created, one I soaked in, both were essential to avoid snapping.
So if you’re behind bars of any kind, if you have a loved one actually behind the wire, sacred space and hallowed healthy ground is absolutely critical to prevail. For me, seeking refuge in a tavern, casino, chasing women or doing drugs would have been an absolute deal breaker. I had to stay fit, clean and in the zone; yet I felt like a beaten dog. Hello church. Hello worship music. Hello Jesus; you gave it up for me on the cross, created hallowed ground everywhere and I simply had to stagger in and crumple. That I did and I am so grateful.
Fast forward: Patty is now home and will be off three years Federal probation the end of this month. She has a full time job starting June 2nd and is sharing the word of Jesus in the local jail to female inmates every Wednesday evening. Good things can and do happen. Hope is good, hallowed ground is even better and Jesus is great. Never give up, ever.