One of the best things about travel is it puts you in new places and situations, practically forcing you to expand your mind and worldview. Which, in the case of my experience at Glasgow Cathedral, was so mind-expanding it took me a year and a half to write about it.
I’d never been to Scotland and felt no connection to it other than a love of its neighbor, Ireland, which I’d visited twice. Glasgow Cathedral was a stop on the tour Mom and I took in July 2016, and that morning, like all mornings there, I was anticipating beautiful sights and interesting history. Nothing more was needed.
The cathedral was our first stop of the day, so we piled off the bus and waited outside the huge wooden door to enter. We were the first tourists there, and it was a couple minutes before 9 a.m. At nine on the nose, an employee pushed open the front door and welcomed us in. It was a cool, gray day and I was glad to be getting out of that and into what looked to be a gorgeous medieval building.
I followed my tour-mates in and as I stepped over the threshold I felt a weight pressing on me from all sides, as if I were wrapped in a heavy blanket. It was strange but pleasant, and even comforting.
Then my eyes welled up with tears, which stayed with me the entire hour I spent in the cathedral.
For the record, I’m an extremely sensitive person – emotional and empathetic – and sudden teariness isn’t a new experience. But this felt different. For one thing, there didn’t seem to be a trigger, other than entering the building. (Versus something involving puppies, for example.) And I was suddenly overwhelmed by an ephemeral presence – multiple presences – that I couldn’t see, but could feel.
Even though I was surrounded by tourists, guides, and staff, I slipped into what felt like a waking dream, and time slowed way down. There was chatter around me but it was muffled in my ears, and I seemed to float my way around the perimeter of the space, and then was drawn to sit in the center of the pews.
And that’s when it got really weird.
I sat, folded my hands in my lap, and looked down to see that I was wearing a buttercup-yellow dress with a fitted bodice and full floor-length skirt. (I’m guessing you understand that wasn’t my normal travel outfit.) I looked around and saw other parishioners seated in the pews wearing what also appeared to be centuries-old attire.
The strangest part is this: it didn’t feel strange at all. The parishioners were quiet, presumably listening to a sermon I couldn’t hear, and I knew in my bones that I was a member of this small community, that I was there with my husband and children, that I was probably early 20s in age, and that this was my whole existence: church and family. I felt calm and peaceful in that knowledge.
Meanwhile my mother, who’d been exploring the cathedral with everyone else, noticed me and came over to sit with me. She saw my weeping and asked if I was alright, because I’m sure I looked like I’d seen a ghost – BECAUSE MAYBE I HAD – and was probably relieved when I spoke so she knew I hadn’t had some kind of psychotic break. Ha ha!
I told her, “I’ve been here before.”
My mother was unfazed. Even though she may have been wondering how close the nearest psych ward was, she simply listened with an open heart while I tried to explain what I was experiencing, which wasn’t easy since I was more than a little freaked out at that point. Though I was feeling more comfortable amidst my invisible community, and I also wished my mother could see my pretty yellow dress. Because, you know, style matters, even when you’re having a past-life experience.
Ha ha, again!
At that point I wanted to feel out the rest of the cathedral, and Mom stayed with me, not once telling me I was crazy. (Just one of the many things I love about my mother: nothing shocks her.) I didn’t see any other imaginary people, but I could still feel the intense energy and had a sense of experiencing something apart from what everyone else was, as if I were in a super-saturated spiritual bubble.
In one of the side rooms Bible phrases were embedded into the floor. “Ponder the path of thy feet and let all thy ways be established” seemed particularly poignant. Also, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” and “hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” Mom wrote the quotes down as I pondered the path of my feet.
I did one more pass through the cathedral, sat for a bit longer with my community in the pews, and then it was time to go. Stepping over the threshold I felt the bubble dissipate, the heavy air lighten, and my tears subside. I was with the world again.
The experience stayed with me long past my return to the States, and I wondered – did I have some kind of Scottish history I didn’t know about? I’d been told I was half Bohemian (now the Czech Republic, courtesy of my mother), and a quarter each of German and Swedish from my father. Just those three heritages.
I was trying to explain to myself what had happened in Glasgow, and my lack of connection to Scotland stymied me. Was the whole thing some kind of travel-induced hallucination? Aftereffects of the haggis I’d tried the night before? Or was it – gulp – truly some kind of developing psychosis?
It didn’t feel like insanity because of how visceral and grounded it was, so I figured it was a fluke, a random connection I’d experienced there. Maybe even a window into the past that I’d managed to crack open, but still, I wanted to know more. I’d get my DNA tested, even though it would surely come back with what I knew to be true of my past. No real connection to Scotland.
I sent off my saliva sample and waited. And waited.
Weeks later the results came back. My eyes hurried through the printout: half Czech, no surprise. And yep, the other half was German and Swedish.
With a shot of 10% Scotch.
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