“And, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I had no pain in my chest today. Just like that, 21 years of pain all washed away on a mountaintop by a castle with my dad.” – My Journal Entry 10/3/17 – Germany: Day 3, Heidelberg: Day 1
My third day in Germany was spent in Heidelberg – a sweet, charming town adorned with Schloss Heidelberg as her monument on the mountaintop. It was the first city in Germany that I visited where I knew dad had walked its streets and been to its castle. He had pictures from the 80’s to prove it but those pictures could never do this place justice. As soon as I made it to the center of town I could feel him. He had not only been here but he obviously was here and I was here to experience this city with him as my guide.
Everything in Heidelberg is beautiful. The buildings, the stone streets, the Church of the Holy Ghost, the market, the people. Everything. And everywhere you turn, you are within viewing distance of that gorgeous castle. When I first arrived in Heidelberg, it was later in the afternoon and the castle closes at 6pm so I decided there wouldn’t be enough time to make it to the top. But, the castle seduced me at every turn becoming more and more beautiful as the day went on – convincing me that I was going to spend the evening with her and that’s exactly what I did. I had to take the journey on foot in lieu of the tram since it was so late in the evening and with each step I felt more and more anticipation wondering what was waiting for me at the top. The sun was just beginning to set on this sleepy town and I was climbing a mountain searching for my dad.
I couldn’t help but remember that episode of Little House on the Prairie (walk with me here) where Laura’s baby brother is dying and she feels helpless so she asks the pastor for advice. He tells her, “The closer you are to God, the more likely he is to hear you.” So, she leaves her house to go climb the highest mountain in their town and be closer to God so that he can hear her when she prays. And here I am, climbing a mountain chasing after my father and the memory he left behind. I can never describe to someone else the beauty or symbolism of this moment but I can say that with every step, I felt just a little bit closer to him. Until finally, his death didn’t seem like the end. He was right here. Right now. All the time.
We spent the evening together on this mountaintop talking, laughing and wandering around admiring this place. As best as my human nature would possibly allow, I let him guide all my steps. Go this way. Take a look at that. Get a picture from this view. Sit on this bench. Watch this sunset. I have been here. I have seen this. I have brought you here. I. Am. Here. Leave all your hurt behind. I have never left you. I am here with you in this place and I will be there with you when you go home. But, home will feel different. I will not let you leave this place unchanged. I will not let you leave this place without knowing how much you are loved.
My father loves me so much that he led me up a mountaintop 4,000 miles away from home just to get me alone and still my heart enough to listen. Those words he spoke to me were louder and more real than any conversation I can ever remember us having while he was alive. And during that amazing sunset, I found more healing than all the healing moments in the last 21 years combined. But, it couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t chosen to dig in deep, do the work and decide that I didn’t have to continue life being a victim of what happened to me. If I hadn’t done all that work, I likely would have still made it to Germany but I would have never been able to still my heart and mind enough to hear what he had been trying to say to me all this time. In that moment, 21 years of pain were erased and I left every heartache I ever had on that mountain. It no longer served me and it never will again.
I walked off that mountain a completely changed person and thought this would be the biggest highlight of my trip. My dad surely must have chuckled because even after watching what he did up there, I still doubted what he might do once we walked down. I wanted to go back to my hotel and sleep because I was emotionally and physically exhausted but he asked me to walk with him out onto the bridge where I knew he had taken some pictures of the castle. I have one more thing to show you tonight. And there she was- perfectly lit up, shining in all of her beauty. The (nearly) full moon was illuminated behind her creating the most breathtaking sight I’ve ever seen. I have never cried so hard or been so genuinely happy. All of this. Just for me.
I knew my dad would show up when I made it to Germany. I could just never fathom how much or how often. But he was everywhere. In every town. On every corner. In every person and place. He even took the time to hang the moon for me. And that was just the beginning.
Below are some of my pictures compared to his from the 80’s in Heidelberg. Not much has changed- she’s still as beautiful as ever.