Ms. Elliott Goes to Washington DC (Again!)

Dear Henry,

This last weekend I took the opportunity to attend a religious retreat held at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. The retreat was held by the Hallow App, a prayer app I am an absolute groupie of. This was the company's first event, and since it was right down the proverbial road and because I genuinely am a groupie of this app, I thought it would be a fun adventure. I even ordered one of the dorm rooms rather than booking a hotel room, just so I could immerse myself in the experience. 

I was so excited to see what I could learn.

I left bright and early last Friday and arrived in DC right before noon. I immediately headed to the Catholic University (carrying my bags) to see the Basicila of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception before checking into my dorm room. I decided to find something to eat and rest for a bit between the check-in process and the first event.

All of these plans fell apart quickly.

When I arrived at the Basicilia, I noticed a sign for a cafeteria. I figured I wandered through the building, got some food, and was absolutely starving when I arrived at the closed cafe. Still carrying my bags, I asked one of the security guards where he thought the best place to get food was, and he gave me directions to the neighborhood "restaurant" district, a block or two away. I got some food at Chipotle and then headed back over to the check-in, hoping someone would be there early, and they were. Great! I could go lie down for a few hours.

I let myself into the cute little dorm room and grew a bit concerned when I saw the attractive little dorm bed (concerned enough that I sent a picture of the scene to Fish) and then gave myself the "it will be fine" pep talk. I made the bed, laid down, and realized no, this would not be fine. 

Fortunately, Fish is a brilliant man and had already begun looking for open rooms at surrounding Hiltons, and I was able to get a lovely room a few metro stops away. So I picked up my bags and made my way to the hotel.

Here is where the adventure really went south.   

As a result of the nerve damage from "The Accident," I develop a condition I refer to as "the hollows"  It is a condition where everything gets very "tinny" sounding. The world begins to take on the appearance as if it was filmed in Kodachrome, and it is difficult to focus. It occurs when I am in too much pain, or when I get too hungry, or too tired, or too hot, and I was by the time I got onto the train, I was all four. I was so grateful to finally make it into my room and never returned to the event for The Vigil Project's lecture with music about "Praying with Music."

I had mixed feelings about attending The Vigil's Project's section from the beginning. I love music, but one of the neurological side effects of  "The Accident" is that certain pitches bring tears to my eyes for no reason, and I am very uncomfortable with this in public. So while I was sad to miss the session, I also wonder if it was for the best that I did miss it.

I had difficulty resting well and was still pretty tired the next day. Still, I really wanted to make it to hear the speakers, particularly Emily Wilson's talk "The Power of Prayer"  and Father Simon's lecture on "Lectio Divina." So, I headed back to the Catholic University campus, where there was a brunch before the speakers started.  

Before leaving the hotel, I should have gotten something to eat and started the day too hungry and thirsty. Fortunately, the cafe at Catholic University provides an abundance.

Emily Wilson's talk about prayer was excellent. She is an incredibly engaging speaker and uses relatable real-life experiences throughout her lectures, and I highly recommend attending an event she is presenting at. She's very uplifting, and  I was inspired to pick up her book "Go Bravely."

Then, Alex Jones, one of the founders of the Hallow app, told the story of its creation, and I'm thrilled that they made the app. I use it all the time and absolutely love it.

Father Frankie Cicero's conversation about Christian Mediation followed Emily Wilson, and like Ms. Wilson, Father Frankie is an incredibly talented and engaging speaker who can make his lecture fun. I recommend stopping by Queen of Peace Parish if you're in the Mesa, Arizona, area. I'm sure his homilies are something else.

There was a break after lunch for Mass, Adoration, and Confessions; during this break, everything started to catch up to me again. I couldn't make it through the day to  Father Joe Laramie's lecture on the Examen nor Father Simon Esshaki's lecture on Lectio Divina, and I'm really bu med about it. I really wanted to hear both lectures, but I felt uncomfortable being too uncomfortable in a city I wasn't familiar with, especially since I was alone.

The next day, sitting at breakfast with everyone, I heard some incredible stories of faith and how they "realized" that the world works better when you work with the Big G rather than against him. Then everyone asked my story, and I realized how unprepared I was for that question. 

While I know the "Why's" behind my conversion (read about them here: "Finding God in Gomorrah" and "Taking the Back Road to Rome"), my reasons came from a dark place, and most of my life because of the after-effects of surviving so much trauma (you can read about that here: "Can Anyone Cry Job's Tears"), can be pretty dark too. I don't have a 5-minute story to share with people at events like this, and I was sad that I don't. Especially since I  feel like it is my "calling" to tell people about how God helps me.

I was really excited about Sunday's morning session. Simone Rizkallah of was talking about building habits, and I firmly believe that our habits hold us together and feel, in the words of Archilochus, "We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training."  I have found, particularly when I have "the hollows," that it is much easier to navigate by habit than trying to make a decision or choice at every turn, so I have spent years developing "good" habits to keep moving forward. I've even tried to get into the habit of keeping a small, half smile on my face so that the world is not immediately confronted by how badly I feel. Ms. Rizkallah is a very talented presenter; I love her random quotes. It is a "habit" I share with her.

After lunch and Mass, we went to the St. John Paul II Shrine for a tour. It was a great way to end the Hallow pp's Summit. I did another Basilica walk-through and then returned to my hotel room.

Both that night and the train ride home were very contemplative. There are things that I still want to see and accomplish. Still, my physical condition is a pretty large elephant and, after experiencing "the hallows" alone and in a place where I couldn't return home immediately. I realized that to get to do all that I want, I can't ignore how I feel, nor can I try to tough it out. Simone Rizkallah talked about the difference between being leisurely and slothful and how God wants us to operate wit at that pace. This resonated with me; I need to adopt a more leisurely pace in my schedule. I've also learned I need to develop a better "day bag" to carry necessary traveling objects more efficiently and build a better-traveling outfit, as I wasn't as comfortable as I needed to be.

The Summit was a great experience, and I look forward to attending next year's retreat.It was an excellent experience to travel alone, and it gave me a lot of insight into the extra steps I need to take to safely and comfortably travel by myself.

Until my next adventure!

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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