In 1833, John Henry Newman was sick and stuck in Italy. He couldn’t have predicted it then, but he’d go on to be remembered as one of the most important intellectuals and theologians of his time.
You may wonder what’s so horrible about being stuck in Italy. It’s a beautiful country, according to Eat, Pray, Love. But before you become Judge Judy, allow Newman (Saint Newman to you and the Catholic Church) the opportunity to explain himself.
“Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly,” wrote Newman. “My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, ‘I have a work to do in England.’ I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks.”
The man had work to do. He was homesick, actually sick, and stranded in a foreign land. Once a vessel finally arrived to take him home, it was becalmed in the Straits of Bonifacio for a week.
Author’s note: Google says the definition of becalmed is “unable to move due to lack of wind.” I couldn’t be bothered to Google where the Straits of Bonifacio are exactly.
It was during this week, right there in the straits, that Newman penned the masterful poem “The Pillar of the Cloud.” It’s a remarkable piece of literature portraying the distinct human struggle between one’s need for independence and our total inability to survive or thrive alone. The poem has since been turned into the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light,” sung by faiths worldwide.
You’re independent and capable, and you matter a great deal. You’re also not alone. You don’t need to solve every problem or carry every burden yourself. It’s okay to seek support, encouragement, and advice. The great leaders — the ones we study and revere — know how and when to rely on the wisdom and experience of others.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that
Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on.