Editor's note: M Hilary was recently in the UK to visit our Oblates & Associates in that country.

A famous poet once wrote, “He travels the fastest who travels alone.” But faster is not necessarily always better, and ‘alone’ is a relative term. International travel for nuns especially is not a sport for the ferociously independent nor for the conversation- or camera-shy. Get just a few miles from your own front door, in fact, and the human encounters begin to accumulate at an astonishing rate:

Q: Sister, would you like me to help you put your bag up there? And even if you don’t really need the help, in this sort of situation the proper answer is nearly always Yes, thank you, God bless you.

Or if help is actually required, one has to have the gumption or simplicity to ask for it, namely, Q: Pardon me, but would you please show me how to use this ticket machine? A: Right, then, just like this, and you’ll need this much for the fare (helper picks out requisite coins from an outstretched handful). Or this (traveler confused by the notice board shows conductor a ticket) Q: Hello, is this my train? A: Yes, Mother, get on right here; your car will be up that way.

Or there is the humorous, for instance, if you find yourself of an evening walking past a crowded pub Q: Wow, Sister, can I take my picture with you? What else is there to say but Sure, and Yes, your friend can get in the picture too.

This simple, very ordinary back-and-forth of asking and answering, giving and receiving between perfect strangers opens up instances of mutual blessing that stand a chance of being not only recounted but remembered. Is it sometimes inconvenient? Messy? Risky, even? Maybe. Yet with all due respect to the efficiency-minded poet, it is these little encounters, compounded daily, that will speed us all together to an even happier destination.

M Hilary with Associates and Oblates of the Order (including the photographer) in York, UK.

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