Thursday 7th October 2010: Lourdes FR.
I always knew that today was going to be a special day for me, I just didnt realise how overwhelmed I would be by it all by the end of it.
Lourdes is a very special place for me, mostly for things that I cant really remember. The first time I came here was in 1980 with my parents and my then three year old little sister. I was about 6 years old and in my little life I was sick. No one could say what was wrong with me, I was just sick. My memories of that time are very sketchy and I can only remember certain moments. I remember going to school and not wanting to eat because it would make me ill. I remember being in infant school where the dinner lady would put a bucket next to me during the lunch hour. It was quite a traumatic experience to be than little and having to go through that experience. I also remember my mum having to come and watch me eat my sandwiches. It didnt matter, I knew I was going to be sick. I think thats why I cry as an adult when I am sick, deep down it triggers off something I cant explain. I also remember having a roast dinner one time at school and putting my fork into the potatoes and then putting the fork under the table and prising the food off onto the floor. I thought things were going well, until a little girl told on me, and I was sent to the serving hatch again to refill my plate. It was no good, all attempts to avoid food at school at this young age were in vain.
I dont remember too much about food at home. I do remember eating 'Ready-Brek' in front of a mirror, because I thought it give me an orange aura. There was an advert on the TV at that time which showed the children eating it and having this glow. And so, I would eat my breakfast in front of my dad's shaving mirror, trying to catch the glow. My Father would tell me that it was there on my ear and I tried to find it. He said, eat it quicker, and I did. It was actually quite an intimate father-child memory, but I would find myself ill a while later.
So in 1980, on the first trip to Spain to see family, we took a turn to Lourdes. Now, I have seen the old photographs, but I hvae no memory of being there. My Father is very passionate about telling me this story, but after they took me, I wasnt ill again. Coincidence? I dont know. All I know is that the little 6 year old girl I know was me, doesnt feel like it was me. I dont have the knowledge to be able to explain what happened. My Father tells me time and time again how special I am and how I was made better after that time. How can you explain that a 6 year old, who was sick all the time, suddenly wasnt sick anymore. He said that when we drove out of the Pyrannees into Spain, that I said I was hungry. Something obviously I would have never said before because he says that it struck him. Science will tell you that I have a dairy intolerance. As an adult, milk gives me a headache and a tummy ache. I know this as I have tried many, many times to pretend it isnt so, so perhaps that was to blame? Only that I continued to eat all the foods I had eaten before, including milk for many years to come without any effect. I dont really know what happened, and thinking about it makes me think it happened to another person. Anyway, there you go, and thats why this place is very special for me.
The shops outside the grotto are truly gruesome for me. I know that they have to make their money, but there are all sorts of 'souvenirs' to take with you. I am happy to buy a few bottles to take away the holy water, and maybe a postcard. But the rest of the stuff sold is just tacky. Mints, purses, key rings. Its almost like a side show. I get what I need and walk towards the gate.
There are thousands of people here today because today is a special feast day for Catholics. Its the Feast of the Rosary and many people have come here to celebrate this. I spend some time walking around and finally work my way to the grotto. I have been here since I was 6 years old. Once when I was 16 and finished school, another when I was 25 years old, and my parents managed to drive there for my birthday. The last time was with my parents in 2005. I have always come to this place with people and suddenly being by myself I felt very alone. Even though there were thousands here, they didnt know me, they didnt know my story, and so I did the only thing I thought would console me. I phoned my mum. She conforted my thoughts and retold the story. Although she calmed my thoughts, I needed a physical presence, and so I went back to the Snail and asked the Pilot to sit with me. I know it isnt really his thing, and I didnt want to ask him to do something he doesnt believe in, but he came with me and sat with me whilst I collected my many thoughts. It was hard to wrestle with them, and my understanding of them are still unresolved, but it was a quiet moment and I was very grateful for it.
I chose to stay there by myslef untill the night time procession. They took a statue of Mary around the paths and people, and myself, followed with candles. It was a very beautiful experience and I suppose because it was at night, it made it almost unworldly. It was a beautiful way to end a very stressful day, but the thoughts I had started to think would not leave me, and so I hoped to visit this place again the next day.