Friday, April 27, 2007



I was in a cab this morning to Logan Airport and my loquacious driver queried my plans to the point where I found myself explaining to this perfect stranger that I was going to France to get my cancer cured.

And, to my shock, it appears that is indeed what I am doing.

Life’s pace, daily priorities, distractions distractions—and I just haven’t given this journey its due psychological, spiritual, or emotional prep. Funny how in speaking plainly to a taxi driver I finally heard where I was going.

To the uninitiated, here are the embarrassingly skeletal details I currently know of the legend of Lourdes. Once upon a time, Prometheus stole some fire and Joseph Smith found some magic rocks and there was a pre-adolescent named Bernadette. Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to her telling her to build a church at the site of her appearance. After overcoming much disbelief from her community and local priests, Bernadette succeeded in having that church built in honor of Mary. From that day forward, mysterious waters without a known source have flowed. Today, this town in the Pyrennes is an important pilgrimage for believers, particularly for the sick. You see, there have apparently been thousands of unexplained healings in Lourdes over the years and malades journey from all over to bathe in the sacred waters.

Shortly after my diagnosis, an acquaintance of my Mom’s insisted that we plan to go to Lourdes. This friend’s daughter had also been afflicted with acute lymphocytic leukemia, about fifteen years ago. Prospects were not good for her recovery and I’m assuming desperation brought the two women to Bernadette’s mysterious healing font. Anyway, Charlotte and her daughter (who is now in her thirties, married, with kids of her own!) now pilgrimage to Lourdes every year and will be with us in France later this week.

A Catholic organization called the Order of Malta funds malades and a companion to go on planned trips to Lourdes and so it was, with a “nothing to lose” shrug, that I applied many months ago to go on this May’s pilgrimage. Perhaps because of this lengthy timeline and the casual way I submitted an application, I have not digested this impending experience.

Also, there’s probably that little problem about not buying the story. As much as I’d love to possess the gentle comfort of religion, the compass of organized morality, it just doesn’t stick. My only real faith is in skepticism and I am only truly devout to the gods of questioning and being a pain in the ass to religious people. Arguably, twelve years of Catholic schooling will make anyone a pagan.

There may be a confluence of energies in Lourdes, a repository of so many prayers and hopes that there actually is magic there. And if so, do you have to subscribe to the Church dogma to get your share? I want to be open to whatever this opportunity affords. I seek to be absorbent to goodness and beauty and health. Et les baguettes et le fromage et le francais. Il y a longtemps depuis j’habitais a Paris! And spending loads of quality time with my mama.

Alas, so here I go to France, where Mary will see straight through my heart and know that I can’t pass GO, cannot collect a miracle. She’ll know that I don’t think the most effective way to help her children here on earth is to have some random girl in the mountains build a building. She’ll know that I find it unfair that there should be healing waters in one place—let’s fix all the dirty water sources in which people wash and drink every day all over the world.

Can I get an amen?


Anna said...

from my point of view, faith in God and miracles has nothing to do with blind acceptance of any particular dogma or strategy. You just cleave to what your inner being knows is good and true, beyond the ego and all of the false images of what we think we are supposed to be and do. In reaching for that, you expand your connection with whatever you envision God to be, and miracles can happen. The main problem with faith, is believing in this goodness, and in this potential for miraculous growth even when life seems to be falling apart around you. I think when you have survived an experience that truly tests your will to live, and you come through it with your gratitude for life and for all of the beauty around you intact (as you clearly have)you have cultivated a faith in the church of your heart that is independent from, and yet connected to all the churches of the world. Im sure Mary will admire your vision for worldwide healing and be honored that you came to commune with her energy (or whatever aspect of her spirit dwells in the waters of Lourdes). love you.

Jason said...

I'll say "amen" to that. Hi, Erica. I've only met you once, on an Oxy alumni hike you led through Griffith Park a few years ago, but I remembered your positive energy and friendliness. In fact, the thought "I hope she doesn't have a boyfriend; I would like to ask her out" crossed my mind....Then said boyfriend made his presence known, dashing my silly dream...Then I met your sister...(uh, kind of young, better not)...
Seriously, though,I want to commend you for sharing your experiences; it has been informative and enlightening. I wish you the best of luck.

Jason Phipps (Oxy '88)

Tom said...

Good luck in Lourdes, Erica.

Avital and said...

Even little Jewish girls like me know of the miracles of Lourdes. Religion or not, belief is strength.

Anonymous said... know what you HAVE to buy for B&A, riiight???

Robin said...

Was just checkin' in on ya....Have a good journey Erica! Bonne Chance!

TNT Boston '06 runner ...& finisher

Clif said...

This is, IMHO, your best blog entry ever.

Michael said...

Have a great trip.

Natalie Parke said...

Amen, sister! We met at the Faculty Waits on You Dinner. Am just reading your blog for the first time... I think I said it at the Dinner, and I'll say it again: you're inspiring, lady. Really, I think that Lourdes is spectacularly lucky to have the miracle that is ERICA stopping through for a visit! Enjoy.

Carisa said...

Even if it is merely a saint's story that intrigues a person, there is enough strength in that fascination to have a significant impact, whatever that impact might look like, and that is something that is well worth a pilgrimage, physical or otherwise. Everyone should have a favorite saint, catholic or not. Each time I reach out to my favorite, St. Lucy, I'll be thinking of you.

Addicted to Carl said...


Justin Anderson said...

Hi Erica,

'Amen'! I know that you are not religious, but I hope it is alright that I have added you to the prayer list of our church in Washington DC - where Kerry and I have recently returned after three and a half years in the UK.

Have a wonderful trip! We loved the opportunity to visit several different parts of France. Can't beat freshly made pain au chocolat in the morning.


Justin Anderson - Oxy '00