By Alyssa Bormes
It was May 1982, and I didn’t exactly have a date to the prom, which was really called a dinner dance, which meant you could still go if you didn’t have a date. Another friend who was dateless came to my house, and my dad drove the two of us to the Ward Hotel in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was only a 1.3-mile drive – I just checked it on the Internet – but it was a ride I’ll never forget.
My father, who was a very quiet man and usually content to let his daughter chat with her friend, told us a story about his pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. I have no idea what prompted the telling of the story, but my friend and I were engrossed.
He was living in Italy for six months after having left the seminary before taking his diaconate vows and was discerning his vocation. He would travel as he was able, and went to different pilgrimage sites – I’ll tell you about others of them another time. This time he was on the night train; it was 1950, so the cheapest seat was a wooden bench, which was just long enough for him to uncomfortably recline.
The train stopped at some little town in the middle of the night, and four really poor people climbed aboard. My father said that their clothes were absolutely tattered, the people smelled, one man had no arms, and my father hoped they wouldn’t sit near him, but there wasn’t another spot.
Once in Lourdes, my father said his mood was dark from not being able to sleep on the train; he walked away from his four bench mates with a sense of superiority. Even though my father was very poor at the time, at least he wasn’t that poor and smelly. He took consolation in knowing he would never have to see the four travelers again.
After a few hours, my father made his way to the pilgrimage site, and it seems Our Lady had a healing meant just for him. As he neared the grotto, he saw the four people from the train. They were all participating in the same thing, but it was the man with no arms that especially struck my father’s heart. The armless man had been fitted with a harness, which allowed him to carry cots with the infirm to the healing water of the baths.
My dad said it was then that he was healed. He had wrongly judged these people, and he knew then that he would never judge another person in his life without knowing them. Each of my siblings recalls my father saying, “People are people, and vice versa,” and each of us can attest that he lived it.
My dad may well have driven me to the dance, but really his witness drove me the first 1.3-mile leg of my 4,535-mile trip to Lourdes in 2005.
This Monday, February 11th, is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Go ahead and ask Her for a healing, especially for one you don’t even know that you need. And then settle in for the surprise.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!