“What color was the towel?”
“How big was the towel?”
“How was it wrapped around you?”
“What color were the walls?”
“Was the bath made of marble?”
“Were the walls taupe?”
“How large was the bath?”
I knew what they were doing.
Sometimes students love to get their teachers off track and launch into tangents. It works even better if the teacher enjoys talking about particular topics. I recall a specific teacher in middle school who would tell the same stories over and over again. And we loved to let him because it meant that we wouldn’t move on with other work. As a teacher, I now understand a little more how one could repeat the same story to the same class and not remember. If I, a “veteran” teacher of five years, struggle to remember if I told this story this year or to this class period, then a teacher of 30-40 years should definitely have a greater struggle.
We were talking about private revelation. It is difficult for me to remember how much I knew at their age, but I was surprised at what they did not know. I mentioned Lourdes, Fatima, scapulars, and Miraculous medals, receiving blank stares for many of them. So I started to talk a bit more in-depth about Lourdes. Once they found out that I had actually been there and been in the baths (“Can just anyone go?”), they had many questions. Some were deeper (“Did you go to receive healing of body, mind, or spirit?”) and others were more surface level (“Do they reuse towels?”). And when genuine interest (even if merely for the sake of not doing more classwork) is shown in the area of faith, I find it hard to not answer questions.
They wanted to know how going in the baths worked. Did one go in fully clothed or roll up your pant legs or go in naked? As I began to explain that someone held up a towel and you undressed behind it, I told them it was somewhat strange to explain it to them. They said that I wasn’t in their freshman Theology class–this was mild to what they had talked about there. Emboldened, I continued on. After undressing, you have a towel wrapped around you and then you sit down, waiting your turn.
They were curious. But I also think they wanted to see how many questions they could ask about the most mundane of details. Thus they asked questions about the color of the walls, the dimensions of the towels, and what shade of white the towels were (“bright white or more of a beige?”). It was humorous, but I found that those details were not the ones that stuck in my mind.
One of the girls was asking deep questions, perhaps deeper than I wanted to answer for an entire class nearing the end of the period. “Were you healed in some way? Did your experience change the person you are today?” And I told her it had.
But how do I explain to a class of young students what the baths in Lourdes meant to me? It wasn’t a physical healing that I could show them, but it was definitely a healing.
Trembling and a bit anxious, I waded into the waters, prayers and intentions rushing through my mind. It was brief and the water was cool. I kissed a statue of Our Lady, was dipped back in the waters, and was led in brief prayers afterward. Externally, I was exactly the same. But my heart was filled with a fierce love for Our Lady. I felt a maternal warmth and a definite knowledge that I was her child. My mind kept turning over the Scripture, “Naked I came forth from the womb….and naked I shall return.” I continued to replay what had happened and could envision the time in the water as a new birth as a child of Mary. She claimed me for her own.
With that knowledge, I wanted to skip around the shrine grounds. I felt a freedom in being the daughter of Our Lady. She claimed me, she loved me, and it wasn’t the first time. I had felt that pull from her before, but I had continued to profess that we weren’t that close. Now, after the experience of a new birth in Mary, I had to claim to be her daughter. I needed to acknowledge that she desired to be my mother and I desired to be her daughter. And it wasn’t simply a desire but a reality.
After the Lourdes experience, I walked the Camino across Spain. Then we made tracks for Fatima. And with every mile that we traveled closer to Fatima, my sister said my smile became wider and wider. Different country, different title, different apparition, but I was returning home to the same mother. My heart wanted to melt into a puddle at the Fatima Apparition chapel. She was my mother and my dense mind was finally getting a handle on that truth.
“Did your experience at Lourdes change the person that you are today?” Of course. But to explain that, off the cuff, to teens that are already begin to pack up their bags and inch towards the door? Impossible.
So I simply told her, “Yes. It changed me.” Slightly simplistic, but entirely true.