Submitted by Leo Llewellyn

A few weeks ago, an advanced septuagenarian, I watched “The Miracle Club” and wept silent tears toward its conclusion. Having lived a long and eventful life, this was not my expected result!  The tears just immediately began to fall as my memory unlocked a long-lost moment.

Back in the summer of 1968 my parents gifted me a European trip prior to my moving to university in Wyoming in the fall. Dad, who was a high school math teacher in Quebec, had my mum and I to give him some ideas of where to go and what to see. As a 17-year-old, I hadn’t a clue as to what to offer him, everything would be new and eye-opening to me.  EUROPE!  I began my life in the hometown of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, but had emigrated to Canada in 1956. Anywhere we went would be good enough for me.

My mother had only one request:  Lourdes, France.

Mum was a failed Catholic. Growing up in India, the story I got was she was too incorrigible for the local convent and was banned from attending her convent by the age of 10. Smoking, cursing and drinking were some of her sins, and the nuns deemed her unfit for a proper education. I seemed to have done alright, I was heading to university!

I did not care a whit where we went, I was going to Europe! Lourdes would be but one stop on the journey. Dad rented a white, standard-transmission Peugeot wagon in Calais, France and we wound our way east through Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, southern France, Spain, back through France, to Lourdes, then north to Paris and eventually, my birth country England.

The Russian incursion into Czechoslovakia in August cut our trip on the continent short. But not before our visit to Lourdes.  If commercialism is rampant today, imagine what it was like in 1968? The Cathedral and grotto of Lourdes enticed 1,000s of visitors daily. The walk down to the hallowed space was lined with vendors.  There were throngs of tourists, but many were disciples, believing in the miracle of Lourdes. 

Mum was in the latter category. She hardly spoke as we wound down the lane of mercantile businesses selling everything imaginable to commemorate the miracle of St. Bernadette. As a young girl Bernadette claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and heard her speak the words, “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

A spring of water was also discovered, where none had been before. In 1933 the Pope canonized Bernadette and she was ‘Sainted’. This grotto lured my mother. She was crying long before we got close to the grotto. When I asked my dad why Mum cried, he told me to hush up and not question my mum.

Truth be told, my young life was not easy and it was not easy for my mother who raised her two boys alone for five years in England while her husband established himself in Canada.

We sat in the chairs in the hot sun while my mum knelt and prayed for what seemed like hours.  She bought a bottle of the ‘grotto water’ and clung to it tightly.  I kept my promise and did not ask my mum about her prayers. We never spoke about Lourdes again.

She and my dad have been gone over half my life now and my memories of them are beginning to fade. But in the darkness of the theatre I watched as the characters were admonishing the vicar who had led them to Lourdes for the annual pilgrimage.  All the women had reasons for a miracle in their lives, but they quickly discovered that the number of miracles that actually occur were minuscule.

One character verbally attacked the vicar, telling him Lourdes was a sham. No one gets miracles she complained. After her criticism, the vicar kindly suggested that people don’t come to Lourdes to receive miracles. They come to Lourdes to find the strength to carry on.

And 60+ years later, I wept for my mother and the strength she desperately sought.