I was raised in a very traditional Irish Catholic house. Church on Sunday followed by donuts and a huge mid-day dinner with roasted meats and potatoes and lots of gravy. Until my grandmother passed away when I was 11 years old we visited her in Roxbury every single Sunday without fail. She would have vanilla cupcakes with white frosting always at the ready and lots of sugary tea. Of course I went to parochial school with the Sisters of St. Joseph, a generally unfriendly lot. That meant weekday Mass during Advent and Lent and weekly confessional. Finally, I was able to escape to the freedom of a public high school and become untethered from the red plaid, itchy, wool uniform I wore every day for years. Silly me, I still ended up at a Catholic college followed by a Catholic university for graduate school!
Alas, all that Catholic training didn’t stick. Despite my parents best efforts, I became something else, a Unitarian Universalist. That’s a story for another day. What did become instilled in me was a healthy dose of Irish superstition, skepticism and a bit of mysticism. How did that happen? I learned to read really early and begged my mother and teachers for chapter books. I wanted to be like my older sisters and brother. What they gave me were books about saints and shrines and okay, a little Nancy Drew too. I devoured these books much like a kid loves fairy tales. I loved learning about saints and all their vows and miracles. A book about the Shrine at Lourdes, where “cripples” went to be healed, was one of my favorites!
Why am I bringing this up? It may be in part, my recent trip to Scotland and Ireland and some odd coincidences that occurred. Most of you know I collect all kinds of coins and tokens and keep them in little bags around me for comfort. I like to give people I meet who touch me in some way, a token too, so they have something to keep with them. And of course, people give me tokens as well. When I was very sick last year in the hospital my kids brought my big bag of tokens to the ICU and lined them up on the window sill as they prayed for a miracle. Among my tokens of course is one for St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer.
Let me back up a little. When my mother and father died a few years ago I inherited many things from them including little dishes adorned with shamrocks, Waterford crystal glasses, crystal rosary beads, a gold, engraved pocket watch that was my grandmother’s and so on. At my insistence, Blanket helped me find an antique oak and glass cabinet to house all of these things together in one place. It comforted me and we jokingly started referring to the cabinet as the Shrine of St. Mary after my mother, Mary. I walk by it many times a day and think of her.
Fast forward to our recent trip to Scotland. I always keep a coin of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, in my bag. One day we got up really early, in the pouring rain, to catch a mini tour bus to visit several abbeys and Hadrian’s Wall. Our second stop was at Melrose Abbey. I was so excited because it was where they buried Robert the Bruce’s heart and I was anxious to see it. Mere steps from the entrance to the ticket office, I suddenly became very sick. Poor Tim. I threw up all over the doorway and continued out on the sidewalk. The lovely lady from the ticket office ran out to see if she could help, offering to call an ambulance. I came up for air while Tim quietly assured her I was okay. Back inside she went while I continued throwing up. Out she came with a bucket of water to clean up and offer me more assistance. We agreed to walk to the chemist up the street. Once there, the chemist was great at locating some travel medicine and looking up all the meds that I take on-line to make sure there wouldn’t be a negative drug interaction and we were good to go. Feeling better but light-headed, we returned to the Abbey. The kind lady once again wanted me to sit for a while and offered me water. Tim assured her I was fine, that I had cancer and this wasn’t all that unusual–the life of someone with stage 4 cancer! (See, it’s not always a bed of roses in my world) Finally, on my feet, we were able to visit the Abbey and wander the lush green ruins in the misting rain. It was truly beautiful and my favorite Abbey of them all! When we finished our meandering something was still nagging at me. Fumbling around my bag, I found my St. Christopher coin and I felt compelled to go back in the ticket office and give it to the kind lady, Rachel, to thank her for helping a traveler in need. Isn’t that what St. Christopher did?
Much later on, we were in the Shrine at Knock, the parish of my grandparents and great grandparents. It is considered a most holy pilgrimage site for those praying to St. Mary. It was there that my cousin Brendan said we should pray for my upcoming pet scans and continued good health. We all know how that turned out!! NED status a week later.
Shortly before school started we went to a lake house in N.H. to visit with Elizabeth and Brain. They were anxiously calling the marina to see if their boat had been repaired so that we could spend a day on the lake. It wasn’t looking good. They called again to see if we could rent a pontoon boat for the day. When they had all but given up, I kiddingly said we should pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Ten minutes later the marina called back with a rental boat. We jumped in the car and roared off to the marina! Just as we were getting on the rental boat, the dock guy came over to say Brian’s boat was ready too! A plethora of boats!
The next evening, a mix up occurred. Elizabeth headed out to pick up some groceries and we assumed she had taken the dog, Larry, with her. When she returned 45 minutes later we quizzically asked where Larry was. She hadn’t taken him! He must have followed her car up the dirt road through the woods. Thus began a frantic search. Everyone was out of their seats calling and searching while Elizabeth and her nephew went back by car to knock on doors. After a bit, Brian said maybe I should pray to the saint of lost causes again. Without skipping a beat I said “Oh no, Larry is not a lost cause, we should pray to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.” I have no idea where this comes from other than all those years of reading chapter books about saints in bed with a flash light. Sure enough, ten minutes later Elizabeth drove up with Larry!!!
Now a good friend of mine is struggling with infertility. Time to call in St. Gerard, the patron saint of mothers and unborn children. Don’t laugh, I’m not kidding. I told you I was superstitious. Try it, you might bring some good karma your own way. Me, I’m sticking with my saints.
Love from the nut house (coconut house),