Saturday, June 2, 2012

Our Lady of Good Help

            5 on a summer’s morning is too early. I breakfast, shower, and dress in sequence for the first time in a while. There’s a map on the tablecloth for us. I found missed calls from Papa, my grandpa: he wanted to know if I need anything for the trip and if one could call someone through a computer.
            The map says we’re going to the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help. Huh. So that’s where.
            My mom’s down at around 6 for work. She says it’s nice of me to go with them to the shrine. I say no problem, since I’m not sure of what else to say.
            At 6:10, she says, “They’re still not here?”
            She laughs, “I guess I shouldn’t be.”
            Papa takes me by surprise by entering through the back door at 6:48. Mums, who refuses to let us call her grandma, sits in the bright red car, hands by tired head. Her long, curly black hair surrounds her head like the heavy black clothing surrounds her. Sunglasses fit snugly on her tight, frail, devoted face. She’s a muffled kind of glad to see me home from college, as she loves to talk and learns all she can when she can. She’s not happy to be going. Neither one likes long car rides, which is why I’m essential today. If they think that’s the main reason I want to go, then so be it.
            I step into a car drenched in the smell of snacks used to keep Papa awake. The pilgrimage begins.

            “What time did you get up?”
            “5,” I told him. “I expected you guys to be there at 6. Silly me.”
            He laughed the small, simple laugh he does. “Yeah, me too.” He, too, wears sunglasses, but carries a tanned and fit body that takes years off of him. A small cross hangs by his heart, held above the countless rosaries and faith books he owns by its position alone. He’s the follower you’d follow.

            Around the time we were talking about father figures, the story of my cousin’s friend was told. She was now living with my cousin’s family, alone and scared and pregnant and seventeen. She ran away from her home after her father slapped her around, demanding an abortion from her. The friction will probably cause the parents to divorce, Mums says.
            “That’s terrible,” I told them. “Do you know what I can do to help?”
            “I don’t know,” said Mums, her sunglasses and warm blacks still creating a presence even though I sat in front.
            There must be something I can do for her. Maybe I’d look after her child once it’s born, let her at least get a G.E.D.. I’d stay away from school for that. I don’t think I’d give up my life for the stranger, just my living life, if that makes any sense. Better than how I’m spending it now.

            “Let’s talk about gay marriage!”
            I laughed and turned to her, then said, “7:30. You waited. This must be a new record for you guys.”
            “So Nick,” she smiles, ready to attempt a conversion once again, “Let’s go back to what we were talking about earlier. If gays can marry, what’s to stop people from marrying a horse?”
            “If we’re judging by human standards, a horse’s mind will never be in the right state of mind to consent.” My original answer was “Horses can’t consent,” but I know about the answer I’d get in return.
            She told it anyway. “Yes it can! It can tap its hooves three times for yes!” We all laughed, and that laughter dragged down that line of conversation. Humor usually wins debates, the world’s and my own, but I’ve never been bothered too much by it till now. Makes me feel like a slogan-maker can usurp us.

            “Listen, Nick, I hope you understand it’s not gay people I’m against, it’s the gay act. Being gay in itself is not bad.”
            Great. It’s easier to debate someone when he or she is a full-fledged bigot. They’re still human.

            We pass by two construction workers standing tall over hundreds of cones. The one using the jackhammer has his mask off and cigarette in mouth as his tool obliterates the ground beneath him.
            The lanes double once more. “They finally ran out of cones!” we laugh.

            “What did you get in Chemistry?”
            “I haven’t checked,” I lied.

             My great-grandma was ahead of my time, I’m told. She was a strong believer in education as the future. Heck, she even flossed, a rarity in her time. When Mums was a young mother, great-Mums saved my mom’s life by recognizing a penicillin allergy. I change the subject.


 “How’s Shannan doing?”
            “Has he found a job yet?”
            “No, he’s still waiting. You know, he’s been spending time on the Internet looking up autism, and he’s pretty sure he has it.”
            I don’t know why we let these guys use the Internet. “That’s a really… a really bad idea. You’re always going to jump to the worst possible conclusion if you do that. There’s this site, Web M.D., that’s the best example of that. You go there with a cold and leave believing you have cancer.”

            “You know you’re insulting me when you say things like that,” I tell them.
            We had jumped the topic towards Georgetown and the protests centered around Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s planned speech at their university. She was instrumental in the proposed regulations requiring all health employers to provide contraceptives.
            “Now Nick, I’m not saying that for you, because I know you’re smart.”
            “Do you really think we’re that much like plato?” I demanded, somehow still calm in voice. “She probably won’t even be talking about health care, those speeches tend to have a minimum blandness quota. We’re not influenced that easily.”
            This and the nun scandal lets me feel why so many people are too shy to declare they’re Catholic.


            After our Garmin led us a little astray, we finally glided across grass fields into the parking lot of Our Lady of Good Help Chapel. Worn, contracted bodies emerged from our car, happy to extend arms after four hours to the air and to the sprawling and small brick church in front of us. All the little grey roofs pointed to the golden cross on top of our destination.
            By a map, I read the posted story of St. Adele Joseph Brise, the aforementioned Lady. She left Belgium in 1855 with her family for Wisconsin, carrying with her a long-ago promise to live faith. On October four years later, she saw a lady in white, majestic and captivating, stand between two trees and then disappear into a white cloud. Following the advice of her confessor, she asked, “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” when the lady reappeared days later. Adele learned she was visited by Mary, Queen of Heaven, and that she was to catechize the children of this open and distorted land. This church was where she fulfilled this mission. She carried it through fatigue, ignorance, ridicule and even fire until her death in 1896. It wasn’t until 2010 that a Church board reviewed the miracles that occurred there and declared the apparitions authentic.
            A mass had just ended as we walked in, so we sat to kneel and pray. It was a large-domed wooden hall with modernity tacked on to the sides in the form of fans and lights. In front stood alabaster Mary, above the candles and the angels and flowers.
            We moved over to the candles and to a sacred object enshrined in thick glass. Papa handed me a card:

Prayer Petitions to Our Lady of Good Help
O Mary, Queen of Heaven, intercede with your Son for me. Please help me with:

Blessed Mother, thank you for hearing my prayer. Amen.
(These prayer petitions will be kept in the Altar of Good Help for one year.)


            I tried to give it back, but he insisted I use it. So I turned to face the brown box tucked away in the dim hall.
            I don’t like myself enough to pray for me. There’s plenty I could use help on, I suppose- I don’t know where I’ll be when the next school semester comes around- but it seems weird to beg for something I could get myself if I wasn’t an awful person. Shouldn’t ask for help when I’m the weight on the back of someone beyond me. I can’t help the pregnant seventeen-year-old this way due to the wording of the petition; the same goes for other concepts the Church and I see similarly. This little wood box has my awe. There’s a power in there I’m not sure I’m ready to address.
            I slip the paper in my pocket while Mums and Papa are at the candles. I should keep myself in good enough shape to drive. After all, the only reason I’m here is because they needed me. 

1 comment:

  1. Very good story with a lot of strong details that resonated with me. The grandparents are interesting characters, and I like the way you reveal the narrator's feelings about them. Their cordial yet strained relationship reflects the tension between older and younger generations of Catholics, and the narrator wrestling with the decision to fill out the petitition card is a very evocative moment.