© Copyright 2012 by Gayle Thawley
In short, with a thumpity-thump the wheels of the old gray bus turned off the main asphalt roadway onto a narrow rock lined path of broken concrete flanked by brown grasses of varying lengths on either side. The path ahead seemingly went to nowhere as it faded into Mt. Korressos. Perhaps it was best that the path up the mountain was so obscured for knowing its hair-pinned turns, similar to those on Lombard Street in San Francisco, just might have waylaid all comers. Reminiscent of a child’s golden book, the little bus that could chugged away turn after turn climbing higher and higher. Suddenly, just as one’s vision adjusted to the muted landscape it all took a dramatic turn.
Trees, thick lush trees, began to surround the narrow road. The grasses changed from muted browns to vibrant greens. Even the roadway became more navigable. One could not help but feel as if, like Dorothy, they were fast approaching the miraculous Emerald City of OZ. Suddenly, somewhere among the trees, the bus stopped and the door opened for all to disembark to utter disenchantment for the walkway ahead was a boardwalk of kiosks of religious items validating nothing was sacred. Nothing, that was, until the kiosks ended at a large Baptismal Font within the ground which signaled consecrated grounds.
There the hundreds of faithful visitors patiently waited their turn in silence to enter the shrine to the Mother of Jesus. The small low-lying cottage of aged rectangular stones housed two rooms no larger than 20’ X 20’. An altar, complete with a statute of Mary, afforded an opportunity for prayer to the Mother of God. In one corner two nuns attested to the sanctity of the moment as they stood softly chanting heavenly prayers. Following the line of worshipers into the obvious living area one could not help but marvel at the unworldly simplicity so foreign in our world today.
To say that the experience was moving would be an understatement as reflected by the actions of the crowds as they left the building. The path led to an overly full “Wishing Wall” where thousands of pilgrims have left their wishes on paper or cloth crammed into the nooks and crannies of stone. Adjacent to the wall was a well, complete with miniature corked clay jugs for filling with the well’s salt water. Throngs of people swarmed around the well collecting jug after jug of the water believed to have healing powers for the faithful.
Why is there such devotion? For those who are unaware of the teachings of Catholicism, prayers to the Virgin Mary to intercede will always be answered IF they are in one’s best interest for Jesus can never deny His Mother.
How does one explain the overwhelming sense of oneness that comes from sharing the surroundings of one of the world’s most revered persons? As the tour ended, it was obvious that the visit not only fostered an understanding of the life Mary lived but it also magnified a respect for the character of a woman who has inspired emulation throughout history.
Not a word was spoken by anyone as the old gray bus made its way down the winding, broken road to its final thumpity-thump. One can only surmise that all were basking in the glow of their spiritual experience.
For me, as night approached, that glow took a turn toward darkness for by dinner I was longing for a hot toddy and some homemade chicken noodle soup but alas, none could be found. The night that followed was filled with coughing and congestion with little sleep. Thank heavens we were full steam ahead for our final destination, Amsterdam, where we were to disembark for our flight home.
To say that International flights are not easy would be an understatement. The check-in process alone was enough to cause one to lose one’s religion. Add to this a two hour delay with no explanation given until an announcement over the loud speaker declared the cancellation of the flight due to a leak in the fuel line and the airline’s ground representatives fast became the most pitiable persons on Earth. Herded like sheep to market, we were then led to a van armed with food and room coupons to assuage our inconvenience.
Twenty minutes from the airport, the most wonderfully quaint hotel was plopped in the middle of fields filled with cattle. The distinctly elegant European décor was surpassed only by the fabulous food which filled buffet table after buffet table for each and every meal. Still, the coughing and congestion worsened to a point where not even the most memorable night would have been pleasurable.
Thankfully, the next day we were routed without incident to Newark Airport. By the time the plane landed in the states walking was no longer an option. Succumbing to a wheel chair became the favored mode of mobility as it became more and more apparent the night would be spent staying at the airport. The hours past midnight were inarguably the longest of my life.
The waiting area became overrun with homeless people rooting through trash can after trash can. Sitting in the wheel chair with my husband sleeping in an adjacent chair I felt like road kill surrounded by buzzards circling overhead. Being sick and tired is bad enough but being scared too puts one over the top. No traveler could have been more relieved when fifty-eight hours after our journey home began, our final flight touched down in Southwest Florida.
In the days that followed, two trips to the doctor, and five prescriptions, afforded no cure. Then one day, while sitting at my computer, my eyes fixed on the corked, clay jug of water from Mary’s Last Home. Knowing that countless Pilgrims have testified to the healing power of the same water which had been blessed by various Popes including Pope Benedict XVI, I splashed the holy water all over my neck and chest, said some prayers and laid down to sleep my illness away.
Not an hour later, coughing, gagging and a raging headache served as my notice there was no miracle. Clearly, my prayers were not to be answered. In short, I was not one of the faithful to be saved by Divine Intervention.
The only conclusion is that I have been put on notice that I am going to burn in Hell. Only one question remains. Did my once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mary’s Last Home near Ephesus, Turkey evince the absolute certainty of my doom or can my fate be altered?
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