Friday, April 10, 2009
Each year on Good Friday, thousands of people throughout New Mexico journey on foot to El Santuario de Chimayo, known as the "Lourdes of the Southwest." Some walk only a few miles, some journey for days from the southernmost reaches of the state in order to reach the church on time. My mother made the walk once, with one of her good friends. A lifelong practicing Catholic, my mother rarely spoke of her faith, but it was with her always, as much a part of her identity as her skin and her bones, her mind and her heart. Chimayo was one of her most favorite places on earth and she loved to go there to soak in its beauty and spirit.
After she died, my stepfather asked me to come by the house and go through my mom's "cabinet," a big wardrobe in their guest bedroom/office, in which mom had kept her collectible pottery, glassware, and jewelery. My stepfather was adamant that I take as much as I wanted from this cabinet, since mom and I had collected and traded many of these items together.
Among all the Fire King glass and Bauer pottery and German china I discovered a small clear glass vial filled with dirt. I remember my mom telling me once on a visit to Chimayo that she had taken some of the "holy dirt" inside the shrine, which many people believe has special healing powers for both physical and spiritual ills. I took a lot of mom's things that day, but I left the vial, pushing it instead into the far left corner of the cabinet's topmost shelf.
I think my mother would have approved of the joke. Although respectful of his wife's faith, my stepfather remains what he's always been: an unapologetic atheist. As far as I know that vial is still there, and I get a giggle out of knowing that as my stepfather sits in his office, his back to the cabinet, cruising the Internet or sending out emails, or working on his lists, that small vial of Chimayo dirt radiates its healing powers out into the room, whether anyone living in it believes in them or not.