Being sentimental this time of year, I wanted to reflect back one day over five years ago. It was November of 2011. It’s a story that for me comes full circle by the magic of La Salette.
My husband Bob and I were in Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center seeking treatment for his brain cancer. It’s usually an all-day affair. On the drive home we stopped in Enfield to see this place I never heard of before. I was in awe of it all. A hillside of 20 acres, and your eyes went everywhere.
I saw the Ten Commandments on blocks of stone. There were many statues of Stations of the Holy Cross. You could walk up steps to the hill top and see Mascoma Lake. You could see lights all attached to many things but not ready to be lit up yet. That would take place later on that night, and we didn’t have time for that. We couldn’t stay long, as Bob was tired. He let me run around and take as many photos as I could. He stayed below and enjoyed his fatty.
I remember running around trying to take all the beauty in. I never saw anything like this before. I could feel something “special” and sensations of it all. It was powerful for me. I wished I could stay longer and watch the lights come on. “It must be spectacular,” I thought to myself. They had a statue of the two children to whom the Apparition of the Mother of God appeared to in La Salette, France, in 1846. When I came to this statue I just felt I had to kneel down and pray to it, and pray I did. “Please, I ask of you, give my husband a miracle. He is terminal and there is no cure. If you cannot do that, take me instead. I am older and I don’t mind swapping places with him, eight and a half years older, to be exact,” I said.
I was surely bargaining with whomever would listen that day. I was crying, and turned myself around as I prayed so Bob wouldn’t see me cry. “If you can’t do that and you need him more, than let us both come back one day to see this all lit up. I want us both to see your beauty and make another trip out here.” After snapping many pictures which seemed to be a lifetime, we headed home to our log cabin on Emerald Lake. That night I told Bob that I wanted to go back and see it all lit up. He promised we would go back together and fell fast asleep. It was a long and emotional day for us (you can see Bob at the bottom of the hill patiently waiting in one of the pictures. )
That day never came. You know, the two of us going back to see it lit up.
I never thought about it again as my husband’s illness took priority. He died on April 28, 2013. When making arrangements with the funeral home I told them I didn’t care what priest came to say prayer, as long as he was Catholic. I got to meet him just before the service to talk of Bob’s life. I never did remember his name. I do, however, remember telling him he was so young and I even asked him, “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Yeah, me asking a priest that question. Then I proceeded to tell him he was a cute priest. He smiled. He did his service and left. I was proud of myself. I handled it all from wake, to funeral service, to Marines coming in. I know Bob was proud. He got the finest funeral ever. I made sure of it!
Fast forward 2-½ years later. My friend’s church is doing a bus trip to La Salette at Christmastime. She asked if I wanted to go. “Hell ya,” I said!
I always wanted to see that lit up at Christmas time. It made me think back to Bob’s promise of seeing it together. She also informed me that we would go to Mass and hear a choir at Sacred Heart Parish in Lebanon. We would visit the shrine first in Enfield. The day had arrived for our trip, and when the bus stopped it was magical. It was so lit up with angels tooting on horns and outdoor nativity scenes with the animals, Mother Mary and Joseph and the three wise men. There were over 50,000 Christmas lights with many outdoor displays. It was taped off so you wouldn’t fall on ice, climbing to the Stations of the Holy Cross. I was happy that I got to see all the statues, a few years earlier, up close and personal.
They called this display the Festival of Lights. I snapped pictures everywhere. I finally made it here and it was so wonderful to finally see it in all its splendor. I wished that Bob was with me as a tear rolled down my cheek. Somehow I knew he was. He was my angel watching over me. I had to believe in that much. We went inside and had a bite to eat as there is a small cafeteria with some seating. Many bus tours bring people by. It’s a tradition for some folks and a spiritual journey for others. For me it was personal. I got to finally see the lights and it made me happy.
Inside another area was an International Nativity Sets Exhibit. We were told that they have at least 450 exhibits from over 50 countries. Some were gifts to the priests that do their missions there. How wonderful it was to see the different ways people around the world celebrate. They all had one common denominator, baby Jesus. Beautiful. Here are pictures from that night.
We soon headed back on the bus as we had church to attend in another town. Our tour guide (a priest) informs us that we will go see a fellow priest that now has his own congregation, and he loves it. He says the man is quite young. He will be happy to see his fellow buddy again. He said the choir will be nice to hear, also. We get to our destination and, one by one, we step off the bus and have to walk to the side of the church to the entrance. It was taking a while. I didn’t know that young priest was outside on a cold day shaking hands with all who had arrived. He welcomed us one by one. We turned the corner and, being short, I couldn’t fully see who it was, with so many tall ones in front of me.
As I got closer and closer and I made it up the step to shake his hand, I am in awe. Where have I seen this priest before? Why would I know him? We are in a different town miles away from home. It hits me like a ton of bricks. This is the young priest that did my husband’s Mass at the funeral home in Manchester. OMG! What are the odds of that? It comes to me full circle. My second meeting with him, and I felt that I was meant to be here on this day. You see, my babe was with me to see the lights, after all. He kept his promise.
It was all I could do to not fully sob while the choir sang. I sat right in the front pew. I wanted to take it all in. In front of me was a statue of an angel and I knew mine was watching over me that night. I felt his presence for sure. We had a snack after and I met up with this young priest and I told him my full circle story. He told me God works mysteriously, and he remembered me from the short visit 2-½ years earlier. Who could forget an older lady telling him he was a cute priest? It’s a night I will never forget with my angel sitting at my side.
I was full of joy and song. The ride home was sweet for me. This was a most magical night. Our lady of La Salette brought a message of reconciliation, peace and joy! But most of all my babe kept his promise to me!!! To see the Festival of Lights together. Its beauty will forever be etched in my mind. This was the last picture I took that night in the church. Enough said!
Merry Christmas to you and all your families. May the New Year, 2017, bring you much Love, Joy, Peace & Promise & a trip to La Salette. A trip you will never regret.
In 2015 the lights almost shut down at La Salette due to the number of dwindling priests in the religious community. The facility is voted to stay open, for now.
Gail Durant is the fourth-oldest from a family of 13 children. She has lived in Manchester her whole life with the exception of one year in Hillsboro. She worked for 41 years in shoe shops, laundry and manufacturing and fully retired five years ago. She lost her husband Bob almost three years ago to brain cancer, and is currently writing a book about their love story, Bob’s diagnosis, and the signs she receives from him, to this day. Proceeds from the book will go to charities to help children in some way and also for brain cancer research. She resides in Manchester with her dog, Miss Spirit (short for Christmas Spirit) and has a daughter she adopted a few years ago, who came into her life at age 7 and is now 40. She has enjoyed photography most of her life, and loves taking random shots, and spinning the thoughts she has into stories, with pictures. She can be reached at email@example.com.