By Patty Crawford
The road to Santuario de Chimayo winds through the high desert mountains of New Mexico. My family had finished a wonderful lunch at a nearby restaurant and now was in search of the holy dirt that has made it the most significant pilgrimage site in the United States. We were a car full of people who wanted to believe in the curative powers of the holy dirt but didn’t want to let go and give up our feet on the ground, can’t fool us attitude. Yet, we each had found a container to cart away some of the famous substance. The parking lot was surprisingly empty, considering the site had over 300,000 visitors a year. We started the walk to the sanctuary but soon were separated by our varied interest in different shrines and plaques.
By the time I reached the side chapel that housed the holy of dirt, I was by myself. The narrow entryway was lined with crutches and walkers that people no longer needed. The walls were covered with photos of people from all over the world. Beside them were notes and letters. The church pews along the wall were empty. The room of the interior chapel had an uneven floor with a hole in the middle, with a child’s plastic beach shovel sticking out of the hole. I felt for my plastic bag in my pocket. How was I going to do this? I felt like I should kneel reverently but the thought of kneeling, digging in a hole, and then trying to get up, without anything to hold onto, presented a picture that didn’t seem appropriate for a sacred place. I was thankful that I was alone, yet wished someone was there to assist with the task. I knelt beside the holy dirt. Two scoops in the bag seemed right without being greedy. I pushed the shovel back into the hole; put my hands on the ground and pushed myself up into a less than graceful downward facing dog posture.
I exited the chapel while securing the zip lock on my plastic bag. At first I didn’t notice the couple on the bench as I put my holy dirt into my purse. Then I heard,
“You’re here. We’ve been waiting.” I looked up to see an older woman smiling and holding out her arms to me. She was wearing a ski jacket and sitting beside a smiling man who was connected to a portable oxygen tank.
“Me?” I asked.
“Yes, you. You’re finally here.” She replied. I walked toward her, not understanding and not wanting to be foolish. She took my hands in hers as I sat down beside her.
The man leaned toward me, “We come here every day. I’ve been coming since I was seven years old.” The woman started to touch my face.
“You are beautiful,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“We’re both Patty,” she said.
“We arrange the photos. We don’t want anyone’s face to be hid.” I could hear the bursts of oxygen between the words. “I grew up here.”
“It’s forever. Now you tomorrow see. So good, so good.” Patsy stood up, grabbed my hand and led me into the church.”
“Patsy, did you grow up here?”
“The beginning must.” She held her arm towards the multi-colored altar.
Its painted images glowed in the warmly lit church. Built in the early 1800’s, the thick adobe walls put two hundred years between me and the beginning of my day. My clinical self told me that Patsy had dementia. My heart, on the other hand, felt her joy and I welcomed her loving touch. We sat down in a pew then Patsy touched my face and left me alone. I tried to return to being a tourist.
When I walked back to the parking lot, I again found myself beside Patsy and Dennis. Patsy took my hand and walked me toward my family car. I turned to say good-by and she kissed me on the cheek.
“Pray for us.” Dennis said.
“I’ll pray for you every day.” Patsy added.
I got into the car.
“Who’s the lady you were kissing in the parking lot?” my sister asked.
“That was Patsy and her husband Dennis.” I started to explain and my explanation didn’t make much sense.
Patsy was living a life of joy and purpose. I have no idea if she greets others as she greeted me. She gave me the feeling that I was exactly in the place I was supposed to be, expected and welcomed. She never doubted that I would eventually come. I believe that she prays for me every day just as I pray for her and Dennis.
“They were just walking to their car over there.” I pointed over to a shady spot under a tree. There was a spotted cat sitting in the dust.
“I didn’t see them get into a car.” My sister said.
I thought of what Patsy had said and most of it made no sense, yet I never claim to speak angel.
I think of and pray for Patsy and Dennis every day. At Open Circle I feel Patsy is close when I am listening with my heart. So much is communicated with words that don’t make sense. Relationships grow and flourish without language. The power of presence takes center stage.