And here’s how it ended last night: with my New Orleans friend Ken Bickford and me, enjoying “welcome home” drinks at the bar at Commander’s Palace. I’m drinking a Sazerac, and Ken’s drinking a bourbon milk punch:
Ken is the ultimate example of high-spirited Louisiana localism. First of all, look at that seersucker suit, and the LSU-themed bow tie. Second of all, he knows everybody in New Orleans. Commander’s was closed when he called to ask if we could come have a drink — it was between the lunch and dinner shifts — but of course they opened the bar for him. We walked through the kitchen, and Ken introduced me to the chef. At the bar, Greg Brennan, who runs the restaurant for his illustrious restaurant family, took this picture of us. It was a fine time, and a wonderful way to end the tour.
After Commander’s fortified me, we went over to the Garden District Book Shop for my talk about the book. It was so great to see old friends in the audience. Stephen and Natalie drove up from Franklin; Dewey and Michelle were there from New Orleans, as was my old high school classmate Craig, and my new friend Jason, from the LSMSA board. I also got to meet Father Byron Miller, the Redemptorist priest who’s in charge of the Blessed Seelos Shrine over in the Irish Channel.
If you don’t know the story of Father Seelos, follow that link. He was a German immigrant priest who came to New Orleans in the 19th century to minister to the people there. At that time, New Orleans was considered a hardship post, because of the subtropical diseases that routinely wracked the the population. Father Seelos was a tireless servant of the people, and preached taking up one’s cross with joy and confidence. It cost him his life; he succumbed to a yellow fever epidemic at a relatively young age. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II after a miracle related to his intercession was verified. Today, people from all over south Louisiana go to pray before his tomb in the shrine, asking him to pray for their healing.
I went to ask Father Seelos’s intercession for Ruthie two days after his diagnosis — a story I tell in Little Way. And as I tell later in Little Way, my Methodist sister went down to a healing mass at the shrine, to pray for her own healing from cancer. A stranger from the crowd came up to Ruthie, took her by the arm, and said, “Expect a miracle.” This greatly cheered Ruthie.
She died anyway. So did she not get her miracle?
After 10 days on the road, I think she got her miracle.
Remember, Ruthie kept telling me throughout her cancer journey, “We just don’t know what God is going to do with this.” She said this with hope in her heart, to encourage us. She meant that there is meaning and redemption in her suffering, and that while she hoped for a total healing, it might not happen — but ultimate good could come out of it. So be of good cheer! Watch and wait, and do what you can to praise God, to help others, and to redeem the suffering.
Over the course of these last 10 days, I have met so many people, and heard from many others on this blog and via e-mail, who have been deeply affected by Ruthie’s story, and who want to change their lives. Most heart-shaking were stories from people who finished the book and wanted to reach out to reconcile themselves to estranged family members. Ruthie would love that. She would absolutely love that. These may not qualify as miracles in the strict sense, but they are acts of God, the Holy Spirit moving through the lives of God’s people, healing those who open their hearts to grace. As one of Ruthie’s friends told me the other day, “She’s still teaching us.”
I was thinking this morning that if you are someone who feels lost and far from home, this book is for you. If you are someone who grieves estrangement from your parents or siblings, this book is for you. If you are someone who is suffering from disease, or despairing over a crisis of faith, Little Way is for you. If you know someone who has strayed far from their roots, and who is lost in a lifestyle of professional achievement and material acquisition, and who needs to be reminded what life is all about, this book is for you to buy for them — or if that person is you, let Ruthie speak to your heart.
As I told a Dallas audience, seeing while on the road how heavy are the burdens that people carry, and how much good Ruthie’s story can do to help them, has made me think hard about my vocation as a writer. More on this later, as I work through these thoughts.
I want to say one more thing before I get ready for the final tour event, a 2pm appearance today in Baton Rouge, at the Perkins Rowe Barnes & Noble. I made a pilgrimage yesterday in New Orleans to the Blessed Seelos Shrine, and knelt before his reliquary and prayed for every single one of the hurt and broken and sick people I met on this tour. I asked God to heal you, and asked Father Seelos to pray for you. And I asked Ruthie to pray for you.
It is all about grace. Expect a miracle. It might not be the miracle you want, but it will be the miracle you need.