IMG_0334Yesterday at lunchtime I decided to walk up to the garden and pick some of the lettuce Esther had invited me to eat. I had just gotten to the path when John the postman pulled up in his white van. He jumped out and gave me a hug and a welcome back, then leaned against the front fender (“Plastic,” he says, knocking it. “If I get a bash in in I just push it back out.”) and, with the motor running, proceeded to talk for the next 30 minutes.

John’s usual story for me is about his summer in Walnut Creek, where his hostess and cousin kept them from visiting the local by stocking the basement fridge with beer and telling them there was no reason to leave the house. We skipped that story this time. Instead, I learned that John has four children and ten grandchildren. His youngest daughter (who just had his youngest grandchild) will be married in September with a reception in Tullamore after a ceremony at the Edenderry church. He’ll go to a stag night at Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday (a popular destination for stag and hen parties, he tells me) where he’ll participate in archery but not clay pigeon shooting. He’ll go, that is, unless his handicapped sister, who lives in a nursing home, deteriorates further; he is waiting for the call. (As if on cue his mobile rang, but he checked the number and didn’t pick up.)

This was all prelude to his main story, which is the pilgrimage he and his wife (who won’t fly more than 2-and-ahalf hours but made an exception this time) took to Croatia. There is a town there that has been visited by Our Lady, he says, and he and his wife went to see what the fuss was about. There they had an audience with an 85-year-old woman who is one of the three people whom Our Lady has visited. She told them about being taken by the hand by Our Lady and brought to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. In Heaven everyone wore the same colored robes, although John couldn’t remember what color they were. In Hell there was no fire, but something like a fire; he had difficulty understanding the Dutch interpreter. He remembered that Purgatory was covered with mist so the woman could see nothing.

Another of the three people visited by Our Lady, a man this time, organized a viewing to be held at precisely 10:10pm in the same field that has hosted all of the visions. As the crowd gathered, the man told them that whatever they did they must not use flash photography. But wouldn’t you know, the Italians didn’t listen and at 10:10 they started flashing their camera phones all over the place, so no vision was recorded that evening.

For all of the silliness, I could see that John was moved. He and his wife hiked up a mountain while they were there and had a view all around the countryside. They ate well, spent little money but most of all they “felt something.” It’s impossible not to feel the sincerity of this man. As they were leaving Croatia, his wife, she who hates to fly, said, We should come back. And John agreed.