If I mention at the lunch table something that I have seen on a television series the night before, no one asks me the question “Do you really believe that?” My colleagues do not suspect any extremes of technological naiveté on my part. I can profess admiration for Dr. John Watson’s loyalty in the newest PBS version of the Sherlock Holmes story, and lunch companions simply learn a little more about how I spend my evenings. They may glimpse something of my sympathies and values. They do not appear inclined to test my hold on reality.
An inveterate reader of poetry is trained to imagine things. It is a tribute to the poet Mary Szybist that she can get me to picture the pigeons and doves she saw gathering one day in an ash tree in Bellagio, Italy. That is, if there really had been an ash tree. If there really had been birds that hopped from branch to branch one day while the poet watched them. Accepting the conventions of imaginative literature, I am eventually moved by a life truth that the writer, bereaved and far from home, manages to convey through just those images.
“Do you really believe that?”
I grew up within a religious tradition with holy cards and a calendar of holy days. I grew up familiar with what a grotto might look like although I had never seen one. (Louisiana does not boast natural caves.) Very young, I learned the narrative about a grotto in southern France and a presence there to which an impoverished young girl had responded in the nineteenth century. I heard of subsequent pilgrim journeys and healings and hearts that were expectant as passengers looked out the windows of trains travelling into the French Pyrenees. When February 11 comes and goes each year, I get a reminder that it is human to be full of need and full of expectation.
I really believe that.