“It’s her birthday,” I say to the man sitting at my bed. He’s young, dressed in white. His clothes look familiar. That long apron, the hood, those black beads at his side. I recognize his clothing . . .
“Whose birthday, Master?” he asks, looking up from his book.
Oh, a book! My gaze flows from his face to the book in his lap. What is he reading? I hope it’s about Scripture. Maybe he’ll read to me from his book. Or is it my book? What’s he doing with my book? He has no right to take my book when I’m here—
“Master?” the young man speaks.
“Uh—what do you want?” I reply.
“You said it’s someone’s birthday. Whose?”
“Birthday?” I reply. Is it my birthday? How old am I? Let’s see, I’d be . . . I can’t remember what year it is. In my late 70s, probably. How about that, a man teaching into his 70s! Great, indeed. I still have much to offer my brothers. I can teach theology, philosophy, botany, biology, astronomy. Anything. They say I have the greatest mind in Europe. I should be proud. But it’s not for me, it’s for them, that they may become thinkers greater than I and save souls with their preaching.
I remember a beautiful lady dressed in white, a blue cloak around her shoulders and stars around her head. She appeared to me when I was . . . how old was I? I was in Cologne. Or Paris? Or maybe . . . Hmm, I forget. She gave me my life, I know that! I was doubting whether to become . . . Hmm, become what? A bishop! That’s it. No, that’s not right. I never wanted to become a bishop, although I did so at the Pope’s request. I wanted to be a . . . priest maybe. Wait, am I priest? Did I join—
The memory races back, the vision of that beautiful lady. My memory is so weak; I look into my past, discovering hardly more than shadows. I scan the encyclopedia of my mind, which once held almost all knowledge acquirable, but I can’t seem to open that encyclopedia anymore. I’m known as the greatest thinker alive; people even call me “the Great” because of my intelligence! Everything I’ve accomplished is due to intelligence. But now that flees me, abandoning me. I’m left in darkness and confusion. Where once was expertise and wisdom, now is shadows and empty cells.
The memory of that beautiful Lady! I forget her words, but I see her, oh so beautiful, drawing me to her Son! She appeared and told me to join whatever it is I joined. Even when my mind flees me, I still have her before me, smiling. She was present throughout life, even when I couldn’t see her. She protected me, guided me, granted me wisdom. I was her special son, receiving her abundant love, and her love guided me into her true Son.
“Say,” I speak to the man sitting at my bed. He’s young, dressed in white. His clothes look familiar. That long apron, the hood, those black beads at his side. I recognize his clothing . . . “What is today’s date?”
“September 8th, Master Albert.”
“September 8th! Why, it’s her birthday! My Blessed Mother. Quick, fetch some flowers and place them at her altar! Be grateful for her love and protection; when everything else abandons you, when all friends and family have died, when strength is gone and vision and memory fade, all that’s left is the love of the Blessed Mother and the infinite Love and Mercy of her Divine Son, Christ our Lord.”
The young man sets the book aside and stands, apparently leaving the room.
“Where are you going?” I ask. “Don’t leave me.”
“But Master,” he replies. “You told me to fetch some flowers.”
“I did?” I say. “Well, never mind that. Stay here with me. I don’t recognize this room, and I don’t want to be alone. Read to me from that book.”
“Yes, Master Albert. It’s by our brother, Thomas. You remember him, don’t you? He was your pupil.”
My vision darkens and his voice fades away. A tune enters my mind, a birthday song for my glorious Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary: