I spent a week with the sisters at what they called a live-in. That used to be a popular style of naming: back in the day we had sit-ins, teach-ins, live-ins, and even die-ins. I spent the entire week at the convent terrified that somehow a vast, unwanted change was going to be forced on me by God, by some signal that I would come to recognize despite my dread and resistance.
I got to the live-in by convincing myself that it would be a simple personal retreat. Somehow I ignored the part of the write-up in my church bulletin that said something about living with the sisters in community. Sure, you could do that in a personal retreat, couldn’t you? Those words didn’t mean anything more than that. Right?
I took a bus; a sister picked me up at the station; we drove for not very long as I got more and more anxious, because it was dawning on me that I was now sitting in a car with a professed nun, going to the place where she lived to spend a week with her and women like her, because I had somehow gotten myself here, and something might be going on with me that I had not really recognized, and then we were in the circular drive in front of a rambling house. I was too distracted to notice much, so I barely heard the phrase “dirty cards” being sort of sung through the air. As in, “Yes, Sister, I got something for you! Some dirty cards from Smokey Steve’s!”
The sister who had picked me up was young, 35 at most, and now she was calling out to an elderly sister at an upper window. Even at a distance I could see that that face was full of mischief. She was waving something at us: her dirty cards, which turned out to be worn and creased, possibly soiled or discolored prayer cards. She could not bear for them to be thrown away and lovingly took them into her care, and all of the sisters were continually on the lookout for them. Yes, Anglicans (Episcopalians) have prayer cards, although they are not very common. The very first thing she called out, which I pieced together later in my memory, was “Sister! Did you bring me anything?”
There was more back and forth. We were standing on a pebbly driveway in the sunlight of a beautiful summer’s day. We were talking and laughing. What had I been so afraid of? God presumably was not going to overpower me then and there. I relaxed a little. And anyway, I came here for a retreat, I thought, only that. I never said anything about wanting to be a nun. I relaxed a little more. Everything would be fine.
We carried my bags into the house. The young sister caught sight of someone behind me and said, “Here is our other live-in for the week. I will leave you two to get acquainted.”
I turned. Standing before me was a young woman about my height, about my size, another skinny girl, only blonde. She radiated something. Could it possibly be anxiety? I soon found out, because she said — well, really, she shouted — “Hi! Are you here to see if you want to be a nun?” And looked as if she might jump out of her skin.
September 9, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths