This project's goal is to give each family member and myself just 10 minutes of unconditional positive regard every day. All attention is focused on the other person for those 10 minutes and only positive comments or thoughts are allowed. Just 10 minutes often becomes much more. Try it and see. You'll find the Just 10 guidelines on the right side of this blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vulcan Fireworks

Vulcan was the Roman god of Fire.  It's also the planet that was home to Mr. Spock.  The pairing of fire with Mr. Spock was no accident.  Underneath the calm, impassive exterior, fire burns.

Recently, my husband and I fought.  We don't fight often but when we do we light up the sky with fireworks.  They scream out a passionate intensity that takes both of us by complete surprise.  We try to pretend we are Vulcans in real life.  This pretending is more consequential than deliberate.  Fire burns brightly within each of us.  It is a fire that often burns our fingers and causes others to stand at a distance.  We struggle to contain it.  We are frightened of it.

Some times we fail to keep the fire in check, hence the pyrotechnic fight.  During these fights and sometimes for days afterward, I think to myself,  "I am so done.  This is so over.  I am so out of here."
But I see the fire burning behind the words and I wait for the flames to die down before taking any action.  Years of experience have taught this Vulcan that much.  The very next time the fireworks explode, I'll scold myself for my inaction.  Running always seems easier.  When the fireworks end and the memories of the intense heat of standing too close and getting burned, fade away, I am left only with this truth,

"There is no place to run."

I can not run from my own inner fire and from one so like me.  I would carry him with me where ever I go whether I want to or not. 

Several days after the last embers glow, I begin to see things more clearly.  My Vulcan exterior sees what's underneath. 
Suddenly, I say to my other half,  "One of our biggest problems is that underneath it all we have artistic temperaments."
He looks at me and says, "Yah, I know."
We talk of it no longer.  The realization stays with me.  The other night it crept into my dreams.

The dream, hazy in all details, except one, my true feelings for my soul mate lie hidden from me until a point of light pierces the darkness and I am flooded with emotion for the object of my affection, the soul mate of my dreams.  The Vulcan, within guarding the fire knows that this may not always be true.  Almost everything changes and so might this soul mate connection.  This I live with easily. 

It's the other realization that is much harder to bear.  My efforts to hold tightly to my Vulcan facade have come with a great price.  I have deprived myself of a depth of feeling, the depth of my own emotions.  The Vulcan facade is built of fear.  Fearing loss and pain, I have blocked much joy.  The artist soul within gently weeps.  A sobbing only I can hear echoes in my heart.  I mourn all I have missed.

Crushed by the weight of this insight, I'm left wanting to find a better way, a way that walls off less while still keeping the fire within from burning too brightly.  Then I see that I am once again the victim of my own feelings.  This insight isn't new at all.  I have chosen not to see it.  I'm holding it tightly until it hurts.  I can let it go so that it can walk along side of me.

I started Just 10 because it helped provide my passionate intensity a focus, a way of relating to those that I love in a satisfying and meaningful way.  My Vulcan moments punctuate a life of greater balance and insight.  The artist within uses exaggeration and hyperbole to sling its message at an imaginary Goliath (or in my case, Klingon or Romulan).  All this effort makes me laugh.  It's time to try less and simply live more.  It's time to just be. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seeking Inspiration

Imagine inspiration a place.  Yesterday, try as I might, I couldn't get there.  Under a hot, sweltering sun, I sat waiting for the bus bound for Inspiration.  Carefully packed suitcase at my feet, I scan the road ahead for a sign.  Only the summer sun and the high-pitched whine of summer insects answers me. 

They say, "No bus today.  All trips to Inspiration have been cancelled."

For a while longer, I sit hoping they are wrong but the sun is hot and I am tired.  This fatigue clings to me and I wear it throughout my day.  Later, when I had to leave the comfort of my recliner to search for milk, my son asks, "Can we have our ten minutes in the car?"
I say, "Sure".  But the fatigue had other plans.  My mind keeps wandering off.  At one point, I forgot about Just 10 and almost asked him not to talk to me.  His words swarmed around me like little gnats.  I couldn't catch any of them.  The arms in my mind swing like windmills trying to swat the gnats away.

My son's words stop the swatting.
"Mom, are you tired?"
I fall back to earth and reply,
"Yes, I am really tired."
"Me, too", he says.

I renew my effort to be attentive.  Knowing how to listen, knowing listening is the right thing to do doesn't keep my tired mind from drifting away again.  Too tired to resist, too tired to chide myself for my inattention, tonight, this is as good as it gets.  I surrender to the fatigue, my imperfect listening, the absence of inspiration, my imperfection.  Resistance is exhausting.  The day ends with my falling into a welcome sleep.

At night, I dream of funerals for young people.  I try to pay attention to the funeral, to what is going on, but I am too busy chasing naughty toddlers who need their diapers changed.  As I sit this Thursday morning, at the breakfast table, drinking coffee, eating a bagel and writing down my thoughts in cursive, I struggle with what this dream means.  How did my search for inspiration end with toddlers and dirty diapers?

As the warm coffee takes the edge off my grieving over the parting of self from the warmth of bed, I begin to understand.  Dirty diapers are a symbol of the baser things in life, the real stuff we can't escape.  All humans have the capacity to produce the contents necessary for dirty diapers.  Some more than others.  At a funeral, faced with the mortality that shows itself more to me with each passing year, I continue to try to clean up my "dirty toddlers".  Through mind-numbing fatigue and a lack of inspiration, I'm still involved in the substance of daily life.

At the Thursday morning breakfast table, I write of this in an old notebook.  The pages bear a few stray bagel crumbs.  Seeing them for the first time, I also realize that inspiration has found me within a dirty diaper while I slept. 

I smile to myself and think, "Thursday, bring it on.  I am ready for you."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not As Bad As Chester Day

Who is Chester Day?  That's what I'd like to know.  His name appeared in the closed captions on the news this morning.  We turned on the closed captions when our daughter was born.  We've never turned them off.  We think they are the reason that our daughter surprised us with her ability to read on a trip to the zoo when she was four.  She knew what all the zoo signs said and could lead us to monkeys, tigers, elephants and assorted snack bars and gift shops.   The closed captions have been our friend even if they sometimes block parts of the picture or help a little girl learn how to find the food for sale.

Once in a delightful while, the captions will deviate from the spoken word.  This phenomenon most often occurs during the news.  The "caption maker"  (we're pretty sure it's a computer program of some sort) struggles to match the spoken word with what it thinks it hears.  It often misses. 

Today, "yesterday" became "Chester Day".  The title of today's entry was literally ripped from the headlines.  The weather person was discussing today's weather with reference to yesterday. 
" Today will not be as bad as Chester Day." 
Chester Day is worse.  He makes today look good.  Just why is today better than Chester Day?   

     1.) It's Tuesday and not Chester Day.
     2.) Today isn't called a "doofy" name like Chester.  (My apologies to
          any Chesters. 
          I'm sure within your family, Chester is a perfectly lovely name.)
     3.) Chester Day provides a comparison against which today always
          looks better,  acts better and generally is better.
     4.) We all need a Chester Day. 

As I struggle to renew my efforts to refocus on what I think is a scathingly brilliant idea, Just 10 (TA DA!),
Chester Day is there to remind me that things could be worse, that I could be worse.  Chester Day, I think I love you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Voices

Now what?  How do I make future entrees interesting after relaying pieces of my convent saga?  Do I continue writing with a soul-bearing honesty providing a window into the inner workings of my mind?  Or do I lighten up and keep things short, sweet and informative and try to focus on the Just 10 idea?

Writing about my convent experiences while somewhat cathartic also proved to be a bit of a downer.  There are things waiting in my present life that need attention.  At the top of the list, this morning was dealing with the feeling that my current life is too small.  It pinches and binds in all the wrong places.  It was making me uncomfortable. 

Yesterday, I asked my husband a question.  "Don't you wish you woke up in the morning eager to begin your day because you had something to look forward to?"  With a dreamy, wistful voice he replied, "Yeah".
So as I stumbled into my Monday, I wrestled with the weight of this question.  I'd fallen in a trap.  I've been waiting for something outside myself to magically appear and lift me out of my too ordinary an existence.   I've been slackin' off.

Saturday, I bought three different lottery tickets in hopes of the almost impossible happening.  Paying a few bucks for a dream is a pretty good price. Yet,  it bothered me that I would actually invest the energy into daydreaming such a solution to lift my life out of the doldrums.  Money while solving many things doesn't solve everything.    Parts of my life have left the doldrums and are busy running round the entrance to hell.  At least, that is how it felt this cold winter morning.

As I walked through the cold fog across the school parking lot, I heard a familiar quote echo in my brain, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Inside my head the words began to loop.  It had become my Monday mantra.  It was responsible for getting my feet across the lot and into the building. As my mind spun the words 'round, I remembered how much time I spend "jousting at windmills."  (Well,  not literally, I'd need a horse, a suit of armor and a scary jousting thing and none of that is going to happen, ever.)

I did have to concede that some of my best ideas have come in opposition to some one's bad ideas.  This was a dynamic I wanted to change early on this foggy winter Monday morning.  "Why can't a good idea stand on it's own and not be formed as resistance?"  Oh, great, I'm arguing with myself,again."  I say to no one but myself.

Once this chair lift on inner debate was opened,  how quickly I found myself sliding down the mountain of internal debate zooming past arguments for dialectical materialism.  Landing at the bottom of this inner mountain, I struggle to pull myself out of then nasty swamp that clutches at the base of this my mountain.  I thrash about looking for rescue.  "Be the change you wish to see in the world" throws me a lifeline.  I regroup and start again.  It's too early for so much action, inner or outer.

Maybe a good idea in opposition to a bad idea is still a good idea?  Inside my head, a voice whispers, "It's the focus that will make or break you."
Yes, I sometimes hear the voices of my own thoughts.  Actually, they are more like the voices of someone else who just sounds like me providing me their bits of inspiration.  But, it's a foggy Monday and I'm getting tired of all the chatter.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."  Thanks, Gandhi. 
"Isn't it a little early to be talking to me?"  I ask him, knowing that he'll never answer.  I do like having the last word.  I groan inside.  It was so loud, I'm almost sure someone really could hear it. 
"Come on, Gandhi, you are really annoying me this morning.  Here I am walking into my day wearing a heavy mantle of self pity and you want to chant platitudes at me.  How dare you?"
"How dare I, indeed?", Gandhi answers back with a wonderful Oxford/Indian accent and a smile.  Can't forget that smile first thing on a Monday.

I was in no mood to appreciate that smile.  Sitting in a funk of self-pity would have felt a lot more familiar on a cold morning.  Driving to work, I wanted only to be back in bed under the warm covers.  Blocks slid by without my seeing them.  The ordinariness of this day, of the days past and of the days ahead was a heavy burden.  Thoughts of a grander, larger life taunted me.  I uttered a small curse inside my head.
A new voice says, "Don't you wish you woke up looking forward to your day?" 
It's me.  That new voice is me.

Lately, I've felt a little wounded.  I've been laying out on the battlefield trying to play dead while nearby windmills continue their lazy spinning.  I so want to have at them with my horse, armor and stupid jousting thing.  It's easier to play dead.  But the day is cold and wet.   Laying on the grass waiting for the battle to be over doesn't seem like a very good idea either.

For a few minutes, I lie still and let the words of all the inner voices sink in until I begin to let them warm me.  "I am my own greatest casualty," I decide.  This I accept without resistance.  It is at once the easier and the more difficult path.  Holding these two opposites inside at the same time fills me with an odd peace.  The voice of David Carradine as Kung Fu says, "Now, you begin to understand, Grasshopper."  Now this voice of an actor in an old and somewhat weird tv show,  really engages me and I respond with, "Life is what it is.  No more no less." 
"That's how it plays, Grasshopper" he says.
The voices and I work out an easy peace.  My day begins.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The End

Despite what I'd experienced, overheard or witnesses, I was still hanging on.  It wasn't until it Sister Consuela decided that I was going to train to be a nurses aide that I knew the end was near.  It was then that the proverbial substance hit the proverbial fan. 

Some how having to train as a nurses aide was the last straw for me.  I could have easily handled the work.  After several years of crazy assignments, this assignment was too much.  It made me realize that if I was going to have anything left of myself, I had to get out and away from all that the convent was.  It wasn't what I wanted. Still, it was a heartbreaking decision.  Even though the people in charge treated me horribly, I was reluctant to let go of the idea of what could have been.  I was also reluctant to head out into the real world and face my fears. 

At Maryville, there was a lay nurse who was in charge of training the nurses aides.  She was an older women who was favored by the Sisters running the show.  It would soon be obvious why she was favored.  She was just like them.  She wore a prim little nurses cap that looked more like the kind of hat nurses wore in Great Britain during WWII.  I was sent into a small training room.  The nurse dropped a binder filled with information in front of me and began the training. 

She had no way of knowing that I had reached my end.  And, yet, she could have been a lot more compassionate.  I didn't complain and I did try to pay attention but the agony of yet another assignment was crushing me.  I sat and silently cried, occasionally wiping my nose and tear-stained face.  My tears only made her more intent until finally she said,  "I don't know what's the matter with you.  If you want to be a nun you've got to follow orders.  Straighten up and stop crying."
I tried to comply.  It's not my nature to cry publicly and certainly not in front of uptight old nurses.
I seemed not to have any control over the waterworks.  Finally, my nurse tormentor had enough, 
"That's it.  Get out of here.  This is pointless.  Maybe tomorrow you'll be able to listen."
"Thank you", I said.  I knew it was over.  There would not be a tomorrow.  I would see to that.  I wasn't going to sacrifice my identity to please someone elses idea of what a good nun was. 

I'd spent almost three years learning how fallible the Sisters were.  I heard the confessions of a pedophile priest.  I knew the bishop was a bald-faced liar and a rather unpleasant human being.  I knew that I was being tested and punished for reporting the unwelcome sexual advances of my superior.  She wasn't really my superior at all.   Confused and broken she had caused me great harm.  It was not the trauma of her advances, it was the inability to address the real issues, to treat each other with dignity and respect, to resolve conflict with one's sense of decency intact.  It was the Sisters failure to do the right thing and then act as if they had.  

This was not the place for me.    I doubted it really was the place for anyone.  Sin ran deep, a dark, invisible fault line that shattered my hope.   It was the hope that in running away from life,  I would somehow find myself and live a life of purpose and meaning.   That hope was gone.   My tears in front of the old nurse were my grieving its passing. 

The next few days were a blur.  I went to my superior at Maryville and told her I had decided to leave.  To my utter amazement, she was saddened and bewildered by my decision.  For the remaining days, I stayed with the Sisters, she treated me kindly and with none of the venom she has used earlier.  She asked me,  "Are you sure, you want to do this." 
My tearful reply was a solid, "Yes."
She told me she'd find out what needed to be done and then added,  "I didn't want it to come to this.  I hoped you'd stay."
I'll never know why she thought that treating me like she had would have encouraged that outcome.  Yet, her regret seemed genuine.  This only added to my sorrow. 

In the next few days, I was given a generous amount of money to buy some civilian clothes.  I'd lost so much weight that the clothes I brought when I entered hung on me.  I weighed a whopping 98 lbs.  When I found a tiny pleated skirt and a matching blouse, I hung them in my closet and stared at them, marvelling at the pretty colors, something other than black and white. 

Since I was not yet a final professed, the papers to dispense my temporary vows only need come from the local diocese and not Rome.  I was given $1000 and the American Heritage Dictionary that had been withheld on my feast day just a couple of months before.  My mother came on a weekday morning.  My younger siblings were still in school.  All the things I had in the world fit in one suitcase and a cardboard box.  As much as I knew that I was doing the right thing in separating myself from my convent nightmare, it was hard to leave.   I cried the entire hour and a half drive to my parent's home.  They weren't disappointed in me.  My mother had never liked the idea of my entering, although she was never very vocal about her feelings.  I always knew.  My dad was hopelessly proud but when things went wrong, he did not blame me.
He was angry at the Sisters, especially Sister Felicity who had called him at one point an asked him if he'd still take me in if I were asked to leave the convent.  He argued for my good behavior, saying that the problem person she was describing was not his daughter.  My "thanks, Dad" has been too long in coming. It still means a lot.

I had invested almost three years of my life.  I had fought the good fight against an enemy that could never lose.   The time had come to save myself.    Without the convent, I was lost, at least for a while.  For the first few years, I couldn't talk about my convent experiences without shaking uncontrollably.  I hadn't expected to be so affected.  It's gotten easier over the years but even now it still hurts a little.  I know I'd have made one hell of a nun.  This is not to say that I regret having married and having children.  My children are the most wonderful things that have happened to me.  Being a mom is something I wouldn't have wanted to miss for the world.  I just didn't know that when I was young.  It would take time and experience for me to see it. 

It's time to end my account, my remembering.  Remembering hasn't always been easy.  There are other things I could write concerning my convent experiences.  There was a wild ride on sand dunes with Captain Carl.  There was Waterville and Fr. Bickford.  There was the brutal battle with sunstroke.  There was the changing of habit into civvies in an outhouse.  There were dark days when the only thing to hang on to was God and even He seemed hopelessly distant.

And so, for now, I end the convent tales. Life in the present is demanding my attention.  I need to refocus on the Just 10 concept and nourish life in the now.    Today, I started on a novel.  It's time for a new chapter.  Thanks for reading.  Your comments and encouragement have meant the world to me.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No Feast For You

Instead of celebrating birthdays, the Sisters celebrated feast days.  Like many children born to a good Catholic family, care was taken to link one's given name with that of a saint.  Carol was derived from Charles so my name sake saint was St. Charles of Borromeo.   For years, almost every day was linked to a saint, until the great "saint shakedown" .  During that time, the saints of possible mythic origin quietly disappeared from the Catholic calendar. 

Saints were a weird lot.  A huge number of them seemed positively, certifiably insane.  In today's world, they'd be spending their time at places with names like Shady Acres and State Hospital.  Their rooms would be padded and they'd spend their days in a drugged haze to quiet the voices and hallucinations.  Unfortunately, the brand of crazy attributed to me did not come close to the Sisters' idea of sainthood.  I would sometimes remind myself that the saints usually had a hell of a time living within their own centuries.  Even though I thought most of them more than a little nuts, I could console myself with the thought that at least I was in good company.

Sometimes the saints were just down right creepy.  I'd found a book on the convent library shelves entitled, The Incorruptibles.  Incorruptibles are saints whose bodies don't decompose in the ordinary manor.  Some of the pictures in this book would have made Wes Craven and Stephen King feel right at home.  Being a saint and winning God's special favor would have been okay.  Creeping people out with my shriveled corpse years after my death, not so much.  A few look pretty good but there are enough others to make horror seem real.

Saints reproduction pictures could also be a form of creepy.  A poor reproduction of Ruben's St. Sebastian picture hung above the landing of the central convent stairs.  This massive picture startled me almost every time I looked at it.  I tried to stop looking at it but given it's size and placement on the landing nearest the dining hall, it wasn't easy.
I think the Sister's St. Sebastian had more clothes on.  Unfortunately, the ecstatic expression on his face was more pronounced.  It was hauntingly sexual.  What disturbed me is that it didn't seem obvious to anyone but me.  Near nudity, arrows, too ecstatic a face, it didn't take a Freudian to figure it out.

So celebrating a feast day was not nearly as much fun as a birthday back when birthday's were still fun.  It was usually disappointing and an occasion to feel homesick.  No presents, no cake, made it a dud as far as celebrations go.  So when Sister Consuela came up to me with a smile and asked me to write down what I'd like for my upcoming feast day, my nerves sprang to attention.  This had to be a trap.  It looked like a trap.  It felt like a trap.  It even smelled like a trap.

I agonized over the list I was to slip under her door.  Requesting a sporty convertible was not good but was requesting a bottle of lotion better?  Finally, I wrote down an American Heritage Dictionary.  Slipping the note under her door, I was filled with dread.  This could not have a happy ending.  There were no signs that my feast day had been derailed during the days leading to it.  It wasn't until the fated day itself that I was summoned to Sister Consuela's office.  Summoning was never good.  Trembling with fear, I promptly obeyed.
Walking into her office she said in a firm and frightening tone, "Close the door."
"God, I must be in major trouble now", I thought.
Once the door was closed and innocent lay passersby in the hall were shielded from her venom, she began to tell me,  "You are such a disappointment.  What were you thinking?"
I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about yet here she stood red-faced and sputtering spittle as she spat out her words with the steady staccato of heavy artillery fire.  I'd just completed a phase that I felt was beyond reproach.  Hearing her tell me what a loser I was felt terrible.  
At some point, her words began to wash over me.  I stopped listening until she ended her spew with the words, "You don't deserve a feast day.  All feast day celebrations for you are canceled."
Even though feast days were already a dud in the celebration department, this was a surprisingly cruel twist.  I wasn't prepared to hear it.  Taken by surprise, the tears I usually could hide, spilled down my cheeks.

This surprised my attacker.  She suddenly seemed to soften as if tears were what she'd wanted all along. Yet she was surprised by them.  I was quietly dismissed with, "You can go now, Carol."  Usually, I was left with a litany of my wrongs.  I didn't agree with the vast majority of the charges but I did have some understanding of what I was up against.  Once charged, I would internally plea my cause in a manner most eloquent and shame the socks off my veiled enemies.  How wonderful the human mind in finding ways to cope.  But this was something new.  I didn't know what I'd supposedly done.  It was kept secret even from me.  I didn't know how to fight this.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blood on the Tracks

Some crimes don't leave a body, no obvious and immediate sign that loudly proclaims a wrong has occurred.  Sometimes all you have is the blood on the tracks.  Such a wrong leaves behind a trail of devastation.   The mind struggles to comprehend it.  There is no body left behind to scream in death that a crime has occurred. Yet, the impact of the wrong continues to ripple outward in an ever widening circle of destruction.

Sitting behind the Maryville reception desk, I would occasionally be nudged by this circle of destruction.  Overhearing intimate moments in other people's drama made me feel like a random voyeur.  I was in unwelcome territory and yet this watching other people's drama was compelling.  I was drawn into stories of struggle and minor tragedies.  All these stories helped distract me from the horrible story in which I was trapped.  One day, this eavesdropping into other people's lives took me some where I didn't want to go.  One day it took me to a place where I saw for myself, the blood on the tracks. Those tracks lead me directly to the archbishop's hands. 

During the days of my Maryville exile, the archbishop held a meeting of many of the diocesan priests at Maryville.  Priests trickled in slowly, quietly.  The mood was somber and meditative or that's what I first thought.  I could sense that something wasn't right and was more alert than usual.  It wasn't long after the meeting began that a noise drew my attention.  This noise got louder.  It was the sound of a man in agony,  the sound of a man suffering the tortures of the damned.  The noise didn't come from an elderly resident.  Looking up from the front desk, the sound grew louder.  The intensity and tone was chilling.  Suddenly, very near where I sat, several priests appeared.  They struggled to physically support another.  In the center of this unusual cluster came a low and plaintive sobbing and these words,

  "I've been begging the bishop for help for years.  I told him I had a problem.
  I begged him to reassign me.  I begged him to help me.  Now, it's come to this. 
  Why?  Why?"

Once spoken, he returned to convulsive sobbing.  A tall man, his knees buckled under the weight of his anguish, the burden of what he had done.  The supportive cluster strained and struggled to keep him from collapsing on the floor.  With great effort, they pulled him into a private place and closed the door.

The door had not closed quickly enough.  I knew what I had seen.  The first of the great sex abuse scandals to hit the local papers in the 1980's had just done so.  The sobbing man was the priest who now stood accused of sexually abusing young boys over many years.  This man's actions were abhorrent.  He was an adult in a position of authority.  He used that power to exploit and abuse children.  Yet, the man I saw that day didn't look very powerful.  He was a shattered human being, broken and sick.  I wondered how he got to where he was.  Was he abused as a young boy himself?  Is that how things started to go so terribly wrong? 

I'd just seen the carnage of a tortured human being imploding before my eyes.  Revulsion and pity flooded me as I watched the drama before me.  "I've been begging him for years", echoed in my head.  Revulsion, pity were soon followed by anger.  The archbishop bore a great responsibility and for whatever reason had failed to respond.  He hadn't heard or hadn't understood the pleas of a pedophile priest.  In ignoring the problem, he had allowed it to continue unchecked until time, the legal system and a trail of victims had made silence no longer an option.

To the press, the archbishop would soon claim, as many others of his ilk did, that "We didn't know what was going on."  Every time I heard this archbishop claim ignorance, I knew it was a lie.  Every time any bishop or prelate claimed "we didn't know" I believed they were lying also.  These weren't white lies or a gentle withholding of the truth justified under the concept of mental reservation.  This was an ugly, bald-faced lie, the kind of lie put forth under advice from one's attorney or press agent.  These were not words to expect from men who were said to "represent Christ on earth".  These were not the words of a shepherd of God's people.  These were the words of politicians who spoke the language of power to protect themselves.  Human souls are often the casualties of such political machination.

As I struggled to process the many emotions that coursed through me like demon rivers, I began to feel a deep shame.  Shame that I was associated with a Church that had failed to do the right thing and then failed to admit it.  I'd seen the blood on the tracks and it made me sick.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Fight to Write

Sometimes you don't know what you believe in until you have to fight for it.  Yesterday, I fought to write.  It wasn't a battle I expected to wage.  Writing does take time away from my family.  Lately, I've been terrible about giving each of them their Just 10 minutes a day.  Life has drained me.  I struggle to keep my balance.  I sacrifice what I really believe about education to earn a paycheck.  I sacrifice a lot of time and what I'd rather do for my family every day.  It has to be done.  Yet,  I still need time for me.  Yesterday, I had to fight for it.

Whether or not people read what I write isn't as important as having the chance to write.  The words flow out of me as if they have a life of their own, a life I can only dream of.  My life is not my own.  I'm up at 5 a.m. stealing  moments before the demands of my day begin. 

I invest a lot of time in my family.  I could invest more.  I could increase the quality of that time.   Increasing this quality is what I most want to do.  It's the purpose of Just 10.   My energies could be improved in that regard.   I also want to increase the quality of the time I spend with myself.  Writing could be an complete waste of my time.  I may never do anything with it other than spit blather onto a blog but it is what is important to me.  When I write, I feel like I have something to say.   I write because the words have no place to go.

My immediate family doesn't read what I write.  My daughter says she doesn't understand it.  My husband says, "I'm not as smart as you." 
Hearing that I feel very alone.  Yesterday, while they watched football and America's Funniest Videos, I watched the speeches of MLK and Robert Kennedy.   They felt robbed of my attention.  I just felt robbed.

Sometimes, a person has to take a stand, has to fight for what they believe in, even when no one seems to believe in you, when believing in yourself is all that you have left.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mindless Menace of Violence

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day, I'm taking a break from my own "memoir" writing and posting this video.  This speech was given by Robert Kennedy at the City Club in Cleveland shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.   Hearing it again, I was flooded with emotion.    Our headlines have once again shattered our sense of peace with the violence in Tuscon.   The world needs strong leaders now more than ever.  It needs good people to rise up and take a stand.

I was still a child when we lost Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy but I felt a great sense of loss.  I wondered what kind of world I would  live in as an adult.   A world in which leaders lives were so easily taken?   As a child, I was fascinated by the speeches of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  I listened when ever they spoke on television.  They spoke powerfully and with deep conviction.   I knew that I was listening to great men.  They helped me dream of a better world.

I choose Bobby's Speech after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and not one of King's own speeches because it seemed more somber.  It eulogized King's death by paying honor to the values  for which King lived and died.  Bobby gave Martin a voice although his life had been taken.  We need to give both these men a voice today.

Many years stand between today and the time when they were alive.  Their speeches are no less powerful.   When I listen to them now, they have the power to move me, to help me once again dream of a better world.

In recent years, we've learned how many of our leaders, past and present,  have "feet of clay".    We know of their infidelities, their transgressions.  In accepting their humanity, we have allowed ourselves to forget the greater values, the higher moral ground of which they spoke.  In accepting their imperfections, we have grown closed and cynical.  No political leader is perfect.  We can not expect them to be.  Those who rose above the limits of their own selves and spoke of social justice, peace, and a higher awareness need our attention today.  Now more than ever.

 I avoid political discussions.  I step away from all debate and conflict.  My silence has failed me.  In fearing debate, I have stood for nothing.  I have lost my way.

We all have lost our way.  We have allowed fighting among and within political parties to distract us.  We have lost sight of the greater good, the good to which we all must strive if this is to be a great nation again.  Listen to the voices of the past, with open minds and hearts.  Truth is timeless.  We all need to work together for a better future, for our sake, for our children's sake and our children's children.  Let us work together for a better world.  A world that sees the end to war and violence.  A world that sees the beginning of a global cooperation that opens the door to a new age.  What amazing things we could accomplish, united at last in peace working together for the benefit of all humankind.  I, too, have a dream.  It is one many before me have dreamt.  Let us keep the dream alive.

Transcript of speech.

City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio

April 5, 1968

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bar Hopping at Barnacle Bill's

It doesn't take a genius to know that bar hopping is not appropriate behavior for novices or "full-blown" nuns. Sister Cecelia or I had thought of this new form of defiance. We were at the beach with the rest of the Formation group. Sister Cecelia was the current pariah. While I was uncomfortable with the sexual relationship she was having with Sister Christine and concerned about favoritism, I couldn't hate her. I felt sorry for her. Sister Zelda was determined to make her life hell so we shared a common enemy.   No one knew quite how to act around Sister Cecelia and if they could trust her.  I couldn't be mean to her at least not consistently.

In her loneliness and isolation she sometimes sought me out. I listened without judging, at least on the outside. We weren't friends but we did have empathy for the impossible positions that held each of us captive. One night at the beach house, when all the others were asleep, we met downstairs in front of the fireplace to swap war stories. I don't remember which of us suggested sneaking off to Barnacle Bill's tavern on the main street of this little coastal town. I do remember laughing about the idea. Sister Cecilia laughed too but she wanted to do more than laugh. She decided to check out the local bar scene. I stayed behind.  I was never very comfortable with the bar scene in or outside the convent.  I would have held her back as a fellow "stool mate."

Maybe Sister Christine smelled the smoke on her civilian clothes the next day. She was suspicious and questioned the suspect. Under only a little pressure, Sister Cecelia cracked and fessed up. Again, I didn't approve of what she had done. It didn't fit with the lifestyle but I secretly admired her chutzpah. Sister Cecelia had been in the military before entering. I doubt she saw or heard anything in Barnacle Bills that she hadn't heard or seen a thousand times before.

Actually, maybe Barnacle Bill's was a good place for a religious. Imagine someone with deep convictions listening and caring for the people who frequent a bar. It might have been the perfect place to inspire souls or at least to stop someone from driving drunk or in a moment of drunken desire have sex in a bathroom stall.   That is something I would later witness in the real world. Oh, and while working in Alaska, I had a room mate that would finish her late night shift, drag some male home and proceed to "get it on" in the bottom bunk while I tried to sleep a few feet above. I got so used to it that if I woke, I usually went back to sleep. She thought I was an uptight prude. I was sure the word "skank" defined her. Half way through the season, I moved in with a newly made friend who lead a much tamer existence.  Before I did, my first roommate created a story for the employee newspaper about my being a Mennonite who had a near encounter with a grizzly on an overnight backpacking trip into the park.  At first, it made me furious but since it was all fiction, my fury quickly passed.   She never knew that I'd been Sister Mary Carol and there was no way I'd ever tell her.  She would have really turned it up a notch and tried to shock me every chance she could.  I would have tried to play it cool every chance I could just to spite her.  This roomie was always called "Wild Child".  I have no memory of her real name.

There was another reason, I told very few people about my past.  The pain of leaving was still hard to bear.  It wasn't leaving the craziness and all the verbally abusive behavior.  It was a huge relief to close the door on all of that, at least all of that from the Sisters.  What was so difficult for me to recover from was the damage done to my soul and psyche.  For a long time after I left, I couldn't really talk about the things that had happened while I was in the convent without shaking like a leaf.  The trauma had left its mark.  I know first hand what post-traumatic stress disorder feels like.  I don't wish it on any one. 

The hardest thing to relinquish was the death of an ideal.  I'd wanted to live in a better, kinder world only to step in a world that in so many ways was more cruel than any I'd had known.  People who were supposed to be the epitome of good in the world, were paper dolls lacking depth, substance and often a good moral core.  They were corrupted by power, by their own sense of self-importance.  The safe haven, the benevolent mentors I was so eager to find within the convent didn't exist.  While my motives were complicated and  some less than pure or motivated by neurosis, the youthful earnestness with which I sought a better life, a better way to live was genuine.  I was crushed by the disappointment in the real world, in the convent, in some within the Church hierarchy, with the ugliness within some of the Sister's hearts.  They/It became my own horrendous Medusa, a Gorgon that tried to turn my heart to stone.  Maybe the Gorgon was successful for a while.  I tried to pretend I was stone to spare myself some of the trauma and disappointment.

Stone makes too hard a place to rest, to find peace.  I could not stay there.  I had to keep moving, keep living, keep experiencing life.  My plans for my life hadn't worked out.    I was angry.  I was angry at God.  Stronger than anger was my fear.   I was terrified of what lie ahead in the real world after discovering what hell existed within convent walls.    How could my experience be so different from other people who enter religious orders?  What had I done wrong?  What was wrong with me?  These were questions that haunted me.  Leaving felt like failure.  It's why I struggled for so long to make the decision to "save myself" and leave.  The redemption that I sought was not found there. 

When I finally did leave, there were people in my life who believed I'd "turned my back on my vocation." 
I was told that "I can't be friends with you any more.  I don't approve of what you had done."   
I didn't argue.  I didn't tell them what convent life was really like.  I didn't want to rob them of their child-like belief, their innocence.   Their minds were already closed.   Did I have a right to try and open them?  I let them be.  They had a faith in the order of the world that did not want to be disturbed by fact or one person's truth.  They thought I was wrong for leaving.  I would be even more wrong for telling my side of the story so I never bothered.  I didn't need them as friends but the rejection still hurt.  It was yet another cruelty on a mountain of many others.

There is no answer to "why did this happen to me?"  For years, in agony, I'd searched for one.  At last, I can say "It simply was."  Life very rarely has gone as planned for me.  I've often had to live "worse case scenario."  The unexpected has shaken my tree over and over again.  I have fallen to the ground many times.  Each time, I have gotten up, climbed the tree and fallen again.  It has gotten easier, this process of rise and fall.  I fall less now and when I do, I have learned how to land so as to hurt the least.  It still hurts. Yet, as the years have fallen away and time becomes more valuable, spending too much time agonizing over the "whys" of life has proven a waste of time.  Blaming, holding on to bitterness or guilt just gets in my way. 

The second half of my life has brought more challenges to my happiness, my peace of mind, and my security than I would never have dreamed of back in those early years.  If I'd known what I would walk into one day, I wouldn't have found the courage to continue.  Not knowing everything is a wonderful benefit.  If I hadn't faced later challenges, I would have also missed out on the greatest joys in my life.
My story could be one of repeated failures, disappointments, and unsuccessful attempts to become "some one".  At mid-life, I have almost no external signs of success as defined by the modern world.  Instead, my life is a story of  so much more than material success and accomplishment.  Life has carved me.  I have been forever altered by everything that has happened .  The bad things, the things that threatened to crush me, have not.  I have survived.  I have proven resilient.  I have learned that the most important thing in life is to love.  Everything that happens must serve that love.  I've had to rise above myself and my human failings to honor that love.   How often I have failed love, yet love remains all that matters. 

"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him." Romans 8:28. As I looked in an old Bible for the piece of scripture quoted above, a card dropped out.  On the card was a prayer that I had copied while in the convent, during one of the darkest times.  I remember clinging to the hope that the words would some day prove themselves true.  I think they have.

O Lord, do not remember
all the sufferings others have inflicted upon us.
Remember instead the good that has brought thanks to the suffering,
--our comradeship,
--our loyalty,
--our courage,
--our generosity,
--the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.
And when they come to judgment, let all the good
that their injustices have brought forth be their forgiveness."

No source was cited when copied all those years ago. Some day I hope to thank the author.  Maybe we can toss one back at Barnacle Bill's.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Darkness Visible

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

from Paradise Lost by John Milton

Depression had rushed in and sunk it's teeth into the softest part of me.  It wouldn't let me go.  I had to keep it a secret.  If word got out the "enemy" would use it against me.  Operation Plan B was formed.  I created a secret mission to find a doctor and get help with the depression.    First, I had to save up the money.  Each Sister was allowed between $20 and $30 dollars a month.  That money was to buy clothing, material to make clothing, personal supplies, like shampoo or toothpaste, and to pay for any trips to a restaurant or the movies.  Even though we had our room and board covered, we were on a pretty tight budget.   

Some of the supplies were available for purchase at the convent itself.  They were held in a small store room.  The shampoo and toothpaste were from the current era but the pantyhose, girdles and giant granny panties were not.  All the sisters in Formation knew we were supposed to pay for anything we took.  We also soon learned where the key was hidden.  Each and every one of us stole what we needed.  Clever enough to use an elaborate and very adaptive ethics, we viewed the surplus in the storeroom as community property.  As members of that community, we believed we had a right to take what we needed and not pay for it twice.  Despite our justification of our actions, we tended to hit the store room in small clusters.  One was always on the lookout for "Sister Trouble" whoever she might be.  There were always a handful of Sister Troubles roaming around.

It took a while to save up for an office visit.  Choosing a doctor located across town to avoid being easily spotted by any stray nuns, I made an appointment.   Covering my reason for needing to check out a car with some plausible excuse, I set off.  The doctor was young, female and very pregnant.  She wasn't Catholic but that didn't matter to me.  In fact, I preferred it.    Rationally, explaining that I was depressed, I attributed my depression to a personal history with the "black dog" and to career and lifestyle struggles.  I was eager to feel better so that I could make more objective decisions about my life and not "knee jerk" reactions.  Antidepressants had worked before and I was confident that they would work again.  She wrote out a prescription and insisted I come back for a follow-up appointment.  I quickly agreed.  No one knew outside of my two close friends.  They hated that it had come to this.  What was happening was crazy making.  I also knew that I had a natural tendency to interpret the world in a less than positive light.  Depression had bitten me before.   Churchill's "black dog" growled through clenched teeth.  It held me in his jaw and wouldn't let go.

Depression in this situation was probably a very sane response for a person in my position.  I'd watched my innocence die.   My trust in religious authority crashed and burned.  I'd entered the convent motivated by a desire for redemption.  In saving others, in sacrificing myself, I wanted to be redeemed.  Most importantly, I wanted to feel that redemption.

Life wasn't simple.  It wasn't the way I wanted it to be.  I wanted neat and tidy answers.  I wanted to know the right answer so I could crawl into it and wear it like a protective armor.  Underneath it all, the world terrified me.  I wanted to feel safe.  Fleeing an unjust and random world, I'd landed in one more unjust and random.  Facing the fact that I had no where to hide presented a great challenge.  To accept being trapped with my fear and anger no matter where I turned, opened the door to depression and I embraced it.  Depression was a filthy,wet dog, that felt familiar and presented an odd comfort.  The kind of comfort that only the familiar can.  Darkness surrounded me.  I clung to it like the rank nasty dog that it was.

During the difficult times, I've often had a mental image in my head.  In my mind, I am falling down a bottomless black well.  I am alone.  There is nothing to grasp.  The fall has no end.  I fall through "regions of sorrow."  Each one is worse than the last.  Past and present had collided.  I lay broken in their intersection.  I'd fought against the criticism, the cruelty, the mind games, the politics.  As hard as I tried not to be effected by it all, I was broken.  The child-like belief that doing the right thing would produce good results was destroyed.  Life didn't always play that way.  Shattered, defenseless, I struggled to carry on.  I was afraid of what life would bring next.  I was afraid to stay and I was terrified to leave.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Among the Masses

As a young student in Catholic school, I was very shy and withdrawn.  I lived in almost constant fear of the teachers, especially the Sisters.  That fear wasn't rational then.  In the convent, when fear was often justified, I became more outgoing.  I discovered that I related well to most people.

When I began taking classes at Portland State, wearing a habit really made me stand out.    Sometimes it made me a target.  One day in the book-buy-back line, a devout pagan eager to make me uncomfortable approached me with  declaration of his pagan beliefs and the coming of the solstice.  He loudly said, "I don't believe in God.  I'm a pagan.  I celebrate the solstice.  Are you going to celebrate it?"
He was so looking for trouble but I didn't want it or the extra attention.  I looked at him and said, "Yeah, I'll celebrate in my own way.  I don't have a problem with your pagan beliefs.  I admire your conviction."
He stared at me blankly.  Then with a dismissive gesture turned and walked away.  I knew if some of the nuns heard what I'd just said there would have been hell to pay.    His being a pagan didn't threaten me or detract from what I chose to believe.  If I expected to be respected for my choices, I'd better extend that same courtesy to someone else.    That habit didn't allow me to be blissfully anonymous but this was the life I had chosen and there were bound to be sacrifices.

Being approachable and human seemed the best way to honor my "uniform".  I never cared much for preaching to others.  I wanted to be accepted by them even more so now that I wasn't widely accepted into convent community life.  Once most students got used to me in class, I could relax and learn.   It was harder to make friends while a nun.  I was too much an anomaly.  People were either too solicitous or projected too many of their own negative feelings about God or religion on to me.  Can't say as I'd blamed them.
The outfit brought out the classic "brown-nosers" and the occasional kook.

One hopelessly obnoxious student kept drawing attention to me in a Mythology class.  This older male student was very literal and very Christian.  He'd interrupt the professor at least several times a class and try to divert the lecture to me with phrases like, "Let Sister tell you" or "I bet Sister knows."  The prof and I would just ignore him.  Inside, I was steaming.  Finally, I got angry.  After another, "Let the Great and Wonderful Oz tell us, "  I said to him in front of the entire class,
"You've got to stop doing that.  I'm here to learn and listen to the professor.  I'm not an expert on mythology.  I'm just like you.  You've got to stop interrupting and so we can all learn something."
The professor shot me an odd glance.  The interrupter mumbled a quiet, "Sorry, Sister" and class returned to normal, well as normal as it could.

Several years later this same professor was fired.  He'd falsified his degree and education apparently claiming a Ph.D from a Chinese university that didn't exist.  He lacked the proper credentials to be a professor.  It was too bad.  He sure knew a lot about mythology.  He'd even created a myth for himself and tried to live in it.  I could understand his motivation even if I didn't approve of his methods.

In between classes, I'd try and find a quiet place to hide and to study.  On a particularly cold day, I decided to wear a pair of black tights under my habit.  I may even had some "old-lady" boots on too.    I wasn't dressed like the typical nun.  The uncouth was oozing out of me for the sake of warmth.  An angry young student walked up to me and with a sneer in his voice and on his face said, "What are you dressed up for?"
I looked at him and allowed time for a pregnant pause and asked him, "What are you dressed up for?
He slunk away, mumbling something under his breath.  I sat there hating that I was such a target for other people's anger at God, religion and themselves.  I hadn't signed up for this.  I never anticipated being so visible.  The chasm that existed between myself and the world at large often felt too wide.  At the same time, it didn't seem that there was a chasm at all.  On some level, I understood their anger and felt it too.
I'd entered to escape the world and maybe some of my anger but I discovered that the world inside the convent was not the haven for which I had longed.  My Utopian search had landed me in a hell of Miltonian proportions.    In my mind, the angels wept.

Yet, there were many bright spots found at college.  Ever the nerd, I loved most of my classes and what I was learning.  I stumbled into a Shakespeare survey course taught by a fabulous professor who made Shakespeare come alive.  To him, I will be forever grateful.  After completing an essay test one day, the professor followed me out of the room and called after me, " Sister, do you have a minute?"  Sister, I'm Jewish but a lot of my friends are Christians and gentiles.  I admire many of them.  Do the Sisters at your convent know how talented a writer you are? Are they letting you use that talent?  You could be of such service to your faith."

Blushing, at a complete loss for words, I managed to squeak a small, "Thank, you."  How could I possible explain to him what my life was like?  Ironically, his words felt more like a slap than most of the abusive verbiage spat at me by some of the Sisters.  How long it had been since anyone had given me a compliment?  What was I to do with the information?  Seeing my distress, he quickly added, "You have a wonderful way of touching the reader when you are allowed to write about something for which you have great passion.  You could really touch the world."
He turned and went back inside the classroom.  I stood and blinked back tears.  So very flattered and crushed by his words, all at the same time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prunes and Paper

By the time I was exiled to Maryville, I was really tired of all the games.  Sister Consuela almost always spoke to me in a clipped and icy tone.  I was her young puppet.  She was the evil puppet master.  Sister Consuela seemed to search in her evil bag of tricks to find the most despicable or boring job in the nursing home and give it to me.  What she didn't know and never asked was that I'd spent the summer after high school working in our local nursing home washing adult diapers.  I was comfortable with things she was not.  Being uncouth had its advantages.

The civilian employees at Maryville accepted me very quickly.  Sister Consuela spoke to them just as she spoke to me.  They didn't appreciate her condescending and superior tone.   I had more in common with the lay staff than I did with the Sisters.  Sister Consuela's watchful eyes saw how quickly I made friends.  She didn't like it.  Like prisoners of war, we learned to give each other secret glances and to check the hall for surveillance by the enemy before stopping to talk.  We went so far as to some times post a lookout to warn of coming danger.

The meaner Sister Consuela was to me publicly, the more sympathy I received from my "mates in the trenches." One day after she was especially abusive, the two male janitors stopped me in a hall way and quietly said, " You don't have to put up with this.  Leave.  You can stay with us if you need some where to go."
I was shaken by their offer.  It may have been completely sincere and with no strings attached but I remained wary of what could have been an indecent proposal.  I was young and inexperienced but I wasn't stupid.

It wasn't just the men who offered refuge.  Maryville had a young vibrant activity director named Kaley.  We hit it off right away.  She warned me to be careful and offered me refuge on many occasions.  Sister Consuela's "wingman" Sister Thomas warned me to stay away from Kaley but never bothered to say why.  Determining who was most sinister was not that difficult.   

I had been very careful not to complain or tell tales of what happened outside of public view.  Surprisingly, the Sisters treatment of me was very disturbing to the outside world.  The outside world didn't know the half of it.  Their empathy arose from what they observed.  Their belief in me and their obvious disgust at how I was treated helped me more than I realized at the time.  Once I left the convent, I never saw any of them again.  I hope they all moved on to bigger and better things.

Since I had no problems handling the laundry, Sister Consuela put me in the kitchen.  I served up trays of pureed everything that looked more like vomit than food.  I had to work very quickly to get the trays loaded and delivered and I did.  Being competent and capable seemed to anger her more.  Then she tried to punish me by assigning me to work with an obsessive compulsive dentist.  Every one of the lay staff refused to work with him after word about his peculiar style leaked out.  I had no choice.  I suddenly became a part-time dental hygienist who used an ancient suction machine that vacuumed spittle and pieces of broken teeth and tartar into a clear Mason jar.  I can't tell you how disgusting that was.

Within minutes, I could see that this dentist's behavior issues were too great a strain on geriatric patients with health issues.  I went to the Director of Nurses at the nursing home and told her what I was witnessing.  She was kind and really cared about her elderly charges.  She actually believed me and had me document what was happening.  The dentist was let go.  I can still see him leaning against the nurses station, pleading for his job with tears in his voice.  It was a heartbreaking no-win scenario. 

Soon, I was told that I'd be staffing the front desk and handle incoming calls.  At that time the waiting list in this Cadillac of nursing homes was about three years unless you had money or the right family name.  Phone calls poured in.  People desperately sought a good nursing home for their relatives.  I listened to many a desperate and exhausted caller who pleaded for a home for their family member through tears.  In the background, Sister Consuela would often appear and make motions for me to hurry the caller off the line so I could take more calls and not tie up the switchboard.  The callers sadness often tapped into my own and despite Sister Consuela's impatient gestures I couldn't cut them off.  I listened.  It was the least I could do.

Angry at some imagined crime, Sister Consuela punished me by giving me the job of cutting up scrap paper and stapling them into smaller note pads.  For three days, that is all I did for 8 hours a day.  Finally, at the end of day three, she steamed by and snapped, "Alright you're done here." 
I never knew why I was given this punishment.  I was bored almost senseless but I coped by daydreaming.  In my mind, I led an alternate life.  I traveled the world and had interesting adventures.  Life had already given me practice in coping.  I was better at it then they ever imagined.

For Christmas, she told me that I would be dressing up as Santa Claus for the employee party and for the residents.  Naturally, shy, I dreaded this job.  When the time came and I was in costume, I suddenly found myself in character.  The staff couldn't guess who I was.  My Santa even delighted the icy Sister C who laughed like a young child.  My performance bought me several days of better treatment.  She seemed to need a Santa to thaw her heart.  I kept this realization to myself.  Who could I tell?  Who would believe me? Part of me felt sorry for her.  Hating her was easy.  Pitying her was not.

During all this time, Sister Consuela was meeting with Sister Felicity or so they said.  Their efforts weren't producing the result they desired.  For a while, I felt like I was winning but this victory was bittersweet.  Winners and losers existing side by side in a convent based on a concept of community was disheartening.  From day one it had been easy to see that there were "haves" and those who were relegated to the "land of have-not."

Eventually, they discovered how to break me but before they did, I gave them a bit of a ride.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Biker Nun Rides Free

Pressure kept increasing.  I lost weight and had trouble sleeping as I waited for the next lesson or ridiculous assignment.  Sister Felicity was determined to prove I wasn't nun material.  I was determined to pass the tests.

I looked for ways to escape.  While exiled to Maryville, I asked my parents for a bicycle for my birthday.  Money was tight and they bought what they could afford, an old rusty English touring bike.  In my eyes it was beautiful.  I threw myself into its renovation.  Carefully removing rust and layers of old paint to discover a beautiful detailed emblem underneath that celebrated the bike's original manufacturer.  My old bike was a diamond in the rough.

My bike restoration project was so much more.  Inside, I knew that I was also a diamond in the rough.  In working on the bike I was working on myself.  With each new layer, I uncovered, I felt more whole, more capable.  Once the bike looked like it hadn't stood out in the rain for several years, I rode it every chance I could get.  For some reason, I didn't take time to change into civilian clothes.  Instead, I'd take off on this bike dressed in my habit complete with veil.

Up and down busy Farmington Road, I would ride.  Why I didn't cause accidents as drivers took their eyes off the road to stare at a modern version of "The Flying Nun", I'll never know.  I made that bicycle fly.  My veil fluttered behind me in the air current I generated as I rolled over the miles alongside busy Beaverton traffic.

My bike rides became the high point of my day.  I was alone and free.  It was the only time I could feel like a whole person.  It was the only time I could feel like me.  Being me, in the convent, seemed to get me in trouble.  I couldn't figure it out.  All through grade and high school, I was the "good girl".  Now in the convent, I'd been cast in the opposite role.  I didn't know how to play it.  The harder I tried to regain my familiar "good girl" role, the worse things got for me.  The authors of this drama were way off base.

The power structure of the order still had a pre-Vatican II frame of mind.  They were old school, demanding authority by virtue of their position.  They often ignored their responsibility to be good leaders.
I came from a post-Vatican II world.  I was part of the Baby Boomer Generation.  We walked in the age of psychology and Aquarius.  We questioned authority as we watched riots and saw blood shed at Kent State.  We saw two Kennedys assassinated before our eyes.  We lost Martin Luther King.  Vietnam's body count entered our homes while we ate dinner.  We heard and saw through the lies of Watergate.  We came from a time of turmoil and learned to question the motives of our leaders.  We watched those leaders rise and fall.  Those that clung to power had failed us.  Those that had tried to lead had been shot down.  We had seen the "man behind the curtain."  We had lost our innocence in a spray of bullets.  Our ideals lay bloodied at our feet.

What was true of my generation is not true today.  Many older people have chosen to forget.  Many younger have chosen not to see.  It will always be easier to abdicate personal responsibility.  It requires very little effort to simply believe what one is told.  It is the easy way.

That has never been part of my nature.  Questioning comes as easily to me as breathing.  It is part of who I am.  I celebrate it.  I knew that so much of what I witnessed and much of what had happened to me was wrong.  Ignoring it didn't make it right.   Not ignoring it made my life harder.  I could have been like Sister Zelda and carried on elaborate surveillance on suspects and lied to cause other people trouble while painting myself an avenging angel.  It just wasn't me.

For me, God will always be better served by an honest, questioning soul than by ignorant sheep who are too easily led by temporal leaders.  I, the poster child for "the good girl" had always been a closet rebel.  Who I was, what I believed posed a threat to the power that was.  It was in Sister Felicity's and Sister Christine's best interest to drive me out and to shame me into silence.  My biggest fault was not believing in myself more and taking so long to save myself.

Sister Christine had made inappropriate sexual advances on several occasions.  I had a right to say, "No."
I also had a responsibility to report it.  The leaders had a responsibility to act on it.  They failed.  They made me the scapegoat for their own failures.  I knew that then. 

When I rode my bike, fast, furious and free, I was beginning to understand that I would have to move forward into my future.  Those rides alongside busy traffic were showing me the world beyond convent grounds, a world that was raw and real.  It invited me into its' imperfection assuring me that I was worth saving.  There was a place for me.  It was not within convent walls.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Uncouth defines the word uncouth as:
1. awkward, clumsy, or unmannerly: uncouth behavior; an uncouth relative who embarrasses the family.
2. strange and ungraceful in appearance or form.
3. unusual or strange.

When I was exiled to the last of the less than pleasant assignments, (Maryville Nursing Home) the Sister in charge liked to call me "uncouth."  Already sensitive about my humble origins and obvious lack of opportunities for refinement, this name calling hurt.  Some of the sting was removed by reminding myself that Sister Consuelo's sense of etiquette was at least 50 years behind the times.  Here are a few of my faux paus.

1.) Exposing my elbows. 
I was supposed to be wearing 3/4 length sleeves.

2.) Wearing tennis shoes to lunch after working all morning. 
Wearing an apron and a bib safety pinned to one's scapular was not.

3.) Not pouring wine on the correct side. 
I was told I'd be serving at a dinner for local bishops.  Knowing that I'd be under attack for incorrect serving behavior, I consulted a book on etiquette which indicated that wine should be poured from the side that was the least intrusive.  Unfortunately, my book was not fifty years old when experts were certain that a particular side made one sophisticated and the other a hopeless rube.   Enter one young and hopeless rube.

4.) Not having shoes with 1 1/2" heels. 
I hate shoes and shoes with heels hurt my feet even then.  I walked around in proper shoes for several years and ruined my feet.  Curses upon you Pharisees!

5.) To my utter surprise, I was criticized for coming from a small rural town as if this was something I could control.  To make it more ironic, the order itself originated in my small rural town.

I'm not sure what had happened in their own lives to turn them to the dark side.  I'll bet it was a lot of idiotic criticism and character assassination by previous generations who'd also given in to the dark side due to social pressure and this antiqated training that was supposed to turn a person into a worthy religious.  It was cruel and destructive.  All the sugar-coating in the world didn't change what it was underneath.

I hated this nonsense.  Even though I knew they were full of crap, (please, pardon my liberal use of the common colloquialism.) I'd blush and apologize.  I smile when I think of rewinding the past.  I'd tell them what I really thought.  I'd shame the crap right out of them.
I'll admit, I didn't know a lot about fancy table manners and had to learn by watching at the convent.  We didn't use napkins at the dinner table at home.  I used my younger sibling's shirt.  When our dad was gone, we'd had some epic food fights.  There had even been a phase of silverware tossing by a younger brother.  Dinner (supper, in the world of the uncouth) was a raw and often dirty experience.  At supper, we were always subjected to the evening news.  We watched the body count from the day's fighting in Vietnam while trying to choke down our food.  Hueys were flying across our television medivacing the wounded, while we ate.  When Dad was home there was a lot of table pounding, shouting and silverware bouncing with each pound.  He couldn't hear the news over the lively conversation of six children.  Life was raw, real and hopelessly uncouth.  I still have a hard time sitting at the table with my own family even now. 
Yet, when it's all said and done, I'd sit at the noisy, silverware dancing, bloody body count droning in the background any day before sitting with a bunch of hoity toity nuns and bishops who were so removed from the real world, it was a tragedy.  They seemed to possess the arrogance of kings while lacking the understanding of the responsibilities of leadership.  They lapped up wine and fancy food and discussed the generous gifts of parishioners.  Most often they discussed their own accomplishments and waxed poetic on their own exaggerated sense of importance.  God bless the uncouth.  I'm certain they have a higher place in heaven than most of the bishops I've met.  

There are bishops who are genuinely kind human beings.  I've known a few of them well enough to be convinced of their leadership.  I respect them.  Unfortunately, I've also suffered the company of  bishops who are annoying, self-centered human beings.  While exiled to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Milwaukee, I was enlisted to help clean the current archbishop's living quarters.  He lived in a separate suite that had been carved out of the original convent.  Let's just say that this bishop was more than comfortable.  If I'd been convinced of his kind heart and basic goodness, I would not have begrudged him his comfortable lifestyle.  Secular priests don't take vows of poverty.  They are not intrinsically inferior because they do not.  To me attitude speaks volumes.  If and when, one's comfort separates them from understanding the real problems in the real world of the real people they serve, then a lifestyle adjustment might really help.

While I was a postulant, the Sisters hosted a meeting of regional bishops.  Those of us in Formation were assigned a dignitary.  It was our duty to follow them around all day and see to their needs as well as help them find their way around the grounds.  I had the dubious honor of accompanying the archbishop of our local diocese.  It was frightfully educational.  All day, I listened to the archbishop tell tales of his accomplishments.  He had about 3 or 4 stories, which he recycled repeatedly during the years he served the diocese.  They were boring and hopelessly long winded.    He could talk forever about absolutely nothing.  When it came time to really say something, you wouldn't get it from this man.  Listening to him ramble on that warm summer's day so long ago, I quickly formed an negative opinion of him.  He never provided me with a reason to change that opinion.  Standing in a summer's breeze, listening to another version of the story he'd told that morning, I could see that the "emperor had no clothes on."

And so, when months later, I was pouring wine for a small group of bishops and Superiors within our order, I remained as invisible as an ugly wall sconce.  No eye contact, no thank you or acknowledgment except from one.  Unlike his companions, he acknowledged my existence, thanked me, and gave me a smile of sympathy.  In his eyes, I could see he was suffering their company as well.  This was a man I could respect and I do to this day.  When I was publicly scolded in front of these dignitaries for my uncouth way of serving wine, this one kind bishop shot me a glance that touched my soul.  I knew that I had done nothing wrong.  I also knew that there was something wrong with the tone of the celebration, the extravagance and the arrogance that hung over the table like a heavy cloud of cigar smoke.  I'm pretty sure that after dinner while the wine continued to flow freely, cigars were passed around the table for the men.  I was relieved of my duties due to my inability to not act in an uncouth manner.  Praise be the Uncouth!  Being embarrassed publicly in front of these clowns was not as devastating as I'm sure Sister Counsela hoped it would be. 
I felt like I'd walked into Mr. Peabody's Way-Back-Machine without a helpful Sherman as a side kick to orient me to this new time and place.  Instead of fighting to stay in this crazy convent, the smart side of me was beginning to ask, "What am I doing here?"

The Sisters at Maryville lived a rather charmed life, at least some of them did.  There was a special cupboard in the convent that contained all kinds of chocolates and alcohol.  The dispensing of this secret stash was left to a privileged few.  I never saw it shared with anyone but I did notice the content of this cupboard dwindle and replenish.  Yes, I'd peek out of curiosity.  They kept constant tabs on me.  It was way past time someone kept tabs on them.  Each of the Sisters had their own separate bedroom with adjoining bathroom.  Most of them had televisions hidden in their closets.  They'd retire to their rooms shortly after dinner and watch TV while probably indulging in some of the stash from the forbidden closet.

Those of us who were relegated to the Cinderella class didn't have tv, bourbon and chocolate.  We would congregate in a small drab room.  In this room were several uncomfortable chairs, all facing an old television set.  I soon dubbed this room, "the television altar".  We faced the television in the same way we faced the altar in chapel.  All that was missing were the stain glass windows.  I liked the other Cinderella Sisters that congregated there.  They didn't find me too uncouth.  They treated me like an equal even though most of them were quite a bit older.  They didn't like what was happening to me.  They knew I was being punished.  These Cinderellas were exactly the kind of Sisters that should have been in charge.  They were often scandalized by the extravagance and decadence of the powers that be.  They'd suffered their cruelty and did not find it necessary to be cruel to others in return.  They were not afraid to be human.  In their humanity, their goodness shone.  They were a light to me.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Laughing in the Dark

Despite all the awful things that were happening, there were good times as well.  Going out to Baskin and Robbins for ice cream could actually be filled with lots of fun.  Treats were less common than in real life so something this simple was cause for a mini-celebration.    There was the time when Formation hiked Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge.  We came back exhausted but really pleased by our outdoorsy accomplishment.

We would sometimes enjoy the use of the convent beach house.  This large, wonderful house sat on the edge of the beach on the Oregon coast.  Once there, we'd change into civilian clothes and enjoy an almost normal life.  On one of these trips, we discovered that we would be sharing the house with one of the diocesan priests.  There was a room on the first floor that had an adjoining bathroom.  This bathroom had a door from the room and from the enclosed porch.  Father had this room.  As we were busy cleaning up the house before leaving to head back to the valley, Sister David opened the bathroom door from the enclosed porch thinking it was a broom closet.  Instead, she opened the door on Father who was using the bathroom at the time.  In a panic, Sister David ran to tell us what had happened.  Sister Philip and I laughed so hard, we cried. 

Father, who was less embarrassed than Sister David  (He'd grown up with sisters for siblings.)  attempted to find Sister David to tell her that it was just an accident and not to worry.  She was so embarrassed she tried to elude just such a meeting and scurried around the large beach house with Father closely behind.  At this point, I was almost on the floor with laughter.  Of all of us, Sister David was the most squeamish.  She didn't even like anyone to touch her wet laundry and her "things" which was code for underwear.  We used to tease her about her "things" just to get her going.

Sister David, Philip and I were soon a tight knit group, one that the powers that be would often try to break up saying we were a bad influence on each other.  They accused me of being the ring leader and the most negative of influences.  It didn't stop us from getting together every chance we could.  We helped each other cope largely through laughter.  We lived in a rather insane world with the inept in charge.  Our world was rich fodder for the wickedly amusing.  We had nicknames and code words for so many things we'd almost developed our own language.  In the face of much sadness and trauma, we found room to laugh.

One summer evening, the young Sisters joined one of the bishops that lived on the convent grounds for a trip to Rose's for dessert.  As the day gave way to evening, we drove up the tree-lined lane on the convent grounds toward the bishops house, when Sister David spotted what she thought was a wounded bird in the road ahead.  She insisted the bishop stop the car.  She got out to survey the bird and soon slunk back into the car seat, colored a deep shade of red.  Within seconds, Sister Philip and I figured out what had happened.  The bishop asked Sister David how the bird was and she struggled to formulate an answer.  In the back seat we laughed even harder.  It wasn't a wounded bird in the road.  It was two birds mating.  Noticing Sister David's discomfort, the bishop looked at the birds again and suddenly realized what was really happening.  He started to blush and stutter.  Sister Philip and I laughed so hard I almost wet myself.

The day Sister David found the crotchless underwear on the older Sisters clothesline, she had to come get us.  We stood under an outdoor clothesline laughing like crazy people.    Exactly what was so funny, I don't remember but I do remember the tears of laughter and how this discovery, made us smile for days.  Sister David was a natural comedienne.  Tall, double-jointed, she had a physical presence that lent it self to physical humor.  She was and still is laughter waiting to happen.  Of all the young people in Formation, Sister David always struck me as the most "nun-like" the most naturally suited to a religious life.  She left the convent shortly after I did and had years of interesting adventures, even teaching in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War.  Later, in life she entered a Franciscan order which seems like the perfect match.  We helped celebrate her final vows with the Franciscans.  It seems that she was finally able to find a home, a place where she belongs and has much to offer.

The laughter that we shared bound us together.  We had a common enemy and a common goal.  Once I left the closeness of our friendship began to unravel.  We remain in contact with each other but our connection isn't the same.  Each of us left for our own reasons.  While we were together in the convent, we desperately needed each other.  We enjoyed one of the closest friendships I've ever had.  Part of me will always miss them and the laughter we shared.  We were laughing in the dark.  It's not such a bad way to enter the lion's den.  Each of us would have to face our lion alone.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Past

                               The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
                               Moves on: nor all they Piety nor Wit
                               Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
                               Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

                                                                      Omar Khayyam
                                                                      "The Rubiayat"

In telling the tale, I may have been less than respectful of my youthful self.  After all these years, it is still challenging not to view my younger self critically.  Putting up with obviously inappropriate behavior as long as I did can embarrass me still.  Today, as serendipity would have it, I came across these lines from "The Rubiayat."  To state it simply, the past is past.  It does evoke a desire to nurture a younger and more vulnerable me.

Just the other day, I went to the dentist.  The hygienist who worked on my teeth was a very petite and delicate woman.  She also exuded a frailty that left me feeling very protective and maternal toward her.  I spoke more quietly, more carefully, more thoughtfully so as not to damage this frail and beautiful bird of a woman.

As I lay with mouth wide open and my toes higher than my head, I had time to think about why I had this protective reaction toward an adult.  Maybe, I was being perceptive and picking up on her vulnerability.  It was also something more.  I was feeling frail and vulnerable that day.  Meeting her tapped into this vulnerability.  I felt protective of her because I felt protective of myself.

While ever cognizant of my limited intellect and perception, I am also very aware that I can credit my survival in the convent to my intelligence and perception.  Those were very crazy making years.  Of that I'm very sure.  A young, idealistic, naive me did what she had to do.  Thank God, I was clever enough to find ways to cope.  Those ways may not have always been very effective or mature but given the situation, I did the best I could.   I wish the same could be said for those in charge.  Their authority gave them a greater responsibility to care for those who had to answer to them.  They failed me miserably.  I can still feel angry about the injustice of it all.

I'd like to think it is possible to feel that anger, to protect a younger self, while trying to understand the whats and whys that would motivate others to act in ways that defy goodness.    I'll never know what was in their heads or hearts.  I only remember what was in mine through the hazy lens of time.  Still, I am the hero of my story.  The past serves me best when it conforms to this heroic telling.  Yet, even this heroic telling is just one story in a sea of many.  Objectivity and truth lie somewhere at the bottom of this sea.

This is not to say that I can not carry a part of the truth.  I can apply reason to discern what this story can give me today in the here and now.  If I can resurrect feelings of empathy for this young woman, this abused me while letting go of bitterness, I can free myself to act more wisely and with greater care for my present self.  Lately, I must admit being a bit hard on myself both in the present and in the past.  The vicissitudes of life were tossing me around while adrift on a stormy sea.  Weariness crawled inside me and took up residence in my soul.  Pieces of the past were wounding me anew.  I colluded with the wounding by being less than kind toward myself until a tiny stranger and an old friend, reminded me to take care.