As a child, I constantly fell, tripped, stumbled, and in general, zigzagged my way through each day. Consequently, Mom used to mutter, straightening the chair I’d knocked over, “Anna Dolores, you’re about as graceful as a bull in a china shop.”
I never took umbrage at this. Most often I giggled delightedly at the image of a flame-snorting bull rampaging through a shop of delicate dishware like my grandma had in her china cabinet.
Unless truly vexed, Mom refrained from saying this to me because I’d always immediately pass “Go” and become the raging bull charging through our five-room apartment. “Whoa!” she’d say.
Then she’d settle my younger brother and me on the couch and delight us with “The Story of Ferdinand”—one of my favorite books. Ferdinand was a little bull who sat on his rump and smelled the flowers. Mom wanted me, I think, to be as peace-loving as Ferdinand.
Ultimately, I learned the value of peace, but I never relinquished clumsiness. Consequently, in the convent I was always making culpa for dropping bowls, banging serving trays, and tripping over my kneeler in the choir chapel. But the time I got in the most trouble came about because I was trying to be helpful—in my usual forge-right-ahead-and-damn-the-torpedoes way.
In the common room of the novitiate, the Novice Mistress put up and decorated a tree for celebrating the Nativity. This pleased me no end. I was lonely and that tree brought with it the remembered aroma of home.
The tree stood in a bucket of sand. In a burst of enthusiasm one day, I decided it was thirsty and needed a drink. In the utility room, I filled a bucket with water, lugged it back to the common room, and proceeded to pour.
You know, of course, what happens next. Fairly quickly, the tree begins to tilt. Humming a carol under my breath, I’m unaware that the tree is leaning toward the floor.
I pour a little more water. With a shudder the tree lands on the terrazzo floor. Glass ornaments shatter. Lights shut down. Needles scatter. I stand dismayed. Surely this is a culpa matter!
The noise brings the Novice Mistress hurrying from her office. Speechless. For Once.
She surveys the fallen tree. Taps an ornament shard with one shoe-clad foot. Sends a withering glance toward the offending bucket in which water still sloshes. And says, “Dee, you’re about as graceful as a bull in a china shop.”
I beam. Those words bring back memories of Ferdinand. My mom. My brother. All of us pouring over a book on the couch.
The memory soon departs, however, as the Novice Mistress has me fetch a broom and more sand. Then she tells me that my penance for this culpa fault is to go to the chapel and pray a rosary while considering my misguided enthusiasm. Because the choir chapel is my favorite place in the convent, this penance actually feels like a reward.
During recreation that evening all of us—novices, postulants, and assistant Novice Mistress—welcomed the paper and ribbon, glue and scissors, sparkles and pipe cleaners the Novice Mistress handed us.
The next night we decorated the tree—now standing upright again—with the homemade ornaments. In my mind, the last was better than the first. Which just goes to show that all things work together unto good. Or so it seems to me all these many years later.