The morning of Christmas Eve 1966 dawned. My last day in the convent. The bell summoned us to prayer and Mass. Afterward, I ate in the refectory and went to the Mother Superior’s office for her blessing.
Then I walked the long hall from the convent into the college administration building. I wanted to say good-bye to the nun who’d mentored me during my four years in college. When I entered her office, she stood and looked pityingly at me.
“What ever happened to the bright and shiny star you were?” she asked.
The convent happened.
But I didn’t say that. I faulted myself more than she did. Others stayed—over six hundred of them. A party of five nuns had traveled there by river over a hundred years before. Only a handful of women who’d made final vows since then had ever left. What was wrong with me? Why did I have no stick-to-it-ive-ness?
I said nothing to this woman whose nurturing in college had steadied me. I merely went out the door to where my parents waited for me in their rusty Chevrolet. They tucked me between them in the front seat.
Mom held me all the way home, brushing back my cowlick, wiping the tears that dribbled down my cheeks. Dad kept murmuring, “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. We’ll take care of you.”
Mom muttered, “I knew that place would do you in.”
My parents didn’t know that three hallucinations sat in the back seat, bullying me: Anna. Dodo. Dolores. For the entire trip home, all three kept telling me just what they thought of my decision to leave and where it might lead me. Anna attacking. Dodo consoling. Dolores arbitrating.
For the next three weeks all I did, day and night, was stare at the television, my mouth gaping, mute. Mom began to wonder if I could talk. She wondered also if she should have me admitted to a mental ward. Here I was—nearly thirty-one years old and incapable of stringing two coherent thoughts together, much less uttering them.
A phone call from a convent friend got me talking again. At grad school, she’d met a Dayton publisher who needed a curriculum writer and editor for a weekly Catholic publication. The firm would fly me to Ohio for an interview if I were interested.
Once again my acting ability served me well—or unwell, depending on how one looks at the years I struggled to appear normal. The company had me take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Its results surely showed my psychotic tendencies, but the boss was a kind man. I think he took pity on me. He probably thought I was a little eccentric, but harmless.
In the years that followed, I saw four psychiatrists, two spiritual directors, and a counselor. These five women and two men, plus a drug that balances my body chemistry, brought me to today.
Entering the convent, I felt I was finally home, among kindred spirits. As the years passed, I realized I’d been running away from the past. The convent had been an escape, not a home for me. The question “Where and what is home?” has occupied me ever since.
Today, I’ve come to some certainty: Our lives work out despite, or maybe because of, the mystery of darkness. It’s taken me a span of years to answer the rapping of authenticity with “Here I am, Holy Oneness, ready to enter into the mystery of my own life.”