In the beginning of my convent years, I often felt joy, as sudden as freshening breeze. Yet a certain restless was also present during those eighteen months in the novitiate and the seven years that followed. I strained at the lack of independence. I struggled with responding to bells summoning me to each task of the day. Every minute accounted for. Every moment tied up with obedience. So few choices.
I longed for the creek that ran through our farm. The creek where I had lazed away my youthful summers. The creek that had no timetable. The creek whose gurgling water summoned me into being.
Strangely, as the convent years passed, I felt I’d forgotten how “to be.” I became what was expected. Willy-nilly I let go of myself. A coldness settled around me. I felt no emotion. Joy disappeared.
Eight and a half years after entering, I left the convent. What happened to all that joy? To living within the holy? To my deep desire to pray?
The easiest answer is that I didn’t do well with obedience. I’m stubborn. But the answer to my leaving is more complicated than that. In the weeks and months ahead I’ll explore those convent years.
Some stories will be, as they were then, laughingly humorous. Other stories have a poignancy that still echoes in me, some forty-four years later. For today, it’s enough to say that I grieved, but I didn’t know for what.
I first asked to leave just nine months after entering. “You were born to be a nun,” the Novice Mistress protested. No ifs, ands, or buts. “If you leave, you’ll never be happy. In fact,” she added, “you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life.”
I took her at her word. She was older and, I thought, wiser than I. Who was I to know what was best for me? That thought alone could have been the first clue that I was immature even though I was nearly twenty-three. But did I listen? No. I simply accepted someone else’s tally of me. I’d been doing that my whole life. And I continued doing that for many years afterward.
It took me eight more years to finally walk away from the security of that convent. Those years hold the stories we’ll share in future postings. Today, I’ll simply address the actual ending.
During my eighth convent year, I began to hallucinate three women who yammered at me constantly. I taught in high school that year, and whenever I spoke to a student, these three figments listened and commented. They stood in three of the corners of whatever room I was in.
“What a dumb thing to say,” Anna would scold, her voice so strident that I had a hard time hearing what any student was saying.
Dodo responded, “I liked it.”
Dolores chipped in with “Leave her alone. She’s doing her best.”
Daily they tormented me with opinions. Trying to listen to the students above the din within wore me out.
Anna never stopped censuring me. I always measured up short for her.
Dodo couldn’t recognize a mature thought or emotion if it tangoed for her.
Dolores tried to arbitrate, but Anna’s know-it-all voice riveted her too.
In the beginning, I knew hallucinations weren’t “normal.” So I was careful not to show I heard voices and saw invisible, but multiple, Dees. I’d observed others for years and knew what was taken for normal. I produced it now.
That acting depleted me. I lost considerable weight. Became gaunt. I wasn’t sleeping. Communal prayer was a trial of endurance.
So I left the convent, wary of others realizing how far down the path of madness I’d already traveled. Wary also that the Mother Superior would cart me off to an insane asylum and I’d be lost in the system. Other nuns were there, soon I might be also. I was surely crazy enough.
(To be concluded on Saturday . . . )