My last random-act-of-kindness posting tells how Sister Madonna reached out to me a few weeks after I left the convent on December 24, 1966. It will make more sense if you’ve already read the following three stories, which I posted in August 2011. They explain my leaving and the confusion that swirled within me.
I know that, like me, most of you are too busy to read so many postings, so I’ll briefly summarize why I left the convent: During the eight and one half years I lived there, I became more and more depressed. By the end of that time, I was hallucinating three nagging personalities; I quaked under the expectations I thought others had of me; I felt like a fake because my inner thoughts weren’t consistent with my outer actions.
I knew I was experiencing a nervous breakdown but I was such a fine actress that I faked being normal. No one seemed to realize just how emotionally bruised and mentally ill I was. Yet I knew I couldn’t keep up the act infinitely. I was sure that if I stayed I’d end up in the mental institution in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where “crazy” nuns spent the rest of their lives.
My letter to the Mount community asking for permission to leave was, I think now, probably rambling and disjointed. But I remember that one of the things I stressed was that Mount nuns taught and I was a poor teacher.
In January 1967, I began working at a publishing house in Dayton, Ohio. Faking normalcy took its toil, and I’d fallen into a deep malaise. But once again, no one realized this because of my acting ability. I knew what normal looked like and I feigned it. My one certainty was that I’d failed in everything I set out to be as a nun.
Several weeks after I left the convent, Sister Madonna, who taught in the psychology department of Mount Saint Scholastica College, sent me a letter. She was older than I and I’d never taught with her. In fact, I knew only her name and her reputation as a woman of great graciousness, wholeness, and learning.
In her letter, Madonna explained that she’d recently interviewed all the seniors—about 70 students—at the Mount Academy because she was writing a paper for a psychology journal. The fall of 1966, I’d taught English literature and religion to these seniors.
Madonna wanted me to know that each and every one of them had said I was the finest teacher they’d ever had. She went on to tell me some of the things they’d shared about me and about my teaching.
Her letter, an unexpected act of kindness, was water in the wilderness in which I wandered lonely and lost.
Madonna wanted to assure me, she said, that if I left because I didn’t teach well I could put that reasoning aside. I was an outstanding teacher.
I shall never, ever, forget the kindness of this woman. She was the Good Samaritan who came upon the beaten and bruised wayfarer and cared for her. I remember taking a deep, gulping breath when I read her letter. I hadn’t totally failed. My life hadn’t been a wasteland. I’d done something well. I felt . . . peace.
PS: Next Wednesday I’ll post Part 2 of the sesquicentennial reunion. Then I’ll return to my convent postings that ended in December 2011. Also, tomorrow—Sunday—I’ll post news about my manuscript entitled “The Reluctant Spy” on my other blog—wordcrafting: a writer’s blog.