Today it’s back to Dayton in March of 1967. By then, I’d worked at Pflaum Publishing for nearly two months. As each day passed, I discovered anew how to engage in the give-and-take of conversation.
Sister Mary Dennis—the Benedictine nun who’d recommended me for an editing position after I’d left the convent—was working on her doctorate at Catholic University in Washington, D. C. She now invited me to visit her.
I have no memory of whether the details of travel seemed daunting. Nor do I remember whether, upon my arrival at the Washington airport, I worried about how to get to her residence hall at Catholic University. Did she meet me at the airport?
All I remember of sightseeing is that on Saturday we visited Georgetown and ate in the paved back garden of a restaurant that featured sculptures. What else did we see? Did I tour the campus? That’s all been lost to me.
The Old Stone House, built in 1765,
is one of the oldest buildings in Washington, D. C.
What I do remember is that on Sunday morning I met several of her nun friends who were studying for graduate degrees. They were in their late twenties and early thirties—eager to learn, excited about the Second Vatican Council that had convened in Rome in October 1962 and concluded in December 1965.
Wikipedia describes the outcomes of the council as follows:
Several institutional changes resulted from the council, such as the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, and ecumenical effort towards dialogue with other religions, . . . and the expressive participation of laity in various religious activities.
A painting by Armand Gautier of three nuns
in the portal of a church.
As a result of Vatican II, many religious orders in the late 1960s
put aside their traditional “habits” and began to wear contemporary clothing. When the story behind today’s posting takes place, the nuns are still wearing habits.
More than a year had passed since the council had ended and the winds of change were blowing through the Roman Catholic Church. These changes excited Sister Mary Dennis and her friends, who were eager to discover my impressions of change.
I can remember their excitement and spirited discussion. What I don’t remember is what I said that so riled Sister Mary Dennis. Whatever it was, only a few minutes later she excused us to her friends, and she and I began a silent walk back to her residence hall.
After the first block, she said, her voice irate, “How could you say that to my friends?”
“What did I say?” I asked, puzzled.
A vociferous scolding followed. She accused me of being condescending and of insulting her friends. Not understanding even then what had been so bad about what I said, I stammered an apology, feeling stupid. Inept. Insensitive. A lout.
My whole life came rushing back, flooding me with the fear that I would be abandoned again. That this friend now knew just how despicable I was and how unworthy of love. And that she would have nothing more to do with me.
That had been my fear since my parents had seemingly abandoned me when I was five and entering kindergarten. When they’d moved to Parsons, Kansas, where Dad had found work in a munitions factory, they left me behind with a married couple who were their friends. My grandmother insisted they’d abandoned me.
Ultimately, they returned to Kansas City but for much of the rest of my life I feared abandonment. Feared that I’d say something or do something that would—for unknown reasons—anger my parents or my friends and they’d discard me.
Sister Mary Denise’s scathing staccato of blame brought that fear surging back and I began to sob. Deep, gulping sobs racked my body. Uncontrollable sobs. Sobs so deep I had to fight for breath.
I stood on the sidewalk wailing. For long minutes—long, long minutes that felt taken out of time—I sobbed. It was then she made a suggestion that influenced the rest of my life. Next week, I hope to share that change in my life. Peace.
All photographs from Wikipedia.