Last evening I riffled through a box of old photographs that date back to the early twentieth century. There were great-grandparents, Grandma Ready and O’Mara, Mom and Dad, my brother and his family, friends, as well as myself. Among those photographs I found some from early 1967 that show me during the first few months after I left the convent as well as one from the month before I left and a couple from a year later. Today, I’d like to share these with you.
Here’s Sister Innocence in November 1966—a month and a half before I left the convent. I was teaching high school students in the Mount Academy and this is one of the Asian students. I had weighed 118 pounds from the time I was in grade school. But during those final months of 1966, I lost about 15 pounds and was the thinnest I’d been since fifth grade.
Wearing the clothes of my pregnant sister-in-law, I left the convent on Christmas Eve, 1966. The following two photographs show me two days later at a party she and my brother gave for the family. In the one below I’m standing next to my cousin-in-law. I’m not sure what article of clothing I’m holding.
In this second photograph I think I’m examining a half-slip my brother and his wife gave me as a Christmas gift. As I’ve said in earlier postings about this time, I did a lot of acting for a few weeks. Acting surprised. Acting happy. Acting interested. Longing always to be home with my mom and dad in their house where I didn’t need to act.
In Dayton, where I got my first post-convent joy, I first lived at the Loretto Guild where I met four women who befriended me. In the early spring of 1967, the five of us moved to a house near Dayton University. My sister-in-law was due any day and so would soon be needing her spring and summer wardrobe.
With the encouragement of my new friends, I bought myself dresses and shoes to wear to work. They were excited for me and wanted to take photographs showing “Sister Innocence” in her new finery. Below are pictures of me in one dress after another. These were taken outside the two-story home we’d rented. It was on a residential street where many students lived.
On my face you see smiles that are real. I was no longer acting. I’d settled into life beyond the convent. Friends enriched my life. I enjoyed my work as an editor at Pflaum Publishing. I was going to movies, concerts, plays, dances. I had a library card. I traveled successfully on the city buses. I knew where to shop. I was being invited to the homes of co-workers to meet their families, play with their children, and enjoy tasty home-cooked meals.
I was taking a class on the novels of Charles Dickens and George Eliot at the University and writing papers that were garnering good grades. This was proof, I thought, that my mind was working well and that I hadn’t lost my ability to craft sentences. In a word, I was happy.
That summer I traveled home to visit my family. This is a photo of me at Lake Jacoma in Blue Springs, Missouri. My family and I did some fishing there and then sat on the grass to enjoy a picnic with some of Mom’s famous potato salad. I note in looking at all these photographs that none of them show me in shorts. It took many years before I bared my legs by wearing pants that came above my knees.
Finally, here is a winter 1967 photograph of me at my brother’s home in Independence. My hair is different; my smile is different; my whole demeanor has changed. This is what time and good friends and loving family can do for someone who has been deep into the abyss of depression and has—by some great grace—decided to live.
Last night, while viewing these photographs that show in their own way a resurrection, I thought of Robin Williams. My heart aches for his pain and for the forlorn darkness of mind and heart and spirit in which he must have been living. May he now know the truth of himself and know, too, the meaning and worth of his life and the joy he brought to so many of us. May he know that he was and is a gift from and to the Universe. Peace.