Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Letter Filled with Concern




Last week I shared with you the gift of a cache of letters and documents—eight in all—that I recently discovered in my safety deposit box. Among the documents was the “Permission for Exclaustration,” which you read last week.
Several of you who left comments noted how formal it sounded and that’s true. It was in a sense a legal document that permitted me to leave the convent for a year. I’d professed a vowed commitment to that convent on January 1963 and so this document was a formal recognition of that and a permission to leave the Mount for a year and live beyond the convent itself.
 The vow I’d taken—along with poverty, chastity, obedience, and conversion of morals—was one of “stability.” That is, I would be a part of that Community of Benedictines for the rest of my life. I was walking away for a year and so I needed permission to depart the convent and leave the Community.
This week, I’m sharing with you the following letter that Mother Mary Austin wrote to me on December 23, 1966, the day I signed the above document. That was the day before I left the convent.

Late as it is, I cannot resist writing a brief note to you. In my own name and that of the Community, I wish to express my appreciation for the contribution you have made to our apostolic work.
Even though you are leaving us, please be assured that the Mount Benedictines are not breaking their bond with you. You will be included daily in our remembrance of the “absent brethren.”
Know too, Sister, that I have faith in you as a person. I believe that you are trying sincerely to bear witness to Christ in the way that seems best for you. Know also, Sister, that if after you have tried to live outside the convent and find that you would like to return, we will gladly welcome you back. In the interim we will always have a prayerful and loving remembrance of you.
I hope you will find the peace and happiness that you are seeking. God bless you through the coming year. Please remember me and the Community in your prayers.
With love in the Holy Child,
Mother Mary Austin OSB

I don’t remember Mother Mary Austin giving me this letter. My memory of her attitude has always been that she was deeply annoyed with me. And she was annoyed on the evening of December 5 when I’d sought her out and said I needed to leave. But it’s clear from this letter that her annoyance was only momentary and perhaps she felt it only because she was powerless to give me peace from my torments. It was only in myself that I could find the happiness I sought.
I had become, in today’s parlance, somewhat of a zombie. I taught my high school religion and English lit classes enthusiastically. I participated devoutly in the monastic prayer of Benedictines. I listened intently to the students asking for advice.
I did all that was asked of me and yet I felt nothing. I was simply acting the role. It was a performance. I had lost between ten and fifteen pounds; I had no appetite; and I wasn’t sleeping. Truly I walked as the living dead from Thanksgiving on.
So I suspect now that I gave only a cursory glance at the document I signed on December 23 and at this letter from Mother Mary Austin. I’m not sure why I kept them or the other six documents I’ll share with you. I was acting on “autopilot” for many months after leaving and somehow these letters and documents must have held meaning for me even though I never again read them.
Note that at the end of her letter, Mother Mary Austin—of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB)—asked me to remember her and the Community in my prayers. The truth is that rather quickly I ceased attending Sunday Mass and seldom prayed. I felt I was drowning in despair. I suppose my only prayer was “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130)
I did sorely miss the many friends I’d made in the convent—women who laughed a lot and showed compassion toward all and cared with deep concern about our world. Many of them are dead now, but I’m still in touch with several nuns who became dear to me during those convent years.
I think the truth may be that I was in such anguish for many months after leaving that I drew in on myself—except for when I had to put on a performance of normality at work and with the new friends I’d made at the Loretta Guild for Working Women.


I tell you now that I figuratively died during that time. I existed merely as a puppet, although I don’t know whose hand animated me. Many years passed before—like Pinocchio the marionette—the current of life pulsed within me.


I always think of that when I read newspaper stories about the Magicicada cicadas of eastern North America. They spend most of their life underground. Then after thirteen or seventeen years the mature cicadas emerge and live for several weeks, singing their unique song.
I, too, finally emerged from the dark loam of uncertainty. I left the convent in 1966 between my 30th and 31st year. But I think I did not truly live as a whole person until 1976 when I met Doctor Nimlos, who literally saved my life.
For everything there is a season. Peace.

PS: These past two weeks have not been—for me—the season for blogging. I’ve had two bouts of pink eye, a cold, and a sinus infection. I’m hoping that by next Monday I’ll be back to my routines. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.



69 comments:

  1. It's such a pity that in your anguished state of mind you didn't recognise the depth of kindness and concern expressed in this letter, Dee. I think it might have helped a little as you made the huge and very painful transition to life outside the convent. But I can well imagine that your state of mind was such that little penetrated for a long time. I'm glad you kept the letter and can now feel the affection expressed in it.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, I feel true regret because all these years--almost 50--I felt that Mother Mary Austin was annoyed with me. This letter not only helps me realize she wasn't but it shows the read concern she had for me. It's going to influence what I'm writing about in the convent memoir. Peace.

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  2. That is a truly beautiful, caring, compassion loaded letter. And I am so glad that even in auto-pilot mode some part of you recognised that it was important and needed to be preserved. Preserved for when the 'you' that you grew into could recognise and appreciate the beauty.

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    1. Dear Sue, I really don't know why I preserved this cache of documents and letters. As you say, some part of myself must have known this was important and not to be discarded, even though Iwas disregarding what was being said to caringly to me. Peace.

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  3. Even in your deep (& argumentative) subconscious, you could not throw away that letter--that must say SOMETHING to you!!

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    1. Dear Fishducky, it says something to me about the deep down realization I had beneath the outer layers of denial and frozenness. What does it say to you? Peace.

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  4. The more I read, Dee, the more I think of others living lives of quiet desperation.

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    1. Dear Joanne, I went and got Thoreau's quote: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” And that's so true. Peace.

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  5. Hi Dee, I'm afraid that I've not kept up with reading blogs lately. Family matters seemed to have occupied all of my time in these last few weeks. But I'm back now and trying to catch up. Having been brought up Catholic, some of my high school friends became nuns. I remember thinking of it myself... not necessarily seriously, but in passing... thinking the quiet way of life would be pleasing. But the world had other plans and probably for the best since I'm not really a religious person - spiritual maybe - but not religious. (I think there's a difference)
    But I do believe that all you have gone through has made you the person you are... and from what I read in your blog, you are truly a lovely soul.

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    1. Dear Rian, like you, I believe there is a vast difference between being a religious person and being spiritual. Through the years, I've let go of most things that have to do with religion and yet, having been raised a Catholic and educated for 16 years in Catholic schools, and then becoming a nun for 8 1/2 years, the faith tradition of Catholics is bred in my bones.

      I hope to visit your "cat, coffee, chocolate" blog this coming week. Thanks so much for stopping by. Peace.

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  6. I'm so sorry you have been under the weather. That letter was indeed filled with compassion.

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    1. Dear Nancy, it's so good to see this comment from you. You've had a difficult year, filled with change that brings about, I think, a real re-examination of life. So I'm glad you are back to blogging again. Peace.

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  7. I agree with the others. You possibly weren't ready then for the comfort that letter offered but you kept it for a reason. I think you are right and that her annoyance might have been about her own inability to reach you.
    I am so sorry you have been feeling puny. Any one of those ailments would bring the strongest to a halt and I hope that is behind you now.

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    1. Dear Arkansas Patti, well, I"m still dealing with the viral conjunctivitis. It's been going on for 11 days now--I got reinfected-- and my eyes still look as if someone hit me--purple and red bruises!!! But I so hope that by Monday I'll be over this and can begin to get back on track. Thank you for your concern. Peace.

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  8. Interesting how we hold onto things and later they hold so much more meaning. Hope you're feeling better, I have 10 days left before I go back to work. Looking forward to the routine, but not the actual "work" itself.

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    1. Dear Juli, thanks so much for stopping by. Like you, I like routines, but way too often I opt to do something other than!!!! Peace.

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  9. Do feel better, Dee, and take your time recouping. The letter from Mother Mary Austin expresses Christian love as it should be. Thank you for sharing it. I'm glad you still have it, these many years later.

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    1. Dear Deanna, I, too, am glad I have it. I truly never knew I did until I explored a plain white envelope in my safety deposit box that had the eight letters and documents. Peace.

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  10. That letter is indeed filled with concern and love. I'm glad you kept it and have shared it with those of us who follow you. And gosh, I hope all that sickness is now behind you so that you can continue to blog. Sending you lots of virtual hugs. :-)

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    1. Dear DJan, I'm feeling better today and the eyes are looking better also. I've had viral conjunctivitis for 11 days now. I was getting better and than inadvertently touched the eye drop container to my eyes and so contaminated it and then contaminated my eyes again. I'm hoping that by Monday the cold and sinus problems will be over and that the itching and redness and burning within my eyes will have fled! Thanks so much for your concern and those virtual hugs! Peace.

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  11. Quite the letter indeed, filled with much emotion. And if I was a puppet, I wouldn't want to know who's hand was up my umm bum lol had to.

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    1. Dear Pat, I set myself up for that one didn't I?!?!?!!!! Peace,

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  12. So sorry, Dee, to hear that you have been sick... God Bless You, my Friend. I'm sure your decision to leave wasn't easy... I think most all of us would have to go through some 'down' times and some doubt as to whether or not we were doing the right thing.... I know you know NOW that you definitely made the correct decision for you... BUT--going through these zombie times probably was normal at the time...

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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    1. Dear Betsy, yes, the zombie period was, I think, normal for any of us who were committed to something so deeply and then had it end.Thank you for the blessing. Peace,

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  13. Oh dear. I seem to have deleted my comment, so, will try again. If you have two, Dee, just delete the one that is the least coherent. hehe

    I think there are times we keep keep things, not even aware that we do. They stay in a box until finally unearthed. The state of desperation you were in when you left the convent was so dire, Dee. Even if you read the letter, it probably just folded into itself at the time. I'm glad you found it now and hope it brings you some sort of peace.

    Hope you are feeling better. Conjunctivitis is no fun. I've been down and out with a bit of a nasty cold, compliments of our Ezra. He always manages to share his germs with me. No fun, but, it is what it is.

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    1. Dear Penny, I so appreciate your comment that the letter "just folded into itself at the time." That's an apt description of what I think happened. Like you, I now have a "nasty" cold, but Ezra wasn't the carrier! I'm not sure how I got it--probably shopping for groceries and having my hands on the cart! Peace.

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  14. Dee...you got the triple whamy, pink eye, cold and sinus. What fun can that be?
    You know the old saying..... walk a mile in anothers moccasins. I tried putting myself in your place, as if I had chosen the nunnery after high school. Believe me, it was not a happy thought. I would be truly miserable and it made me realize how unhappy you must have been and I thought of all the guilt that was piled upon you. But you made it and for that we are all thankful.

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    1. Dear Manzanita, It's true, I"m not having any fun with this "triple whammy." Quite frankly, I've feeling miserable. My oldest niece stopped by yesterday to bring me a Christmas gift of a lovely poinsettia from Costco. And she said, "Dee, you look terrible." I was glad to hear the words, because I thought I might just be making mountains out of molehills! But today I think the viral conjunctivitis is a little better. So my hopes are raised. Peace.

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  15. It's so fascinating -- and sometimes so sad -- to look back and understand another time of life and how our mental state at the time influenced our perceptions. I hope that reading through those letters, especially the kind letter from Mother Austen, brings a sense of peace with that part of your past. What a long time to feel so desolate and disconnected! And thank goodness you found your way to Dr. Nimlos! More currently, I hope you're feeling better physically by now. You've really had more than your share of pain and discomfort lately!

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    1. Dear Kathy, I didn't realize until I was meditating recently, that I held some residual anger town Mother Mary Austin and the convent. I thought I'd always felt fine about the whole things. But in meditation I realized the anger and was surprised after all these years. Then I found the letter and it did, as you say, bring me a great sense of peace. Peace.

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  16. You know yourself so well. It's good that you can look back on your life and rethink some of the things that happened. Hope you are feeling better now.

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    1. Dear Lori, yes, the rethinking is helping me with the convent memoir on which I've been working since June. Happy Thanksgiving! Peace.

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  17. I'm so glad you revisited the letters and found compassion. I hope you feel better soon.

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    1. Dear Annie, I did find unexpected compassion. And I found also that I'd harbored some resentment for nearly 50 years. And one of the great gifts for this Thanksgiving Day is that the letter has helped me let go of that resentment. Peace.

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  18. My comment is gone. I sad something about how nice it would have been if Mother Mary Austin had conveyed her concern through facial expressions and the words she said to you. I'm glad you found the letter, however, so you know more about what she thought.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, perhaps she did express it with words and facial expressions, but I think now that I was so encased in loneliness that I didn't recognize her compassion. Peace.

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  19. Wow what an amazing letter. I hope you feel better soon, Dee!!

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    1. Dear Keith, it is amazing, especially as I haven't read it in nearly fifty years and missed the deep down concern it expressed way back in December 1966. A lost opportunity. Peace.

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  20. Whenever you’re ready to return here, I’ll be there to read. Maybe not instantly but I will come.

    It’s strange, you and I have lived such different lives yet I always feel a kinship with you. We both think deeply and are often disturbed by things we cannot - at least not there and then - explain. neither of us has found life easy, yet we have reached a place of contentment and peace.

    I am glad I found you.

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    1. Dear Friko, like you, I'm glad we found one another for there does seem to be a real affinity between us. Today we are celebrating as a country our Thanksgiving for the blessings of our lives. I am especially grateful today for all the lives that have touched mine and helped me grown into the person I am today. I include you on that list. Peace.

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  21. I guess when we read letters, we actually read them with our own emotions at the moment of reading. It was very good finding and reading the letter again. It must really have brought peace in you.

    Hope you're feeling better.

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    1. Dear Mari, yes, I think you are right about reading with the emotions we feel at the time. Back in December 1966, my emotions were encased in ice. But reading the letter now fills me with great peace and with a renewed appreciation of Mother Mary Austin.

      I was diagnosed with pneumonia this past Monday. But I've been taking antibiotics since then and I'm already feeling much better. Thank you for your well wishes. Peace.

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  22. There was so much love and concern in that letter. I can relate all too well to your inability at the time to experience that love. One of the many things I love about your writing is your ability to show the larger view of your experiences. Experiences which reflect our humanity and the Divine love in profound ways.

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    1. Dear Deb, thank you for your kind words about my writing. I've been working on a convent memoir for several months. In the light of these letters, I need to go back into the manuscript and do some rewriting. I'm so hoping that in 2015, I'll stay on a writing routine that will help me complete the final drafts of the memoir. I look forward to the day when you can return to your writing of a manuscript that will reflect all the pain and the hope and expectation and the "waiting in stillness" that has been part of your life. Such writing will help all of us. Peace.

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  23. As I read about you becoming a zombie, I saw something behind that, a great passion for living. I won't write more here, but I think I now understand better who you are and why you had many difficulties until you found the path that was right for you.

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    1. Dear Inger, you know that word just came to me because there is such interest today in books about zombies and in movies. But it felt right when it came and so I used it. As to a great passion for living, I don't know about that. I do know that I have a tremendous survival instinct. Peace.

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  24. I read all your posts that I had missed. These were compassionate letters that were sent to you. With time we realize truths that were not visible at the time – maturity helps us be more understanding of other people’s motives and of ours, too. I always enjoy reading your recollections.

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    1. Dear Vagabonde, how kind of you to come and read all those postings. And yes, it is true that with maturity I have been able to see beyond my own needs and viewpoints. Peace.

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  25. Dee, I hope you are feeling well. Happy holidays. I enjoyed catching up on your blog just now.

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    1. Dear Michelle, I am much better. The chest has cleared from the pneumonia I had and the viral conjunctivitis has disappeared and the severe allergic reaction to the glaucoma drops is also clearing up. So slowly I am getting ready for Christmas. Thank you for all the time you must have spent catching up. You are so kind to do so. Peace.

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  26. Thinking of you dear Dee, and hoping that you are feeling better.

    I hope 2015 will be good to you.

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    1. Dear Arleen, so good to hear from you. I looked at your blog to see if you had an e-mail address there but didn't find one and so I'm writing this response, which I hope you'll come back and read. I was diagnosed with pneumonia in late November into December. Then I was diagnosed with a second bout of it on Friday January 2. Tomorrow I go in to see if my lungs have now cleared after taking the anti-biotic. I'm feeling much better and I'm just glad that I caught both bouts early and didn't land in the hospital. I hope to start blogging sometime before the end of January. See you then. I read your posting on the town and the Grinch and thought how wonderful is the human spirit! That's what Christmas is about. Peace. Dee

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    2. Dear Dee,
      I am not sure if you know how successful your life has been because of the kindness and goodness you have shown to all God's creatures. If you do not come back to blogger, know that it has been an honor to know you and to read your stories.

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  27. I have met half a dozen or more former nuns, priests and one archbishop from El Paso and back in those days there was no Internet or Email so we had to communicate by way of telephone or letters sent through out postal system. It was no uncommon to have to wait two weeks to get a reply if the person you sent the letter to actually sat down and penned a reply and mailed it.

    Some of the people I have met were totally different and their culture was unlike anything in America. It was during this searching-time for me that the movie, "Roots" came out and stuck in my head like the name of the first girl I ever kissed—Alice.

    Anyway, some of the homes they lived in were unique and your story was like curb-feelers keeping me away from a scuffed-up tire. Enjoyed reading you.

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  28. Isn't it interesting how our memories of events can change over time? I'm so excited for when your memoir will be polished and published :)

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  29. Hey Dee, haven't heard from you in a while. Just checking in. Hope all is well with you.
    R

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  30. Hope things are okay with you. From the other recent comments here I see I'm not the only one. I'd been negligent making it over her and disappointed to see no recent posts.

    Well, take care and hope to see a new post soon.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Wrote By Rote

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  31. Hope you feel better soon.

    What a fascinating glimpse into your life!

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  32. Dee: I am astounded at the number of comments you generated from this moving disclosure. It must have been a long ten years betweeb when you left the convent and found the doctor. Obviously many of your writers share your doubts about what life means and why participate in prayer and church attendance. You seem to have stimulated a host of soul searches. Thank you.

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  33. Stopping by to see what has happened to you, and to say that I miss you. Just read above that you have been ill. SO sorry to hear this... May God Bless You...

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  34. Thinking of you and hoping you are well and enjoying life. We all miss you dearly, however, that does not mean you have to come back to Blogland and go through any stress to write a post on a regular schedule. We just want to know if you are doing OK and, if not, we want to let you know that we care. You are a special person to so many of us.

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  35. Hello, Dee
    I stopped by to let you know I think of you, and cannot express myself better than Arleen did. As you said so often, Peace.

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  36. I am very late in commenting but must tell you I very often think of you and how your life is moving along. I see that you have left blogging for now. But For those who are wondering Dee thanks for sharing your thoughts with me in emails today.

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  37. Missing you, thinking of you and hoping you are doing well.

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  38. Dear Dee,
    Please let us know if you are OK. So many of us are concerned. You have made an imprint on our lives.

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    1. Dear Arleen, thank you for this note of concern and also for the one in June.

      I want to assure you that I am okay. Since I last posted--on November 20, 2014--I have had one health concern after another. The most recent involved "high dose" radiation, which was effective and successful.

      However, all this has left me very tired. Weary actually of dealing with these tedious blips in my life. The good news for me is that I am now going to take up the reins of my life again and return to a daily routine. That means that I will continue to work on my convent memoir, look for an agent, and . . . begin to read and comment on blogs again as well as post stories of my own. I plan to begin blogging again--reading/commenting--next Monday. I hope to post again the first Saturday in October.

      I've missed knowing what was happening in the lives of people--like you--whom I've come to care about. And so I'm eager to begin reading about what's going on in the wide world beyond my own home where I've spent so much time in the past ten months.

      I am so touched by your concern. Truly all is well. And as Julian of Norwich said from her anchorage so many centuries ago: "And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well."

      I hope that you, too, are well. I will be 80 on April 1 next year and I'm thinking that this past year with all these health concerns has simply provided the measure for how wonderful the next decade will be! I look forward to more and better writing and to embracing the possibilities that the future holds for me to embrace growth in every way.

      Let us both be gracious to ourselves. Peace.

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  39. Thank you for writing back, Dee. I am sorry that you have been going through such a difficult time with your health. I do hope that others will drop by and see your note. We will all be so pleased when we see your posts again on our dashboards. I wish you peace and days without ills.

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    1. Dear Arleen, thanks for getting me back into the blogging world. If nothing goes awry I'll be posting in a few days and reading blogs again also. Rain threatens today. Fall is near. Peace.

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