Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Heartwish Is Born

The summer before fourth grade, I encountered a fascinating contraption in Grandma’s bedroom. It stood on the nightstand, between the double and the twin bed. All the letters of the alphabet looked up at me. But not in order. The machine was made up of many pieces. I wanted to take it apart and study its innards. But I knew that’d annoy Grandma, so instead I asked her what it was for.
            “To type letters,” she said.
            “What’s typing?”
            “You push the keys down. Words appear on the paper.”
            I didn’t see a key. Didn’t see any paper either.
            She led me upstairs to demonstrate. “Would you like to try?” she asked.
            Would I!
            So every afternoon during my summer visit, I sat and pecked out stories. My first was a mystery. I didn’t know much about dead bodies, so I wrote about kids stealing a lunchbox and woofing down its sandwiches in the barn loft. The detective who solves the case is, of course, Doloresknown as “dummy” to her classmates.
            That summer gave birth to my burning desire to be a novelist. My unmarried aunt, who lived with Grandma, told me about adult novels and explained the words character, plot, suspense.
            I had all that. Characters. Plot. Suspense. What I didn’t have was many words. A character could be tall or short. Skinny or fat. Nice or mean. No more.
            As to plot—everything happened in the space of a single page.
            I used up a lot of paper that summer. Lots of plots with the same characters in every story. Today, we’d call that a series. My very own series at the age of nine.
            Aunt Dorothy also told me I needed to study hard if I wanted to be a good writer. I needed to learn English grammar and something she called “sentence structure.”             
            In an earlier Childhood blog—“Tough It Out”—I shared the pact that resulted in a fourth-grade certificate for perfect attendance. Mom and Sister Corita’s belief that I could accomplish that feat made all the difference.
            But Aunt Dorothy’s words are what prompted my newfound heartwish: I longed to give voice to the characters inhabiting my mind. Characters who came, camped out, and refused to go away. Characters who wanted to say this or that and to say it their own way. Characters who knew what they were about even if I didn’t.
            Oh, those aren’t the words I used as a fourth grader. Those words come after years of trying to write novels. When I shared Aunt Dorothy’s words about grammar and studying hard and sentence structure with Mom, she said, “Dodo, you can do anything you set your mind to. If you’ve got a story to tell, tell it. You’ve always got a reader in me.”
            Now I have more readers—those of you who click on this blog three times a week to discover a new story. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dating Advice

Last night I remembered another family story Mom told me. She told this one when I was old enough to date. “Dolores,” she said, “I don’t want you dating anyone who drives a motorcycle. I don’t want you riding on the back of one.”
            “Why, Mom?”
            “Because I dated someone before I met your dad and I rode on the back of his motorcycle. We went round a busy corner too fast and the motorcycle tipped to the side. I scrapped my leg something fierce. That’s why.”
            It made sense to me. And I didn’t know anyone with a motorcycle anyway.

In the past several days, I've added four “how-to” postings to the blog for those of you who wonder about using it. If you didn’t see them and want to give them a “look/see,” you’ll find them below: “Extra #1: How to Comment,” “Extra #2—How to Sign Up for Notification,” “Extra #3—How to Bookmark the Blog,” and "Extra #4--How to Use the Archives."
            In the category section of the Archives, which are located on the right side of this blog below the About Me section, you can always find these four hopefully helpful postings by clicking on the category How To.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Extra #4: How to Use the Archives

Today’s posting is extra—not my usual Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story. It’s full of “how-to” instructions. Some of you will know all of this—and much more!—but a few friends and blog visitors are unsure of this new process called “blogging.” So here’s my attempt to answer your questions. I’ve received inquires about four aspects of the blog: 1) How to add a comment; 2) How to get notification when I post a new story; 3) How to “bookmark” my blog address for easy access; 4) How to use the archives on the blog site itself. I addressed the first three concerns in three extra postings this past Friday. This final extra posting explains how to use the archives. 

  • Look at the right-hand column of the blog. Note that the Archives appear beneath the “About Me” section.
  • The Archives sort my postings two ways: by the sequence in which I posted them and by the category I’ve indicated at the end of each posting.
  • If you haven’t accessed the blog in several days or weeks, you can discover the order in which I’ve posted new stories by going to the sequence Archive. There you will see folders for the months I’ve been posting. Click on the folder for the month we are in. In that folder will be a sequential list of my most recent stories. The ones posted early in the month are named at the bottom of the list. The most recent will be at the top of the list.
  • The second Archive sorts by category. This is helpful if you find yourself most interested in certain stories. For example: those about cats or the convent or my family. To see if there are any new postings for a category in which you have some interest, simply click on that category and you’ll see all my stories about that topic.
I hope this helps.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Abiding Memory

My mother lived in the present. The past ceased to exist the moment the clock’s hands inched forward. She seldom mentioned her Ozark childhood or her nine siblings. One story she did share was about Dan, her favorite brother. He’d died in a Colorado silver mine accident.
            My dad and mom and her eldest brother retrieved Dan’s body. In their early twenties and poor, they had no money for a decent casket. So they put his body in a rickety wooden box. It’s top was a couple of slats hastily nailed together.
            The three of them drove a battered truck with worn-out tires down U.S. Route 71 toward the Ozarks, the makeshift casket thumping up and down on the truck bed.
            Some place on 71 they encountered the mother of all potholes. The box took wing. It thudded to the bottom of a rock-strewn gully and splintered into shrapnel that littered a nearby field. Dan’s lifeless body flew forth into the humid Ozark air. Encountering a fence, it flopped onto the drought-cracked ground. 
            Why of all the stories Mom could have told me was that the one she remembered? Her favorite brother dead. His casket in pieces. His body crumpled against barbed wire.
            She didn’t tell me how much farther they had to go to get to the Anderson cemetery. Or if she got in the back of the truck and held his body close, his head resting against her breast.
            Did he smell? She didn’t mention that either.
            But the memory abided, locked firm in that heart of hers which had known and came to know so much deep sorrow.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Extra #3: How to Bookmark the Blog

Today’s second posting is extra—not my usual Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story. It’s full of “how-to” instructions. Some of you will know all of this—and much more!—but a few friends and blog visitors are unsure of this new process called “blogging.” So here’s my attempt to answer your questions. I’ve received inquires about four aspects of the blog: 1) How to add a comment; 2) How to get notification when I post a new story; 3) How to “bookmark” my blog address for easy access; 4) How to use the archives on the blog site itself. I hope to address these concerns in four extra postings. The teacher in me makes me do this!!!!
           This posting explains how to bookmark a blog. One fact: I use Safari and that is the only web browser I know. So what I’ll say in this posting will be about Safari. However, I trust that whatever browser you use will be similar. At least that is my hope.            
            You may enjoy my blogging and simply type the blog address on your browser ribbon each time you want to read one of the stories. However, there is an easier way than trying to remember that address each day.
How to Bookmark a Blog Address
1.              Go to your web browser, Safari or whatever.
2.              Type in my blog address in the white ribbon where you normally type some site you want to visit:
3.              Click on the address in the white ribbon. Your web browser will open and you will see the blog.
4.              Now go to the horizontal menu at the top of your screen. You will see the words: Safari, File, Edit, History, Bookmarks, Window, Help.
5.              Click on the word "Bookmarks."
6.              A menu will come up. Note that the second item on the menu is "Add Bookmark."
7.              Click on that.
8.              A small window will come up with the name of my blog in it.
9.              Note that the name is long and takes up a lot of space on your bookmark ribbon.
10.           So here’s what I’m suggesting: Highlight my blog name. Then delete it and you will have left an empty space that awaits the new, shorter name you want to use for this blog.
11.           Type the words "Dee’s Blog" in that empty space.
12.           Look below where you've typed that. There will be the words "Bookmark Bar."
13.           Click on those words. 
14.           That clicking will add "Dee's Blog" to your bookmark bar. (It is the white horizontal bar that runs across your Safari web page. It is about an inch down from the top of the page.)
15.           You probably have other bookmarks there—like The New York Times and Goggle and Amazon or whatever.
16.           Look at your bookmark bar. You will—if the above instructions are clear—see the words "Dee's Blog" on that bar.
17.           Now, whenever you want to see the blog, you simply go to your web browser and click on "Dee’s Blog" in your Bookmark Bar. The click will open the blog site. I know that most if not all of you have been doing this all along. That is, when you find a web site you like, you add it to your bar because that makes going to the site so easy. Please be patient with my compulsive/obsessive teacher behavior! That is, when you find a web site you like, you add it to your bar because that makes going to the site so easy. Please be patient with my compulsive/obsessive teacher behavior!
        I hope this helps anyone to whom blogging is new. The initial bookmarking process I’ve detailed may seem long and tedious to you, but being able to do this really helps you get to—easily—the web sites that are your favorites.
            And I hope my blog will be one of your favorites!!!!!

Extra #2: How to Sign Up for Notification

Today’s second posting is extra—not my usual Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story. It’s full of “how-to” instructions. Some of you will know all of this—and much more!—but a few friends and blog visitors are unsure of this new process called “blogging.” So here’s my attempt to answer your questions. I’ve received inquires about four aspects of the blog: 1) How to add a comment; 2) How to get notification when I post a new story; 3) How to “bookmark” my blog address for easy access; 4) How to use the archives on the blog site itself. I hope to address these concerns in four extra postings. 
           This posting explains how to sign up for notification. I admit, up front, that I’m not exactly sure about what I’m going to explain. Why? Because I haven’t signed up to have my blog sent to me each time I post something new. Perhaps some of you have. If so and if I give inaccurate information here, please let me know.
How to Get Notification of a New Posting on Dee’s Blog
·      Click on the red word comments below the story. When you do, you’ll see any posted comments. You will also see, at the end of the comments, the words Post a Comment and a white box.
·      Beneath the white box and to the right are the words, in red, Subscribe by E-mail.
·      I think, but admittedly I’m not certain, that if you click on that, you will get a notification by e-mail each time I post something on my blog.
·      If I’m wrong about this, please let me know.


Extra #1: How to Comment

Today’s posting is extra—not my usual Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story.

            It’s full of “how-to” instructions.
            Some of you will know all of this—and much more!—but a few friends and blog visitors are unsure of this new process called “blogging.” So here’s my attempt to answer your questions.
            I’ve received inquires about four aspects of the blog:
·      How to add a comment.
·      How to get notification when I post a new story.
·      How to “bookmark” my blog address for easy access.
·      How to use the archives on the blog site itself.
I hope to address these concerns in four extra postings. This first extra post will explain how to comment on a posted story.
How to Comment on a Blog Story:
·      Should you read a posting and want to comment on it, click on the red word comments below the story. You will see a number in front of the word: 0, 1, 2, whatever. That tells you that there are no other comments or that there are one or two or whatever the number is. When you click on comments, you will see any that have been posted and you can read them to see what other readers have said.
·      You will also see, at the end of the comments, the words Post a Comment and a white box.
·      Put your cursor in that white box and type your comment.
·      At the end of your comment, you may want to add your first name, but this isn’t necessary. Do that only if you choose. I suggest you be prudent and not type your full name there.
·      Beneath the white box is a menu. On it are the identifying words that can appear on the blog at the top of your comment: It can be your first name or your own URL or the word Anonymous or whatever you choose to appear at the top of your blog. Click on your choice.
·      Also beneath the white box is the word Preview. If you click on that you can see what your post will look like. You needn’t do this, but you may want to. (I noticed that when I put a meant-to-be-helpful comment on my own blog—under “A Daily Decision”—I didn’t preview it and left an error in word choice.)
·      If you are happy with your comment, click Post, which appears below the comment and to the left.

Here’s what happens then:
·      Your comment is e-mailed to me.
·      I do not get your e-mail address. Be assured that no one will learn your e-mail address from your posting a comment.
·      I get to read your comment and approve it. does this so that nothing untoward gets published.
·      Once I’ve approved the comment, it is posted on the blog and you and others can read it by clicking on comments beneath the story.

I hope this helps any of you who have been wanting to post a comment. As I indicated above, you need not worry about privacy issues or receiving “spam” because you posted a comment.
            I’ll add three more extra postings to the blog today that will address the three other inquiries.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Daily Decision

Yearly in Minnesota I’d visit a psychic or an astrologer. Of the psychics, four read cards, one used a crystal ball, one held my hands and absorbed the vibes.
            When I called to set up appointments with the astrologers—whether they practiced Eastern or Western astrology—they always asked for the date, time, and place of my birth. In our sessions they related the aspects of my birth chart that influenced my life.
            Before each yearly visit to a psychic or astrologer, I asked Oneness to protect me so that I heard only that which was for my good. I asked for the white protective light of Presence that would keep me far from Darkness.
            The truth is that I enjoyed these forays into what the Catholic Church would condemn as mortal sin. I always came away from a session surer of my own intuitions. I trusted my deepest heart-wishes more and felt at peace with the promptings of the Spirit.
            Periodically I’ll share with you some of what was said to me that shored up my surety about myself. Today I’d like to share with you the fine art of nice and naughty.
            Here goes.
            I met with this particular psychic in Minneapolis only once. Our hour session was nearly up when she says, “Dee, you’ve been a nice little girl all your life.”
            “I’ve tried to be,” I admit.
            “I can feel that about you,” she says. Then she adds, “The thing is, Dee, you need to shake up your life a little. Do something different. Do something naughty every once in a while.”
            I sit stupefied. This goes against every religion class I’ve ever taken at the Catholic schools I’ve attended—grade, high, college. More importantly, it goes against everything my mother had ever wished for me.
            When I say nothing, she prods. “Tell me something naughty you can do in the coming week.”
            I think. Long and hard. In silence. Nothing comes to mind. And then I get it—what will really be naughty. “I know what I can do!” I say, unable to suppress excitement over what I’m proposing.
            “Yes,” she prompts.
            “The next time I go to Cub, I won't leave the grocery cart in the corral."
            “That’s it? That’s the best you can do?”
            “You asked for something naughty. I gave it my best.”
            She takes my hand in hers, pats it sympathetically, and says, “You may be a lost cause.”
            She prods some more. I'm clueless. 
            Still shaking her head, she concludes, "You have nice down to a fine art. You need to work on naughty."
            I leave her apartment feeling somewhat bemused.
            For Christmas that year two friends give me a gaily wrapped and beribboned box. I shake it. No sound. Its weight is negligible. Intrigued, I open the box. Nestled in the tissue paper is a green velvet pillow with the word Nice embroidered on it.
            I gaze at it, perplexed. What use do I have for a pillow so little that my head won’t even fit on it?
            “Turn it over, Dee.” They stifle their laughter.
            I lift the pillow out of the box and look at the reverse side: NAUGHTY.
            “When we visit,” one friend confides, “we’ll see which side’s facing out. Then we’ll know what to expect.”
            One pillow. Two sides. Two words. Daily decision.
            Nice looks nice.
            NAUGHTY looks bold. Independent. In your face. It dares the world to disagree.
            Which to be? Which to be?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Strobe Panic

I’ve never driven with confidence. Honked at by an impatient tailgater, I panic. A queue of revving cars behind me—panic. Can’t think what to do. What comes to mind is inane. Momentary idiocy.
            This was never truer than in Stillwater one evening at dusk when I’d been to the Dairy Queen. I’m headed home, licking a cone, taking my eyes off the residential streets to capture its drips. I know I’m weaving, but I just can’t eat and drive at the same time.
            Glancing in the rear-view mirror, I see the pulsing blue and white lights of a police car. I turn the corner, hopeful he’ll go straight.
            He turns.            
            The panic button goes into overdrive.
            I pull over and turn off the ignition.
            I look at the ice-cream cone. Dripping on my shorts. Sure to be seen.
            I shove it into my purse.
            I stare straight ahead. Maybe the policeman is just stopping to eat a sandwich. I hear a tap on the glass. There he is. Staring. Somber. He motions a roll-down of the window. I fumble, but finally get it all the way down.
            “So Ma’am,” he says. “What’s happening?”
            “I’m going home. To the cats.” Flustered, my words slur.
            “Ma’am, have you been drinking?”           
            “I’m allergic.”
            “Please get out of the car.”
            “I can’t! The cats are waiting for me.”
            “Out of the car, Ma’am.”
            I glance over at my purse. The ice cream’s melting. Oozing onto the car seat.
            “What’s that, Ma’am?” he asks, leaning in to get a better view.
            “My ice cream cone.”
            “You carry it in your purse?”
            “It was the only place to hide it.”
            “I didn’t want to be caught eating and driving.”
            “It’s drinking and driving that’s bad, Ma’am.”
            “Where do you live?”
            I give him my address, two blocks away.
            “Ma’am, turn on your ignition and drive home. Straight home. Eat your cone there.” As he turns back toward his patrol car, I hear him mutter, “If there’s any left.”
            He follows me home, stops his patrol car, and watches as I unlock the front door. I turn to wave at him. He blinks his lights. Pulls away from the curb. We never meet again.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tough It Out

I was born with asthma. During the first five years of my life, Mom and Dad rushed me to Emergency six times. I almost died four of those times—or so mom told me.
            She kept me alive. She put her finger down my throat when it clogged. Thumped my back. Rocked me. Gave me mantras to recite in the midst of an attack.
            “Distract yourself,” she told me. “If you think about breathing you won’t be able to. Just think about something else. Ice cream cones. Raggedy Ann. Look at picture books.”
            Distracting myself helped. In fact, those library books helped me learn to read when I was four. Ever after, The Little Engine That Could, Ferdinand, and The Story about Ping have been dear to me. One may explain why I push myself to accomplish things. The other two, why I so love animals. 
            Another thing Mom told me was to “tough it out.” The fact is that I did this so well for so long that ultimately, as an adult, I had trouble acknowledging pain or extricating myself from difficult situations. I kept toughing it out. Maintaining a stiff upper lip. Much of my adult life has been given over to enduring and so I've caused myself unnecessary pain and stress.
            But back then, when I was a child, Mom’s advice kept me alive. As a child of three, I knew that I had to will myself to live.
            As I grew older, the asthma didn’t lessen in intensity. In kindergarten and first, second, and third grades, I missed three out of nine months of school. I’d miss a day or two or even a whole week at a time.
            Every time I returned to school, I was behind. The other kids had moved on from where I’d been. They knew more spelling and arithmetic. They reeled off answers to the Baltimore Catechism questions.
            Teachers would call on me, with or without raised hand. I had no ready answers. So the kids thought I was dumb. On the playground they shouted, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy.” I hid behind the trashcans. 
            I was always trying to catch up and always exhausted from trying to breathe. So exhausted that I couldn’t think of answers.
            Mom wanted to change all that for me. So the summer before the fourth grade, she and Sister Corita who’d taught me in the third grade—and would have me for the fourth—encouraged me to try for perfect attendance that year. Each of us committed to doing something.
            Sister Corita would watch me carefully in class. If I looked overly tired, she’d send me to the cloakroom to nap.
            Mom would watch me carefully at home. She’d send me to bed immediately if I came home from school drooping. She’d make sure I got lots of extra sleep on the weekends.
            I’d rest whenever it was suggested to me. I’d try to breathe slowly when an attack started and not panic. I’d “go the extra mile,” as Mom said.
            She promised that if I pulled this off, I’d get a charm bracelet like the one the scout leader had. Incentive enough for going that extra mile. In June, I actually got two rewards: a certificate for perfect attendance and a bracelet, which jangled seven small, silver objects whenever I moved. Wow!             
            The frosting on the cake came in fifth grade. The class voted on who were the five smartest students. Out of twenty-eight, I was number five.
            I beamed all the way home. I wasn’t a dummy. I was number five. Five! Imagine.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

One Swift Kick

One summer while in the convent I attended Marquette University in Milwaukee. The convent asked two things of those of us who went away to study: to pray the Office and to attend Mass daily.
            This wasn’t a hardship. I liked both praying and giving thanks and I had a lot to be grateful for. I was getting to study another language—Old English—what could be better than that?
            Every weekday after class, I’d step into the coolness of the campus church—Gesu. It was spacious. In my mind, like a medieval cathedral. Jesuits staffed the church. Each day one of them celebrated Mass.
            Now picture this: I am at Gesu on July 2 to celebrate the feast day of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. A Jesuit priest, one I’ve never heard preach before, steps up to the lectern.
            “Today’s Gospel relates an exciting event!” he announces, surveying all of us gathered at Gesu with an air of anticipation.
            Beaming, he says, “Just think of it! Mary comes to visit Elizabeth. One’s really old. One’s young. Only a teen-ager. Both are pregnant. They’re big with child. Big. Think of it. Big.”
            My funny bone starts to vibrate.
            He continues. “ What happened when Mary says ‘Hi!’ to Elizabeth?" He looked around at us, clearly expectant. "I ask you. What happened?”
            I wait with baited breath.
            “I’ll tell you what. That baby in Elizabeth’s womb gives her one swift kick and laughs out loud. Right there in her womb—kickin’ and laughin’.”
            I’m laughing too, bent over with my face pressed against my thighs, tears dribbling onto the black serge—laughing so hard I begin to hiccup.
            “One swift kick! Elizabeth knows something’s going on. Then Mary tells her about Jesus. John kicks again. Another swift kick. Those women are sitting there gossiping and John’s just laughin’ and kickin’. For joy. Can you see it?”
            I could.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Cat for All Seasons

While I lived in Ohio, a friend thought I was lonely for companionship in the long evening hours I spent in a compact attic apartment. She herself lived with Natasha, a five-year-old alley cat who’d just had a litter.
            Kathy hoped that the antics of one of Natasha’s kittens might help me wile away the hours after returning home from teaching. So, upon her urging, I visited her home one day after work. Delighted that I’d accepted her invitation, she led me to an upstairs bedroom.
            For over an hour, I lay on the floor, watching Natasha groom her brood, one by one, in their cardboard box. The rasping of tongue and the answering mews bemused me.
            The last kitten she licked, the lone female of the litter, wore white with black blotches. When Natasha wearied of mothering, she lay back to nap. Her four kittens, just four weeks old, jockeyed for position against her, eager to suckle. When they, too, wearied, they nestled in a heap against her belly. Their eyelids slowly closed and they slept.
            When they began to yawn awake, I held my hand out so they could smell me. I said nothing, merely held my hand steady. Would my scent attract the black and white one?
            Long moments passed. Her eyes discovered my hand. With the tip of her tongue leading the way, she staggered toward me. Close now, she licked my index finger, claiming me as her own.           
            For the next three weeks, I visited my friend’s home often to begin bonding with my new companion. During my third visit she gave me her name: Dulcinea—the “sweet one.”  Within the month I shortened this to Dulcy.
            In the years that followed, I learned that her deepest heartwish was for me to be a one-cat human. She, of course, would be the one cat. But at the outset of our lives, I didn’t know this. So I also brought home one of her brothers: Ishmael.
            His heartwish was to be surrounded by laughing children. Within three months, he’d wandered away and found them. I visited his new home and watched as he played hide-and-go-seek with these children. Seeing his exuberance, I assured them and their mother that Ishmael could stay with them. I mourned his loss but knew that the children could give him the life I couldn’t.
            Did I settle down after that with just Dulcy? No. Dunderhead that I am I thought she needed a feline companion for when I was away teaching each day. So I brought another cat—Bartleby—into our home.  Eight years passed and he died.
            Only then did Dulcy’s heartwish come true. Just as she’d planned, I became a one-cat human. For the next eight and a half years, she was the one cat. And I was the human lucky enough to be chosen by her.
            Many postings on this blog will be about Dulcy and the eleven other cats who have shared their lives with me and who have tirelessly trained me. Dulcy was the first to fine me worthy of training. In my more imaginative moments during our years together, I saw her as Antigone in the citadel of ancient Thebes. She was born to rule as queen. I, of course, was born to serve her as handmaiden.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Entering the Convent

The convent I entered has stood high on a hill in a river town for nearly one hundred and fifty years. When I mention this convent, strangers often ask, “Why’d you enter?”  “Why’d you leave?” “Why’d you stay so long?” “What was it like?”  “Do you miss it?” “Are you sorry you entered?” “Are you sorry you left?”
            Those last two questions are easy to answer: I neither regret entering, nor leaving. The others require explanation. Let’s attempt the first.
            My family never encouraged me to think about entering. Nor in sixteen years of Catholic schooling had I ever felt drawn to a nun’s life. Their habit looked hot for summer wear. Their shoes old-maidish. Convents had no sofas or easy chairs. No going barefoot. Always being in the company of another nun when leaving the grounds.
            It seemed to me—when I thought of that life at all—to be too much togetherness and no coziness. No comfort.
            I was used to my own creek and spending long summer days there. Listening to the stream’s burble. Dangling barefoot toes in water cascading over strewn rocks. Feeling the sun’s warmth on my eyelids. I liked leisure. It seemed to me that nuns had none.
            On April 10th of my junior year in college all those negatives became as nothing to me. I had, some would say, a mystical experience.
            I came into the math class that day ready for differentials. I sat down, opened my textbook, and settled my mind on increments.
            Suddenly I knew Light. It inundated the spaces between my pores. Light within light. Prepositions describe that Light and me. Above me. Below me. Before me. Behind me. Within me. Through me. 
             Yet there was no me, only Oneness. I was one within Light. Light was one within me. We were One.
            I may have breathed during those fifty minutes, but breath wasn’t necessary. Lost in Light, I felt no passage of time. It lost itself in Now. Nowness dwelt within and about me. Nowness became All in All.
            The next thing I knew was a tap on my shoulder. A voice saying, “Dee, are you all right?” Then the tap became a shaking. The voice more urgent. “Dee? Dee? Are you okay?”
            It was then I breathed. A shudder. I came to slowly as if from deep sleep. All movement, all moment had stilled within me. I had no desire to regain momentum. I welcomed timeless silence.
            Her voice persisted.  My eyes focused and I saw my friend’s concerned face. Awareness pressed upon me. I was in a math classroom. I was a junior in college. It was the 10th of April. Wednesday.
            Yet all had changed.  
            As we walked down the hall, Barb asked, “Dee, do you need to go to the infirmary? Your face is flushed.” I assured her all was well. I needed only to walk on the campus and find breath again.
            My senses seemed finely tuned. The shimmer of sun on tulip yellow. The richness of pine-scented loam. The sough of wind riffling ginkgo leaves. And on my lips the taste of gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you for Mystery.”
            The next day I asked Sister Imogen, the college dean, what I needed to do to enter the convent that stood next to the college.            
            A year later, after graduation, I entered. Giddy, I walked with the other eighteen postulants into the refectory. There I witnessed the beaming faces of novices and scholastics. I wanted to shout, “I’m here! I’m home!” The Light shone bright within me. I felt beautiful that day. I had known—I did know—Joy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Defined Anew

I didn’t take the circuitous routes Dad suggested to my first post-convent job. So men did approach me. They didn’t “hit on” me. They asked for money. I always gave them whatever change or dollar bills I had.
            I’d been taught that we could come upon Jesus unawares and not recognize him. In my mind, these men were Jesus. I couldn’t say no.
            One day the vice-president of the publishing firm where I worked saw me handing money to a man sitting on the sidewalk, his back against a wall. “Thank you, Ma’am,” the drifter said and smiled. A serene smile over the gaps of missing teeth. Surely Jesus.           
            As walked on to where my employer waited. “Dee, don’t give these guys money,” he said. “I know how much you make.”
            “They might be Jesus.”
            I explained. He shook his head. “If you have to give them something, tell them you’ll buy them breakfast for them. They won’t take you up on that. They’re only looking for booze money.”
             As we passed the cafĂ© I could see Jesus and myself eating together there. And I did have breakfast with several of these men who inhabited the sidewalks, their heads drooping between tented knees. As we ate, they shared their life stories with me. They were down on their luck.
            One had a different definition of woman from what I’d learned in the Scholasticate. On the spring day we met, I wore a new dress. Short-sleeved. Bright yellow splotched with white daisies. A narrow belt.
             I was standing across from the office, waiting for the light to change. A man in soiled clothes teetered toward me. His face sported whiskers and dirt. His straggly hair hung against his hunched shoulders. This is Jesus I thought.
            I started to dig for coins.
            “Ma’am, you’re one mighty fine woman,” he mumbled.
            I dropped the coins and quickly leaned over to pick them up, my thoughts scrambled. He’s talking about my figure. This dress is too clingy. My body’s not hidden in black serge. He can see the outline of my bosom. I covered it with my purse.
            “Did ya hear what I told ya? One damn fine woman,” he slurred.
            “Thank you.”
            “Real perky.”
            “Thank you.”
            The light changed. I started across. He followed.
            “One damn fine figure of a woman.”
            “Thank you.” I was walking faster.
            “I’m tellin’ ya the truth, Ma’am. One mighty fine figure.”
            “Thank you.”
            I wanted to run, but this was Jesus. He might smell like whiskey, but who says Jesus has to be a teetotaler? He was the most famous brewer of all time. Witness Cana. Who says he has to wear newly laundered clothes? This was Jesus.
            “How’d you like some breakfast?”
            I treated him to a meal. Hank was a fine man.
            And I?
            I wasn’t a scout or a seamstress. But I was one fine figure of a woman.
            Damn fine.