Saturday, December 3, 2011

Preparing for First Vows—Part Three

Time spent in the novitiate was time spent away from the noise, the distractions, the problems of the larger world. My world for eighteen months consisted of the monastery itself, the two chapels, the laundry, the novitiate, and its side yard. 
             During that time, I saw no television. Listened to no radio. Read no magazines or newspapers—except the ones I sneaked a look at when I did my lavatory obedience in the main building. I saw my family twice. Once a month, I received letters, as did we all.

 Dad and Mom visiting me
the summer of 1958 when I was a postulant.

            The ceremony of taking first vows was just a few days away. I’d entered to escape the “messiness” of family and its obligations and commitments. And the truth was that I’d landed myself not in nirvana or in Dee Ready’s idealized home but in a community of very human women, myself among them.
            The poem “Prologos,” which I read during my vow retreat, revealed to me that I couldn’t leave myself behind no matter where I went. And it was myself, more than anyone, I wanted to avoid. I found my dark places ignoble. I couldn’t accept them. And if I stayed . . . surely if I stayed . . . those dark places would become enlightened by my living with so many holy women. Surely.
            I made another important discovery during that retreat. I realized that the narrowness of my life for eighteen months—the physical boundaries of it and the lack of varied stimuli—had made me even more aware of what was lacking within me.
            And so, suddenly and surprisingly, I found myself wanting to make the vows for two reasons: To find myself by serving God through serving others. And to get out of the confines of the monastery and meet a whole classroom of students.
            In my mind the two were inexorably fused. I’d attended a Catholic grade school, high school, and college. The teachers and professors I knew were all nuns. It was nuns who taught.
            Soon I’d take a train to wherever I was sent to teach. I’d be in a new place with new sights and sounds. Maybe I’d get to shop in a grocery store.

I’d meet children and hear new stories. I’d see Victorian houses with bric-a-brac. I’d hear the beep of car horns and the squeal of brakes. I might hear a student sing a song from a recent Broadway musical. I’d smell bodies washed with perfumed soap. I’d touch a clothesline. I’d taste tea again after eighteen months of coffee. The wonder of it! I’d know the wide world again.
            You see, during that retreat I discovered something else: that prayer had become a way of avoiding life and that, after the narrowness of my life for eighteen months, I wanted broader horizons. More stimuli.
            But right now I wonder if perhaps what I really wanted was not to be “up close and personal” with myself and my own darkness. Maybe more stimuli would mean that I wouldn’t be so aware of my own failings. That I could get out of my mind.
            And so the night before making first vows I lay in bed, unsure of the next day or the journey I was about to undertake.
            It seems to me this Friday evening as I write these words that I thought the only path to wholeness and holiness was through the convent. And so, frightened, yet excited. Joyous, yet sorrowful. Confused, yet expectant, I accepted what I was going to do the next day. I would put off the white veil of the novitiate, make my vows, and don the black veil to show my commitment to being a member of this monastery in Atchison, Kansas.            
            It’s 10:36 p.m. now. I’ve thought about this posting all day. I’m not content with the writing for it seems jangled to me. Convoluted. Muddled. But perhaps that is as it should be for that is how I was on December 31, 1959, the night before I made first vows.
            So be it.
            I invite you to visit this blog on Tuesday, when I’ll share with you the celebration of taking first vows and the end of this series of postings on the novitiate.
                                                                              (Concluded on Tuesday. . . )


  1. It's not muddled, it's very clear and well written, Dee. I remember when I was writing about my past on my Eye on the Edge blog, it was very hard to bring old feelings to the surface, but it actually helped me. I do so hope it will be the same for you.

  2. I'm still here, Dee. I've just been a bit busy of late and haven't had time to comment, though I read your part two post a few days ago. I enjoyed and was moved by it as well as this one. Your candor and your insight are precious and a gift to all who read, though I know the process can be hard to do.

    " . . . I couldn’t leave myself behind no matter where I went. " Ah, these words hold true for so many, don't they? Those inner struggles many, most, have at some point or points in their lives. Like DJan, I do not find you muddled at all. I'll look forward to your Tuesday post. In-the-meantime, thank you for these words.

  3. I have to agree.. This was not muddled at all. I feel, after reading this, that I understand your confusion, and desire to escape reality. It seems to me though, I may be wrong, that you didn't really want to escape reality as much as you thought you did.
    I think this is human nature personified.

  4. You are so very brave. And what an amazing choice to make--to find answers. I think few are courageous enough, strong enough to do this.

  5. It probably only seemed muddled to you because you had to stir up all those muddled feelings you had at that time in order to write about it so well. :)

    Sounds like you missed the "outside" world more than you had expected. You learned something about yourself

    As I was reading this I found myself wondering if the nuns today who don't wear habits feel a little less separated from the rest of society? Less severe and obvious a division, you know? Not that I would expect you would know, I'm just wondering out loud.

    This path you chose was quite the test for you. There's no way you couldn't learn a lot about yourself and who you were--light and dark sides. Talk about pushing the limits on all levels--to your very core. What a journey!! Thanks for sharing yourself with us.

  6. Again, Melynda has verbalised to a tee what I felt when reading this! I truly have nothing of further value to add, so I think I'll appoint her as my Spokesperson in future :)

  7. Not muddled--very clear!! It made me wonder how many of us--if, indeed, any--are sure of what we're doing when we face a life changing event. As I was walking down the aisle at my wedding, I KNEW I loved my groom, but still I wondered if I was doing the right thing. When I took my first child home from the hospital I wondered how I was going to raise a child when I was still a child, myself--even though I was 24. It turned out that I have made the right decisions for my life, as far as I can tell. At least, I am happy with my life. I think--& hope--you can say the same.

  8. I agree with everyone else, Dee. This is very far from muddled. Indeed it shows with extraordinary clarity the turmoil of your emotions at this turning-point in your life. Everything I have read about nuns and those I know have all stressed the insight you share - that we cannot run away from ourselves and that the lack of outside stimulus in the enclosed life means we can't even pretend to do so. A hard lesson to learn. Wonderful writing.

  9. I didn't find this post muddled at all. Perhaps I could relate to it too well. I joined the Mormon Church as a young woman for all the wrong reasons. I even went through the temple in Salt Lake to take marriage vows. I was as confused and double-minded as any young woman could be when I did so. I thought I could make it work. I thought it wouldn't matter. I've spent my life trying to disentangle myself from the results of those decisions. I've not written about it on my blog for many reasons. Perhaps someday I will.

  10. I get what you are saying clearly. I also, overall, see your ability to manage, overcome, & learn from your experiences. Not everyone does that.~Mary

  11. You made choices to try to get to a different place because of your home situation. I had a tough time from the age of 16 onwards because of my dad's sudden death and my mom's decision to let alcohol numb her pain. Being the eldest I became the head of our extended family, 'cause I had an ailing grandpa (father to my dad) and my newly immigrated aunt(sis of my dad) and my 14 yr old bro and 6 yr old sis. With keeping all of them fed and happy and attending high school it gave me little time to look into my own self. I just kept pushing on and hoping I would find my way to a better place. I lost my belief in God for some time because I figured no God would make a believer's life so tough. But that changed as I matured.
    However my belief broadened to include all spiritual faiths as acceptable.
    While you had much time to reflect, I had none. Still I believe we both arrived at a point of some wisdom as we matured and I guess that is a process too. Keep writing. You inspire my creative thoughts and fill gaps in my lack of knowledge. Thank you.

  12. DJan,
    Yes, doing this is helping me. I never really and truly let myself go back and think of all this. This is a letting go of the past and embracing the good that has come out of it.

    Thank you for your kind words. We truly do take ourselves wherever we go. And right now I'm about ready to take myself off to bed!!! It's been a long but exciting day because I'm now able to sell Dulcy's book from this blog. I'll post about that next week! The day seems serendipitous to me. A blessing.

    I'd never realized until you said it that this story is "human nature personified." There truly is a oneness we all share.

    I've been seeking answers all my life. I've gone through these decades mostly bemused!

    Yes, I did miss "the 'outside' world more than I had expected. The thing about aging I've found is that I keep learning things about myself. This blog is helping me do that. And yes to your question about not wearing habits now. The friends I still have in the convent feel that others can relate to them better--with less intimidation and awe--when they wear "street clothes."

    So often your comments on blogs we both read express exactly what I'm thinking. So what do you think about being my "Spokesperson"?????

    Yes, I am content with my life. It has been and is filled with friends like you who are the blessings within each day.

    Now this is an example of wonderful writing--it comes from your comment and is exactly what I was trying to say in this posting: "that we cannot run away from ourselves and that the lack of outside stimulus in the enclosed life means we can't even pretend to do so."

    You said about that time in your life that you were "confused and double-minded." I so like that last word. It exactly describes not only that convent time but other times--even now--in my life when I simply can see so many sides and I'm bemused and often downcast. Writing about this time in my life has helped me greatly. I suspect your writing about your daughter Julie has helped you too. Perhaps writing about that earlier time would bring help you as its helped me.

    A friend once told me that I had fourteen guardian angels watching over me. A psychiatrist once said that I had the strongest sense of survival she'd ever encountered. Maybe the combination of the two, Mary, has gotten me to where I am today.

    I got tears in my eyes when I read your comment and learned about your early life. So hard. I've always needed so much time to myself. And you had none. Your heart and your body must have ached for comfort and solitude and rest. I think you are right that despite the differences in our paths we did arrive at some wisdom and maturity. I'm gladdened by your telling me that I inspire your creative thoughts. Thank you for this gift.

  13. This sounds like quite a life of sacrifice. But then again I guess we all make sacrifices and the real question is whether or not the right sacrifices are made for the right reasons to the right person or power.

    Wrote By Rote

  14. I can't wait until tomorrow. Thank you for sharing this journey!

  15. Dee, I could never be your Spokesperson! You are in an entirely different league :)
    I've come to tell you how excited I am to be getting a copy of Dulcy's Story. I sent you an email a short while ago.
    Big hug xoxo

  16. Not jangled, jumbled or unclear at all! Your searching for "more" was never meant to be a stratigh line, so to adequately express yourself you must move about your memory as it comes to you. I can't wait for more. I have a question you may prefer answering from within one of your posts, but I am most interested in how your mother approached the taking of your first vows? Was she by then accepting? Was it hard on her? Do feel free to wait on an answer...I'm sure others are also curious! Debra

  17. Oh Dee,
    I am piggybacking on the comments of everyone else, but I see no muddled writing here. I see very clear expression of your tangled up beliefs during that time in your life. When I thing about my own faith walk, it's been quite tangled and muddled over time. The search for God, for who or what we seek, is itself a labyrinth, at least for me. I think someone else caught this sentence, "I couldn’t leave myself behind no matter where I went. And it was myself, more than anyone, I wanted to avoid." Those thoughts are very clear, and acknowledgement of coming to understand that about yourself was monumental.

    I enjoy reading your thoughts and your stories so much!

  18. Arlee,
    Hello, it's good to hear from you. About sacrifice: As a young woman I felt that the harder something was the more it would please the God I believed in then. That's immature, but that's how I was then.

    It is I who thank you for journeying with me on this on-line memoir.

    You truly could be my commenting Spokesperson! Thank you for ordering Dulcy's trade paperback. I lhope the story will remind you of your own love for the dogs with whom you live.

    My mother always thought I'd made the wrong choice. But once I made it she told me I'd "put my hand to the plow and couldn't turn back." Of course later I did just that! But when she realized how unhappy I was she welcomed me with open arms and great understanding.

    Your word "tangled" so aptly describes the state I was in during that retreat. I agree with you that the search for God or meaning or Oneness is a labyrinth. We struggle until we can let go. And then suddenly, astoundingly, the maze becomes a welcomed path that leads to freedom.

  19. Convoluted...muddled. I wonder if all people recognize those when they are starting a great commitment? I look forward to the next post.

  20. It would seem that our lives are a journey of self-discovery and an exploration of who we are and how we fit into the world around us. I find what you write about yourself to be clear and perceptive, not muddled. And absolutely fascinating...