On Nuns and Forks

I was born of an Irish Catholic father and a Swedish Christian scientist mother. It engineered a hybrid DNA: One of passion and rebel, wild and wooly immigrant from the Emerald Isle fiercely clinging to God and religion while the alternate strand was a quiet gentle healing woman who ALWAYS stood in MY wings and was truly the wind beneath them.

In truth, both loved me dearly as the baby girl that arrived at Child Position No. 2.  The Irish vaccination, however, took.  It became my inner and outer drive, a living too large in a small world.

Convent Bound

I wasn’t quite a daily communicant.  That particular ritual had diluted itself decisively over the years since early grammar school.   However, my Irish Catholic inheritance returned frequently enough to unsettle my rebellious buffoonery with co-ed education.  So on the day of my appointment with my favorite nun at my favorite convent, of my favorite order, I dressed somewhat demurely.  I didn’t over amp the space with a Peter Pan collar, but the very essence of ladylike efforting hung in the air.

Ringing the doorbell at the convent felt somehow momentous.  I knew I had crossed that fine line and would depart this auspicious meeting with clarity as well as decision.

Sister Ann Jude, a large and sturdy Polish woman appeared with her larger than life joviality in the standard habit of the Immaculate Heart order which consisted of black and blue with starched white accents.  It was such a gorgeous habit, I couldn’t help but admit.

As we sat in the formal living room of the convent, the nun politely inquired about why I had come.  I searched for words and then blurted out, “I think I want to be a nun.”

I was not prepared for the thoroughly shocked look on Sister Ann Jude’s face.

“Good Lord, Geraldine,  You can’t mean it!”

The almost nun  offended replied, “As a matter of fact, I do mean it.’

“Oh darling, I didn’t mean to offend you.  Frankly, you’ll fail in one of the three vows.

I immediately thought, Celibacy, but wasn’t quick enough to finish this thought before the nun countered.

“And it’s not celibacy OR poverty.  It’s Obedience!  You have such a strong will.  Promise me you won’t enchain it with any vows.  Go live happily ever after, love your Lord, but live FREE!”

At that moment, SHE had drawn a line in the sand.

Later, as I drove off in a vintage VW with an American flag on the back (it was the sixties after all), I couldn’t help but wonder.

Jeez, I’m 21.  I’ve come all the way for heaven’s sake to the nuns who trained me to be a good little Catholic girl.  I’ve knocked on the door and they damn well don’t want me.  Screw this! I’ll find my own way to God and the little green angels. 

I gunned the engine and careened around the corner to the on-ramp of the only freeway during that time.

Returning back to my apartment, I blared jazz on the tape deck and tears ran down my cheeks.  I felt abandoned by the most High.  Should I try a different nun, a different convent, a different order or was this holy woman right?

It was ten minutes before I realized I had turned off automatically toward the beach.  I careened again into the parking lot at Malibu and screeched to a stop.  I flung my sensible high heels into the back seat and quickly ran across the hot asphalt to the awaiting sand.

Time would tell.  For now, I was completely undone.

Looking back at that moment in time, I realize humorously what a Sound of Music moment we had created together.  Here I was a wild coed meeting with a sacrosanct nun complete with rosary beads on the side.  I was truly at a crossroads in my life and I was seeking counsel.  The hybrid, once again, was battling with virtue versus passion.

Sister Ann Jude saw it clearly and called it as precisely as a commentator at a football game.  But it wasn’t touchdown OR fumble, it was a pass about to be made.

She, herself, left the convent for an auspicious career in bioscience.  After all, it was the decade of Women’s Lib and the nuns felt it too. She acquired an auspicious assignment at Duke in stereoisochemistry.  I couldn’t even pronounce it.  Now here’s the cool part of payback.  Sister called me to go shopping with her for clothes.  Unfortunately,  I was out of country when the call came.  Now wouldn’t that have been cool:  dressing a study Polish ex-nun at Lohman’s or Nordstrum’s rack?  Later she married and produced a fine son and I proudly named her God Mother at the Baptism of my first daughter.

Oh and as a wrap, I went directly on from that day forward to dutifully ignore any potential vow of Obedience.  Chastity and Poverty were like see saws balancing precariously in the wind.



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