A birthday party for a 100-year-old Nun — and some God talk

A couple of weeks ago I attended a birthday party for one of the sisters at the convent. She’s 100 years old.

100 year

There were balloons, flowers, two sheet cakes and plenty of ice cream.

Lots of people came. All the sisters, of course, as well as others who knew her and even a few – like me – who never met her before.

I’m sure she didn’t care.

It’s unlikely she has any memory of the event and given her blank stare, it was unlikely she had any awareness of what was happening. But she enjoyed her cake and ice cream. That’s the main thing.

I sat at a table with three other employees. One of them has been working at the convent for 40 years(!) and she was the only one among us who really knew Sister Theodora. She told us a few stories.

Sister Theodora was a very kind person who loved talking to people. She was trained as a nurse, spent her early years caring for children but found her true calling when she was moved to elderly care.

Several times this employee would look over at Sister Theodora and say, “It’s so sad… it’s just so sad…” and the others nodded in agreement.

I’m probably alone in this, but I didn’t see what was so sad.

She lived a rewarding life, enjoyed her work, she made it to 100 and now she’s eating cake and ice cream. Okay, so maybe she doesn’t have memories of her past or knowledge of who she was as a person, but does she need them?

What is better? To keep your mind and be aware of everything you lost—your health, your family, close friends—or to lose your mind and not count the loss? In other words, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Why is that sad?

We are the ones who make it sad. We are the ones who look at people with dementia and think, “Oh, I hope I never get like that.”

As if our lives have worth only when we are of sound mind and body. As if that is what makes us who we truly are.

All right, I’m going to drift off into a bit of God talk right now, so if you aren’t into that sort of thing, just scroll down to the next heading.

Look, I’ll even give you a warning:

Warning: Contains God Talk

As I said before, one of my job requirements at the convent was to “be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.”

I’ve been learning. One thing I learned is that Franciscans are real big on Humility and Contemplation.

(Notice the capital letters? That means they’re big on them.)

The key requirement for each is a self-emptying. Letting go of all those things you think make you who you are — your ego, your ambition, your work, your desires — and opening yourself up to fully experience God. They call this giving up your False Self in order to find your True Self.

(Again. Capitals.)

Another thing they’re big on is that this is a continual process. They call it Continual Conversion.

(Not only do they like capitals, they’re fond of alliteration.)

It’s ongoing. We can never fully achieve it during our lifetime, but there is joy in the trying so we keep at it.

I want you to know these aren’t wholly new concepts for me. Protestants also speak of emptying ones self, but we tend to breeze over it because it makes us uncomfortable. It smacks of obedience and frankly, we’re not real big on obedience.

Even so, I’ve been giving it a go and so far my progress has been… um… maybe “progress” isn’t the right word. Let’s go with “inching forward at a snail’s pace.” Yeah. That sounds about right.

Emptying myself by inching forward at a snail’s pace is going fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

Okay, let’s breeze over that for the time being. What I really wanted to say was that the morning after Sister Theodora’s birthday party, this popped up on the app I’m using for centering prayer. It’s by St. Ignatius – the founder of the Order of Jesuits. That guy.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Take note of that second line: “my memory.” Even that. Are we willing to give up that?

Fact is, we may not have a choice. We can (and should) take care of our bodies, eat well, exercise, yada-yada. But even then, our genes or our environment or whatever will have the last say. We entered this world not knowing anything, we may very well exit it not knowing anything either. One way or the other, we are emptied.

But to empty oneself willingly, that’s what old man Ignatius was talking about. Remember the chief goal: we are emptied in order to be filled.

The more I think about it, the more I believe we should consider this phase Sister Theodora has entered not as sad, but as sacred. She will soon achieve her True Self and return to God. She has entered a time of Holy Returning.

(Caps all mine.)

Does this sound foolish? If so, I’ll gladly play the fool.

FeedingonFolly

End God Talk

Sister Theodora didn’t stay long at the party. They say she’s not fond of big crowds so once she ate her cake and ice cream, her nurse took her back to the second floor — the Memory Care Unit, where her and five other sisters live.

They receive excellent care there, as do all the sisters who need medical attention. One time at lunch, a sister who recently moved back to the convent admitted she felt a little guilty by how nice she had it. “So many people don’t have what they need, and here I am living in comfort.”

Sitting at the table was one of my bosses — I have two and they’re a married couple, so we’ll call him Mr. Boss.

Anyway, Mr. Boss said to her, “The way I think of ‘privilege,’ it’s not that we should take away the things that bring us comfort, but that we should make sure everyone else is raised up so they receive them too.”

I rather like how he put that, don’t you? And you know, from what I learned about Sister Theodora, I’m pretty sure she’d like that too.

On white decor, deaf dogs, and a folly-challenged blog

I’m taking a lesson from my wise friend Andrew and decided not to wait for something clever to pop into my head before I wrote a blog post.

Just write, he said. So that’s what I’m doing. Just writing.

(The advantage of this is that if you don’t like the result, blame Andrew.)

It’s 25° as I’m writing this and we haven’t seen temps on this side of 0 for some time. Lord knows when we will again, so I should be outside. Only my jacket is in the dryer right now, so there you go.

This is what happens when you buy a white coat — this is my smaller coat, not the huge quilt I showed you in my previous post. This one is more like a ski jacket, very lightweight but waterproof and windproof and surprisingly warm. It’s also white, because I have a thing for white coats.

That reminds me. There was a new alto in choir last Wednesday. She just moved into the area and was telling me how hard it was to find a house to buy. They looked at seven in their price range and one was really, really nice, but it had white carpeting in the dining room. So they went with a different house that wasn’t as nice, but at least it didn’t have white carpeting.

This led to a discussion among the altos and a couple second sopranos as to what sort of person chooses white carpeting for a dining room. The general consensus was that it was a childless couple with no pets. “And they only drink white wine,” I added.

Though really, it goes without saying. Only Pinot Grigio goes with white carpeting.

I used to have a white couch. It was a beautiful couch. I loved it very much. Then we sat on it. It wasn’t white anymore. But man, for those first 15 minutes? It was gorgeous.

One of the second sopranos said people who choose white decor are delusional. “Do they think it’s going to stay that way? They’re insane!”

I disagreed with her, but I kept it to myself. You just never know with second sopranos. They look harmless enough, but they can be feisty.

I think white decor enthusiasts know exactly what they’re doing. They know it will show dirt. It’s kinda the point. They want to know when it’s dirty so they can clean it. Such is their dedication to cleanliness.

And I am right there with them, too. Boy howdy. Totally with them. If I lived all alone, that is. And didn’t live in a slushy area. And have a black cat. Or drink red wine.

Like, ever.

white couch
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Yeah. Totally there.

Gah, I just had to let Dog out for the second time. She paws at the back door to be let out, then she walks around to the front of the house to be let in, waits five minutes and then paws at the back door again. Pretty sure she wants a walk.

What I should do is grab my coat and take her outside, but, you know, it’s in the dryer. And my other coat is way too warm for 25°.

The annoying thing is that the whole time Dog is outside, and I’m meaning the whole time, Merricat, who is not allowed outside, meows. On and on and on, she meows. And she doesn’t stop until Dog comes back inside.

Merricat in window

Oh dang, I just missed Dog at the front door. When I got to the door she had already turned around and was walking away.

She’s pretty much deaf now, so the only way I can get her attention is by throwing something at her.

Snowballs work, but I’ve got lousy aim. So now I have to wait until she’s facing me again. While Merricat sings the song of her people.

Don’t you wonder about dogs when they go deaf? I mean, they don’t know they’re deaf right? So they’re probably wondering why we’re not talking to them anymore.

Or maybe they feel bad for us. “Oh, my poor human. Her mouth is moving but no sound is coming out. I wonder if she knows?”

Dog

You know what I think my problem is? (I’m off the topic of deaf dogs now, she’s back inside.) This is regarding coming up with ideas on what to write.

I think it has to do with my title, Feeding on Folly. It’s hemmed me in. Fact is, I’m not seeing a whole lot of folly nowadays.

There was a time when folly was all around me. Working at a high school in an affluent area, people taking themselves too seriously, taking their jobs too seriously, taking everything too seriously. Especially the secretary who worked right across from me, the one who left anonymous notes in the breakroom regarding coffee cups she never used. Man, she supplied me with countless example of folly.

But now, working at a convent? There’s a woeful lack of folly. It’s weird, but of all people who probably have a right to take themselves seriously, nuns don’t.

chapel at convent
Sacred Heart Chapel (just down the hall from my office)

By the way, did you know they’re not technically nuns? Technically speaking, nuns live in a cloistered community. If they work outside the convent as teachers or nurses or whatever, they are sisters. All nuns are sisters, but not all sisters are nuns.

Fascinating, don’t you think?

Not that it matters much. One of the sisters told me most Catholics don’t know the difference either, so they don’t worry about it. If people call them nuns, they just roll with it.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, a lack of folly. What to do, what to do…

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Write about the convent, what it’s like to work there, what I encounter and such, keeping in mind very little of it is folly-related. OR,
  2. Now that I no longer work at the school and there can be no repercussions, really let loose on the folly I witnessed there. OR,
  3. Alternate between the two, cause why not? OR,
  4. Write whatever the hell I want. Folly or not.

You know, this is about the time we should start questioning Andrew’s wisdom, but maybe he was on to something. (We probably shouldn’t tell him that, though. He’s a nice guy and we don’t want him to get a big head.)

Oh hey, my coat is dry and oooh, it’s so white and clean! Guess I’ll be taking Dog for a walk after all.

Okay, so that’s it for this post. Stay tuned til next week when we’ll be talking about nuns… I mean, sisters… or my folly-filled memories, or whatever the hell I want.

Keep it real, friends.

On blogging, self-analysis, and a whole lotta $%*t

Several bloggers I follow recently announced they will be taking a break from blogging. Most gave a time frame for their return, others said, “we’ll see.”

They will be missed, but I commend them for taking a needed rest. Especially those who said it wasn’t fun anymore. I mean, if you’re not enjoying this blogging thing, then why do it?

working, frustrated, writer's block
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Which led me to think about this here blog. This Feeding on Folly.

You might have noticed our posting has been a bit sporadic. For the first three years there was an article every Wednesday, and sometimes a Saturday too if we were feeling especially productive.

But since this last June, around the time we relocated closer to Santa, the posting schedule has been hit or miss. There might be a Wednesday post, it might be Thursday, possibly Friday, or hey, maybe none at all. (Oh, the suspense!)

So after reading the fifth blogger in a row who wrote, “this will be my last post for the foreseeable future,” and I swear I heard a dirge playing in the background, I got to wondering if that was my problem. Maybe I’m in need of a break? Am I facing blogger burnout?

Has Fun left the building?

We decided to give the matter some serious thought. It was time for Self-Reflection, and if you’ve been following FoF for any reasonable amount of time, you know that Self-Reflection is our game.

For our evening of Rumination and Cogitation, we selected the chair nearest the fireplace and poured a glass of zinfandel.

Some might say pinot noir is a better choice for Introspection, but there is much to be said for zinfandel. The primary one being the zinfandel was on sale for six bucks and the pinot wasn’t. So there you go.

Sitting in the chair with Me was the Me doing the analysis. The Me doing the analysis was drinking Earl Grey, as she wanted to keep her wits about her.

Our conversation went as thus:

Me: It’s nice to see you again. How are things going?

Me: No complaints. You?

Me: Same. I noticed you didn’t do a blog post last Wednesday. Is everything okay?

Me: Aw, you noticed! That’s so sweet!

Me: Well, I didn’t notice right away. Truthfully, I forgot it was Wednesday.

Me: Right?! It’s so hard to keep track of those things.

Me: So was that it? You just forgot? That’s… troubling.

Me: Is it?

Me: What about Thursday, Friday or Saturday? You could have posted something one of those days.

Me: Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it. And now I’m kinda worried I might be facing burnout.

Me: Uh-huh. And how does that make you feel?

Me: Rotten.

Me: Interesting. Tell me, has the well run dry? Are you lacking ideas?

Me: No, I’ve got plenty of ideas. I just wasn’t sure any of them were blog-worthy.

Me: I see. Listen, how about you tell me one of the ideas and I’ll tell you what I think of it?

Me: Gee, I’m not sure…

Me: Hey, if you can’t trust me, who can you trust?

Me: Okay… well, for one of them I was writing about my new job at the convent and about how last week I was helping with this workshop thingy and when one of the nuns realized she forgot something she said, “Oh shit.”

Me: Really? A nun said shit?

Me: Yeah.

Me: That should be worth a blog post. A nun saying shit.

Me: Is it though? I mean, so what if a nun says shit? They’re human.

Me: Yeah, but you don’t expect them to say shit. That’s what makes it funny.

Me: Maybe. But there’s only so many times you can write shit before you wind up with a post full of shit.

Me: I see your point. What else have you got?

Me: Well, then I started thinking about how different this job is from my last job. You know, going from a high school to a convent.

Me: Go on.

Me: And how after two months of working here it was the first time I heard shit, but there–

Me: You heard it every two minutes?

Me: Something like that.

Me: Okay, yeah, I could see that being funny.

Me: Yeah. But then I got to thinking I was sounding all goody-goody, like I had a problem with people saying shit.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: And really, I don’t care. I mean, hey, sometimes I say shit too.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: But not at the convent. I don’t say shit there.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: Some places aren’t shit-appropriate.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: And then I started writing about how I finally met the oldest sister at the convent. She’s 103.

Me: No kidding? A hundred and three?

Me: Yeah.

Me: Is she the nun who said shit?

Me: No… though I bet she does, don’t you think? Say shit?

Me: Maybe.

Me: I bet she does. Heck, when you’re 103, I bet every morning you wake up and realize you’re still alive you say, “Oh shit.”

Me: I suppose.

Me: Yeah, I bet she does. I bet she says shit.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: Listen, about this blog. What do you think? Give it to me straight – am I facing burnout?

Me: No, I don’t think this is burnout.

Me: Really?

Me: Really. Borderline psychosis, maybe. A touch of schizophrenia. Mild hysteria leading toward an eventual breakdown, sure. But not burnout.

Me: Oh, that’s such a relief. I feel so much better.

Me: Glad I could help. Now pour me a glass of Zin.

relaxed scene of sofa and two glasses of wine
Photo by Guillermo Nolasco on Unsplash

Working among nuns and radicals

On a post about five or so months ago, where I told of my relocation up North, I ended by saying I got a job at a hospital near our house.

Maybe you wondered why I never mentioned this job again? Or maybe you never thought about it, which is completely understandable because why would you?

The reason I never talked about the job was because 10 days into said job, I quit.

Have you ever started working at a place and as you stood there watching the other employees do their thing, know deep in your heart it’s not your thing and never would be your thing and what in God’s name ever made you think it could be your thing?

Also, what I was told would be my schedule turned out to be more theory than practice. It might one day be my schedule, but for now it was anything goes. So I went.

What followed was a time of self-reflection, doubt, and existential malaise. Or, what is commonly known as, a job search.

grumpy-cat-300x200I forget how many interviews I had. Or how many times Indeed-dot-com notified me with: “______ looked at your resume!” Without bothering to note that “_____” was in California or Florida or Guam.

I tried to stay positive.

Hey, with all this free time, I can write blog posts galore! Resuscitate its Facebook page, update the blog theme, tidy up the sidebar!

Gosh, maybe I’ll even dig out that novel I’ve been working on for… oh gee, I don’t know… 15 years? Hey, now I can be a full-time writer!

Oh, if only I had a smoking jacket! Or smoked!

But lo, this writer’s dream was not to be. I found that with no pressure on my time, I make sad use of it. I needed to get out of the house. I needed a sense of purpose. I needed—gasp!—I needed to be around people. (For an introvert, this is a startling revelation.)

Then Husband found a help wanted ad in the paper:

Administrative Assistant with desktop publishing and database skills; ability to write and format newsletters; creativity and good writing skills a must; knowledge of video editing software a plus. Please send letter of introduction with resume.

There was one peculiar addition:

Must be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.

Forgot to mention, the job was at a convent.

So, yeah. I’m working at a convent now. Have been for a little over a month. It’s a fascinating place.

I don’t mean to put down men—honestly, I love you guys—but there’s something about women who choose to live without them. It’s like they come into their own.

Also, this Franciscan thing.

The couple I work for–they’re a lay couple who oversee two of the convent’s ministries–they give me books to read so I can understand their work better. They reserve a quiet room for me, I can get free popcorn at the convent’s top-notch cafeteria. We meet afterwards to discuss what I read.

It’s like I’m getting paid to attend a book club.

Things I’ve learned: St. Francis was a radical. And here I thought he was just a guy who liked birds.

St FrancisThese nuns can be pretty radical too. Never before have I worked with a group of people who are so focused outwardly. Even things like tossing a piece of paper in the garbage—Wait! That can be recycled!—Wait! Did we write on both sides first?

The woman I work for, let’s call her Mrs. Boss, said if anything were to happen in town—if some injustice was occurring—these sisters would be the first ones marching out the door, carrying signs in protest.

And I can see it happening, too. Though it would be a slow procession, given their ages and several using walkers.

walkersSuch is my life now. Living in a blue state, working among Franciscan nuns.

And here I thought the biggest change for me would be the weather. 😉

Featured photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash