Last night I was given such a gift, the spark for a story, as I went to brush my teeth before turning in for the night, on a winter writing retreat at St. Mary of the Woods, enjoying the hospitality of the Sisters of Providence. We are staying in the residence of the sisters who so graciously share their living space, their home, with us. As I entered the sink room, I got a glimpse into a tiny moment of a sister’s life. I knew this was a gift meant for me to write about, this moment in a life that most people never see.
The sister was of medium height, slender and had short wavy, white hair, the kind of white hair that glows of its own accord, not from product. I tried to imagine her as a young girl giving her life to Christ. Choosing not to go to parties with illicit drinking and furtive groping, not to go shopping for trendy clothes with her girlfriends, not to marry a mortal and have little earthly children of her own some day, choosing to live in the bosom of Christ, rather than the bosom of her family. I admire her strength for listening to whatever voice guided her to make these difficult choices that result in a lifetime commitment to serve God and the world. Along with big choices comes the loss of little everyday choices, indulging herself at Starbuck’s with a coffee light frappucino while reading the latest Toni Morrison novel, dropping by her mother’s on a Saturday morning for tea and sympathy and to my mind the big loss: privacy. Sharing quarters her whole life, making her nest as cozy as is possible in one room, sharing a sink room, a lavatory and shower room, no leisurely bubble bath enjoying a glass of wine while surrounded by candle light, reading the poems of Neruda.
But, for women, some things are universal. Every month the sister sheds her blood, sloughing off the possibility of children. Children that Jesus has chosen to keep by his side in Heaven. Month after month, year upon year she bleeds for Christ, the fruit of her labor never seen. Perhaps she’s a professor of literature or poetry in the college here, guiding the children of others who have made different choices in their lives, her reward, honoring Christ by exciting the earthly children of others with the words of Longfellow, Shakespeare or Dickenson.
The years have stacked up and she is past the age of bleeding. Her white hair and peach fuzz skin glow in the dimly lit sink room. It is ten o’clock on a Friday night and while other women her age are watching their grandchildren sleep, or celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with their husband in Hawaii, or baking scones for their Saturday morning poetry circle, this sister is rinsing her panty-hose for Christ because cleanliness is next to Godliness and that is her best offering on a bleakly cold, February Friday night.
Rebekah for The Poplar Grove Muse