THROUGH THE ARCHES

Arches

 

We were commanded to walk with our heads down, eyes lowered, focusing on our folded hands at our waists.  I never could figure out why.  Was there too much beauty?  Were our thoughts intended to be entirely dark and dreary?

Mother Johanna, our Abbess when I first came here, never minded when I now and then took a quick peek at the masonry as we made our way through the lovely arches. Mother Margaret, who came just after my twelfth birthday, would have none of it. Foolishness, she called it. Maybe I was just stubborn, but I refused to forget what I had seen, and imagined each and every artfully designed brick as we made our silent, single-file shuffle to the chapel for matins.

Now they tell me I soon shall pass through there one last time, but my eyes will be closed in final sleep.

Nathanial, the little crippled man who came to tend our gardens will likely be the only one who misses me.  Mama died, they tell me, and I know nothing of my birth father.

I love Nathanial.  Oh, not that way.  Nathanial patiently instructed me in the best method for producing prize-winning roses.  At least I am pretty sure they would have won prizes if we had been permitted to enter them in a contest.

Patient. Sweet. Wise…many qualities come to my mind when I think of Nathanial.  My best and most lasting memory is of those times, while we were both on our muddy knees pruning rose bushes, Nathanial told me about Jesus. The real Jesus.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been retarded—well, they won’t let me say retarded—a little slow—in their words, I would have understood what it meant when I made final vows and they told me now I was married to Jesus. I thought being married meant someone would hold you in their arms, and hold your hand, and…touch you. This Jesus I married in that ceremony never touched me, although Father Benedict, from the Monastery across the river, put a ring on my finger to proclaim I was married.

Nathanial explained, Jesus is real, even though we can’t touch Him with earth hands.  He says Jesus loves me—me, Mary Abigail—Sister of Charity.

The Sisters tell me this is the most wonderful life, and I am blessed above many others for joining the Order at a young age. In my limited mind, I wonder.  I wonder what could have been so terrible, the day when we saw my mama at the Farmer’s Market, if I would have been allowed to cross the street and hug her.  Surely she would have hugged me, too. Mother Johanna said it was best this way, my mama had a nervous condition and it would upset her too much.  I still don’t understand.  How I would have liked to touch her face, and maybe even, she might have touched mine.

I do love Jesus and talk to Him every day. If this is the only way, then I guess I am glad Mama brought me here. I learned to be quiet as a mouse. Maybe I was too noisy; that’s why Mama couldn’t have me around. But it’s done now.  So be it.

One thing I am glad about:  I did introduce Jesus to nasty old Jeffrey who came every other day for our trash. I prayed for Jesus to take away those bossy voices inside his head.

Nathanial says I need to forgive those who hurt me.  Even if they have already died.

So I guess I will:

Mama, I am awful sorry you couldn’t take care of me.  I do forgive you for getting rid of me.  You left me in a safe place where I met Nathanial, and Nathanial helped me know Jesus.

Daddy, I forgive you for never seeing me.  At least I don’t think you ever saw me.

Sister Bernard, I forgive you for slapping my fingers with a ruler.  I was trying to write my sums neatly, but the numbers kept jumping around on the page.

Now where is that beautiful music coming from? Singing?  At this hour?

I hear the nurse say, “She’s almost gone.”

What lovely music!  I am dancing, twirling…

How interesting!  I see my casket below me, rolling through the arches. I reach out to the lovely brick patterns…and touch…a hand! A hand drawing me higher and farther.  I am one with the song.

 

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