Written by Paul Fitzgibbons
Inspired by “The Pearl Territory”, ch. 21 – ELIN
x x x
I am a deeply religious non-believer. Or a non-religious believer. It all depends how you look at it. It wasn’t always that way. A long time ago I was a nun in the Sacred Immaculate Sacrament in Sacramento, Yahweh Sisterhood – one of the “SISSYS”. When I was sixteen I fell in love with the Savior, and the Virgin Mother, especially the part about being pure. Like most of the SISSYS, we had come from very poor, dirty worlds, with violent, abusive fathers, broken, alcoholic mothers and peers with nothing to lose; this idea of perfect cleanliness, free from the grime this world had coated us with since our births, resonated in our most secret inner selves.
I spent hours in Church staring up at Jesus, and at all of the paintings of Mary with her gentle, all-loving face and found a home I never had. From there it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to find a way to move in permanently…
Going to Church on my own, even going to confessions when I had nothing more to confess became habit. Our priest was a gray haired man who was strict and grim and seemed to know where I was going before I did. 😂 He introduced me to an acquaintance of his one day – a nun from the convent I would, in due time, end up joining, and we had dozens of ever-lengthening conversations over the next few months that already cemented a decision I didn’t know I would even be making.
Looking back on it now, it’s easy to gain an overview and look at the big picture. Even before I discovered the words of A Great Wise One (1):
“They get you when you’re hoping for a glimpse of the sun,
get you when you feel like you’re troubles seem like they weigh a ton…”
I already felt their truth in my heart.
The picture I had of life in the convent tended to be generally true to how things turned out to be. However, the minor details, like who my fellow Sisters were, were the ones that seemed to make the most difference, to change my feelings towards the convent as a whole and to represent the things that life, in fact, was all about.
They were the placement of cheekbones in a face that help others decide if a person is attractive or not, or things like scents or the weather that breathe opinions into a memory.
I hadn’t been in the convent more than a few months when I met Sister Lucia. I don’t know where she came from, and I didn’t know this because no one did. 😂 There was no way to determine where she came from by the way she spoke, since no one seemed to know what language Sister Lucia spoke… There were hints of Portuguese, or maybe Malay, in her accents and skin color, but the words she used sounded Slavic. Or Arabic.
There were some well educated women there – one in particular spoke fourteen languages had lectured at universities on six continents. Even she could not deduce Sister Lucia’s whereabouts, 🙀 much less how she was feeling on any day, since communication was all but impossible!
Like almost all new novices in the convent, I was detailed to work with Sister Lucia in the kitchen. I was still a nervous teenager, and was not put at ease when I showed up to work my first day and Sister Lucia shook my… upper arm (?) and wished me “Fallooni”.
“Ebn maw shoshuniev!” she urged me, making circular motions with one fist over the other open palm.
Somehow this gesture did not help!
On that first day I broke a mug, and Sister Lucia put down what she was doing with a sigh. She approached me and… taking my hands in hers, sat me down on the floor between the door to the kitchen and the metal storage rack where the canned goods were kept – a cozy twenty inch-wide space where, somehow, we both fit.
“Lifny spalla toomwick,” she told me quietly. “Muhtoom na spalla thingwig.”
I looked down, nodding. When I looked up, Sister Lucia was looking at me…
She began to shout energetically, waving her hands and staring at me with an intensity I had never seen. It was then I noticed that she had managed to seat herself on the room side of our little crawl- space, while I was stuck wallside. Had the positions been reversed, I would have already been gone. 😉
As it were, I was forced to ride out the storm.
Sisterly chat? took well over a half an hour, and only then ended 😌 because the next meal needed to be prepared. I remember Sister Lucia holding up her hand with the fingertips to the sky and turning it clockwise and back, as if this gesture had meaning and weight. I was tempted to nod again, but quickly decided against it.
Sister Lucia stood up and began searching the countertops, quickly finding the wooden spoon which she had sought. Bringing it back, she showed it to me, pointing out its length and swinging it like a tennis racket back and forth. 😅
She grabbed the end with her thumb and forefinger and let the spoon dangle earthwards.
“Tsum hoo-hum ni-spalla gocksmow,” she added, but to what, I couldn’t say. “HyAMM HAMM!!”
Then she clocked me in the head with the spoon.
I gave a shriek, and clutched my head in pain and shock. The spoon fell to the floor… To my surprise, Sister Lucia crouched down to take me in her arms and all but crush me in a wiry bear-hug.🐻 Her sympathy did little to help my outlook on the situation, as I realized with horror that my duties for the rest of my life would, for the most part, involve working with Sister Lucia or people like her. My head hung low and I began sobbing.
Later on that day in my cell I tried to commit it all to paper, intent on beginning a diary, because with each passing minute I became more certain that no one had ever gone through what I was, and it should definitely be written down for posterity – which is how I managed to remember the strange words she had spoken so long ago.
Over the next seven years I learned to go numb. It not only helped with the wicked Sister Schenk in Bible study, whose strictness was only rivaled by her dullness, her reliance on dogma, and her joylessness, but was also imperative in the kitchen with Sister Lucia. When faced with an unwinnable contest, or a hopeless situation, what else can one do besides go numb?
The number I got, the more I approached my own personal million dollar question:
Is that all there is?
Is this the way my life was really supposed to play out?
Had I no say in the matter?
!! 1. “Man of Peace”, Bob Dylan 1983 Special Rider Music
Next post – “The Pearl Territory”, ch. 22 – dialogue (short version, 1000 words)