To Be So Loved ~ #16

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The closer I became to becoming a full fledged Nun, the more disquieted my soul became. The more I poured over the scriptures in my few off-hours, the more I questioned the practices of the church. I began to weigh the Catholic doctrines against the Protestant ones that I had been raised to believe. It was a journey far harder than even that of caring for the dying ones.

At the same time, it was getting harder and harder to hide my pregnancy. So far, Mother Superior had equated my frequent boughts of nausea with the nature of the work at hand. Even the most steeled of individuals could still be brought to their knees by some of the injuries we’d seen. I was working alongside the doctor nearly all the time, now, seeing some of the worst cases that came through the door. Severed hands (remember the idea of the justice system here), gunshot wounds, stabbings, and all the common injuries that come with life on the sea. But, even Mother Superior had noticed my dramatic weight loss. I’d already fallen from the mere 98 pounds I’d weighed on arrival to a scant 65 pounds on a four and a half foot frame. And yet, my tummy remained mostly flat with just a slight pudge. Now, it was the time to speak up, frightening as the thought was to consider.

So, I found Mother Superior at her desk and asked to speak with her. I  have to say that I’d grown to love the elderly woman. She’d seen so much, lived so much. Her testimony of faith was beyond anything I’d ever known. I’d even seen the scars of that testimony while in the common showers. She’d seen mine as well; the physical leftovers of a dozen or more surgeries and physical abuse. We’d become close friends and even confidants during my short time here. It was because of that that I could no longer bear to hide my secret any longer. When it came to telling her, the words came out in a rushed and emotional flood. She’d smiled, nodding her acceptance.

‘I knew you would come and tell me when the time was right, Child.’ Her tone was full of love and understanding. ‘This is something you cannot hide or run away from. This is a blessing for you from God Himself.’

I breathed a sigh of relief. I had feared the worst. But, at that moment, I didn’t know – didn’t realize what my pregnancy would cause to come about. No, instead, at the moment, all I felt was a lightness of heart that I hadn’t felt since I’d come home to find my husband’s dead body lying so peacefully in our bed.

 

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To Be So Loved ~#15

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I began to take on the prayerful habits of Mother Superior, waking well before dawn for prayers. I found a solace and reprieve in kneeling before God while the world was still silent. It was something my big brother had shown me many years ago. It was in the time when my parents were still happily married. A time of complete innocence.

My youngest brother was twelve years my senior, and at the time he was still my hero. A time when I didn’t know his drug use was a bad thing, or that it would ultimately lead to his death under suspicious circumstances. No, on that weekend, I was just a little sister visiting my big brother and his new wife in town.

I woke up early, 2 a.m., as I’d always done with my Daddy. He drove a truck and we ate early before he left for work. This time, though, it was just me and my ‘Bubby’.

‘Come on, Sissy. I want to show you something.’ He lifted me up, braces and all, and perched me on his shoulders to take me outside. ‘Do you hear that, Sissy?’

‘It’s quiet and dark.’

‘Yes, it is, Sissy. This is what it is before the world wakes up.’ He set me down on the front stoop and went back inside to get his flute and sage. Then, he sat down beside me and lit the sage in its shell. I watched it’s smoke curl up into the sky as he lifted the flute to his lips. I listened completely enraptured with the music that echoed off the buildings around us. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. Then, he stopped.

‘Papaw John taught me this song. He said that every morning, we should thank our Creator for being here. I was as old as you when he said that and gave me his flute. This flute.’ Bubby handed me his flute. ‘Now, it’s your turn.’

As I knelt that morning beside Mother Superior, tears came to my eyes. Oh, how I now missed my Bubby and those early morning prayer songs. I missed the fluted notes of music rising to greet the morning’s dawn. I no longer have that old flute. Mom long since stole it and sold it for her drugs. All I have now are the memories and the prayer songs that Bubby taught me. Those prayers now rolled off my tongue in song.

Today, I thought, I would write home to my Grandmother and ask her to send me a new flute.

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #14

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The hospital – as promised. We, as Americans, have this preconceived notion that a hospital has to be 1. sterile, 2. high tech, 3. beautifully decorated, and 4. comforting. If I had to chose between any of the above, sterile would win every time. Maybe because of my experiences out and away from America.

Down at the Harbor’s edge, not far from the short pier, sits a steel building. The outside, like any exposed metal on the Island is pocked with large patches of rust. Between the rust, there are patches of varying colors of paint. There is one small window on the front side, and it is framed in well-weathered wood and dust encrusted glass. Not a pretty sight by any means. Having spent some of my childhood in foster homes on farms, I would equate this building most with a hog shed that had seen better days. I say this not to disparage the purpose of the building, but to give you a visual image that you can understand. It bore in no way anything close to the notion of a hospital. And yet, that’s exactly what it was.

At first, I was reluctant to believe Mother Superior when she told me that it was a hospital. That is, until I went inside. Inside, the floors, walls, even the ceiling was a crisp, bright, white. I was almost afraid to move for fear that I would mar the whiteness. the waiting area, a corner of the room, contained two white plastic chairs and a small shelf containing a statue of Mother Mary, a candle, and a bible. The only other furniture in the room was a grey desk with a high-backed wooden chair. I noted a young man standing in the corner with a mop and a bucket. As Mother Superior introduced us to the hospital staff and head nurse whom we would be training under, I noticed the young man following us and mopping as we walked. Talk about sterile! Wow! That place was sterile beyond sterile.

In short order, we toured the rest of the hospital. It contained all of four rooms, very small rooms at that. The first room was the treatment/surgery room. Again, it was stark white and looked far more sterile than any hospital I’d ever seen. And, I’d seen far too many. The second room was the convalescence/recovery room. It contained all of two beds, and no patients. The last room, was at the end of the hall and had a closed door. We weren’t taken inside, but I did inquire about it.

‘It is the death room.’ Mother Superior explained in a sad voice. ‘It is for the dying.’

Later, I learned we had not been taken inside because there was a highly infectious and contagious, dying, patient within. So sobering now to think of it.

All during the tour, I was amazed that such a small place with no technology could exist as a hospital. There were no electronic heart monitors, iv monitors, or anything beyond the most basic of medical instrumentation and supplies. And yet, this small little place served the entire Island. It’s location was so that patients could come in by boat from the other side of the Island if need be. I was astounded.

And yet, and yet, the place was extremely sterile. It smelled clean, not like antiseptic, but just simply clean. That, probably from breeze that drifted through from the sea. This little ‘pig pen’ of a building was sterile beyond what we normally consider sterile. The phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” could easily come to mind as I remember the place. In the times that would follow this tour, I would come to great sorrows and even greater rewards within it’s rusted walls. In fact, I would often find myself working in the ‘death’ room, giving mercy to the dying.

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #13

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What do you envision when you think of a hospital?

What do you expect to see on the outside, the inside?

Well, the hospital on the shoreside down by harbor was a far cry from any preconceived notions that I believed a hospital ought to be. A very far cry.

I was new to the Island. I don’t think I’d been there more than a day or two, in fact. Still feeling the effects of culture shock and sunburn. It was before I’d settled and entered into novitiate training. I spent those first few days just acclimating to life in a foreign country. The  Island may have been under British rule, but it was still quite different than I had ever experienced. I had studied all the basic cultural mores and customs, just as anyone planning to travel outside of their own hometown should do. Seriously speaking on that note.

So, today was our organized and planned tour of St. George’s Harbor and the environs in which we would be living and calling home. Mother Superior lead us out the front doors of the Cathedral and into the land of ‘aliens’, where the only aliens were us. Everything around us still seemed so surreal; so science fictional; so very different than a small mid-western village in America.

For starters, I was the only ‘white’ girl in our group. The color of my skin didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother the others. Even back then, I didn’t see skin color as an issue. It wasn’t the color of the skin that made a person, but how they conducted themselves, as my brother had told me. I think part of that came from the fact that I’d grown up around people from many races, religions, skin tones. I grew up seeing people for what they were on the inside. The old son lyrics.. ‘red, yellow, black, and white, they are ALL precious in God’s sight’ comes to mind as I write this not. I’ve practiced that sentiment in my own life ever and always.

That day, as I stood on the Cathedral steps, I just stared at the world around me. I saw beautiful people all around me. I saw shades of black skin that I’d never dreamed were possible. I saw a few white skinned tourists (mostly now bright pink from sunburns). They were all beautiful. Even the tall, black man standing on the edge of the boardwalk, penis hanging to the wind, pissing in the harbor. Even the young mother breastfeeding as she tested fruit for ripeness at one of the open market booths. Even, and to my own amazement at the feat, a woman carrying a stack of fully loaded baskets of produce on her head as she walked up the steep street. I smelled the odors of open sewers mixed with the ever-present odors of fish (dead and alive), and above it all the scent of fresh coconuts. The sights and smells were as overwhelming to my young American mind as they were beautiful. I was yet to have that innocence jaded.

But, here I have digressed when I wanted to speak of the hospital. Then, again, maybe I should save the hospital for the next serial installment and just sit with the memory of that first journey into the harbor for a just a little while.

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To Be So Loved ~ #12

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The treasures of the sea are many and varied.

My favorite treasure is that of the sand dollar. So much symbolism can be attributed to such a beautiful sea creature. It is impossible, or it was decades ago, to swim or wade in the waters off of Grand Anse beach without stepping on them continually. You could put your hand down into the water and easily bring it back up with a handful of white disks of every size. And, so it was a wonderous joy I discovered early on, in the week before I began duties and prayers.

I brought home a handful that first trip to the beach. Miss Katleen dutifully identified them, telling me about how they lived, ate, and made the warm shallows their home. Then, she boiled and sterilized what I had brought her on the grounds that I would bring no more home. Of the handful I’d collected that day, I kept the smallest one. It was about the size of a quarter. Later, when I came back to the States, I had it gold-plated and made into a necklace.

Ever and always that small sand dollar has served as a reminder of God’s providence in that He cared for me, even when I could not care for myself. Most importantly, I remember the symbolic stories that Miss Katleen shared with me that day. How the sand dollar tells the story of redemption by showing us the wounds of Christ while he suffered on the cross for us. How the backside shows the shape Christmas flower, the poinsettia, reminding us of the blood that was shed for our eternal salvation. Also, showing that God’s love is eternal and steadfast even in hard times. How, when broken, little doves emerge to remind us of the peace that can reside within when we accept Christ as our savior. Amen! Good stories to remember, even better to share.

I kept that little sand dollar for well over three decades until our most recent move where it was somehow lost to the moving purge. Although the reminder is lost, the story is not and goes on to live through a sand dollar that one who read this story sent to me. It’s at the jewelers right now being plated and made into a new necklace.  A gift that I will deeply treasure for many years to come. THANK YOU!

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To Be So Loved ~ #11

 

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I was physically in paradise, no doubts in my mind about that. The breezes off the ocean made the triple digit temperatures feel like they were only in the balmy mid-seventies. And, except for the daily afternoon shower, the sun shone bright amid clear blue skies. Even though I was clothed from wrist to ankle and head covered, I never was uncomfortable or sweaty. It was the perfect environment for living, or so I believed at the time.

I had all that I had ever dreamed of having, except for my beloved. He now lay in a cold grave a world away from where I waIlked, now. He was gone. I lived on with a grief that no matter how much I tried to bury it, would not be comforted or eased. Outside of work hours and training classes, I was lost in the depths of depression so deep that I considered suicide. I lay in my bunk and wept silent tears amid muffled sobs. I wept until no tears would come, and still wept.

To add to the overwhelming grief, I had just learned that I carried a child. His child. Our child. It wasn’t possible, couldn’t be possible, could it? I was baffled, shocked, and most of all – terrified. He had been gone only a few months. It couldn’t be true… and yet, it was. Verified. Pregnant. I didn’t believe it myself until the doctor had stuck the buds in my ears and I had heard the heartbeat within my flat stomach. Didn’t you get fat the minute you got pregnant? Evidently not.

My dream life here on the Island was crashing down around me with the force of a tidal wave on the beach. How could I tell Mother Superior? How could I tell the Priest? Surely, they would think that I had betrayed my vows while here on the Island. They knew I was a widow, after all. Surely they would understand. Wouldn’t they? Or, would they think I was lying about who the father was? Worst of all, how was this going to affect my new life as a nun? You couldn’t have children as a nun, could you? No, not that I’d ever heard.

‘Oh, dear God, what am I to do?’ I prayed, wrapping my arms around my middle. Nothing was ever going to be the same, again. I was only fifteen. Was I really ready to be a single, widowed mother? Could I be a single mother in a foreign land, far from the comforts of home? How could I give birth, here. Though sanitary, the hospital was a far cry from the ones at home.

Though I feared the worst, a part of me felt some small measure of joy. At least, I would no longer be alone in the world. I was awestruck by the reality that I had a small piece of my beloved growing within me. Would it be a boy, white-haired and beautiful like his father? Would he look like his father, too? What if it was a girl? Would it inherit the screwed up life I’d inherited from addicted parents? Was it doomed to be born with the same addictive tendencies that haunted my own life?

Oh, how much I wanted just to run into my beloved arms and tell him of this miraculous life growing within me. Then, maybe, for a time, this overwhelming grief would abate.

‘Oh, God, dear God, what am I to do?’ I prayed incessantly.

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #10

 

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A walk along the boardwalk of an evening became a time of reflection and prayer. I always took a moment to pause beneath the statue of Christ and utter a prayer for all those lost at sea. It became almost a ritual with me. That night, my prayers were as deep as the harbor itself. I had decisions to make. Huge decisions that would alter the course of my life completely and irrevocably.

I brushed my hands down the simple white dress and grey apron, and then up to the habit that now covered my head; marking me not only as a nurse, but also as a novitiate nun. I loved the nursing with my whole heart. But, the questions came in when I considered the monastic life. Could I really dedicate the rest of my living days to living within the confines of a church doctrine that I did not truly believe many of the precepts. I had been raised a Protestant, after all. I did not truly revere Mother Mary as most of the others did. I revered only God, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. So, how could I continue this dream life of prayer and service?

Daily, I went through the rituals and routines expected of a novitiate: corporate mass, prayers on the hour, and ministering to those most in need of care. Truth be told, I flourished in prayer and ministering. It was a natural thing for me, second nature, really and truly. If I could just do that for the rest of my living days, I would be content, I thought.

I lived for the days when we went traipsing off into the depths of the surrounding jungles. I reveled in visiting the remotest of villages and tending to the health needs of these wonderful people. And yet, my soul still remained unsettled in regards to the church and my final ‘kneeling vows’. The Mass services seemed so hollow, so devoid of life. How long? I often asked Mother Superior. How long would it be before the rote motions took over my being, my soul, and destroyed the surety of my personal faith? How long before I, too, began to revere Mother Mary above all else?

As I stood at the foot of the statue of Christ, I reached up to touch the habit again as it fluttered in the breeze. I loved the feel of head-covering, somehow, I felt closer to God with the removal of worldly considerations. So, I thought, it’s already happening. I am losing myself to this life. A tear formed in my eyes as I paused and raised a silent prayer for strength.

‘God, protect my soul…for you.’

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