At the Motherhouse
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.
- St. Ignatius of Loyola
She sits with two others in the dining room, all of them wearing bibs and waiting for lunch. Fifty years ago we all wore white plastic bibs, but these are long, wide and brown, designed to catch food that fails to reach their mouths. I hug all three and sit next to one who recognizes me. I haven’t seen her recently, but her eyes are still striking blue. We look at each other for what seems an eternity. Such love in the eyes. She shakes. I hold her hand. She tries to speak and “gobbledegook” tumbles out. She smiles apologetically. ”I know what you mean,” I say. “Is therapy helping you with words?” She nods.
“Do you remember when we stayed the weekend at your family home? I can still see it, on a small hill where two streets meet.”
“Main and Third,” she says, clear as day, her blue eyes shining, sure.
“Remember how we came in out of the storm? I took this picture of the rain on your parlor window. I brought it for you.”
She takes the picture which rings no bell in the chapel of her mind, a “bare ruined choir.” It seems better just to look with love at each other with no thoughts whatsoever. Except there is something on her mind. She has a plastic band around her wrist, standard fare along with bibs.
She points to the band with her name and room number, looks at me and says, “I taught college.”
In the little alcoves outside the mother house elevator, they sit slumped in easy chairs, small communities of Sisters going nowhere. They nap through all the comings and goings, drowsing in some dreamless place. The elevator doors open, the elevator doors close, floors one to five. People hurry past the sleepers, never thinking they may someday sit dreamless themselves outside the elevator going up and down, up and down.
One of the sleepers on floor five has a note in her pocket. The nurse’s aide who dresses her each morning knows to put the note in Sister's pocket, no matter the outfit. All the sleepers are dressed nicely as if for an outing. The elevator goes to the main floor and the front door, but they are going nowhere, sleeping through the four seasons. One of them sometimes wakes to some noise or other and instinctively touches the note in her pocket. It is creased and worn with use.
“When shall we meet again? I always feel like a newborn soul after spending time laughing with you. You are truly one of the most inspirational, beautiful spirits I have ever met. Thank you for being in my life.”
Perhaps in some foggy dream she does remember. Perhaps for the slightest moment the elevator pauses, then hurtles past the fifth floor and into the next world. There the bands around their wrists all say Beloved.
[Joan Sauro, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, publishes widely in the Catholic press. “We were called Sister” (U.S. Catholic) was awarded first place for Best Essay 2014 by the CPA.]