Because people’s personal stories
are fun to hear I’ll specialize in confessions.
nce a week, we had an hour dedicated to “Reading.” It was like a class but there was no exam. We filed into the small library and chose a book. Then we sat for the rest of the time in complete silence, reading.
At the time I had never read anything for pleasure. I was annoyed because there was no exam. If there was no exam, there was no point, I thought.
What could we learn from a rabbit that always forgot its appointments? School was a practical endeavor to me then. Like higiene. You went to school so you would not be poor. I wasn’t sure how they were connected but I knew they were connected. Reading for leisure was just a frustration. So I didn’t do it. Instead, I spent most of my reading hour carefully “selecting” my book. Then, I sat down for the remaining twenty minutes and fantasized about having the librarian nun’s job.
It’s a sweet life, I surmised, judging by how plump they all were. They lived on the beautiful school grounds in a good neighborhood. They traveled for retreats and missions. I had traveled by ship to the southern coastal town where my grandmother lived. I had liked those trips so I figured that the more travels, the merrier. I thought of nunning as a job that required traveling, reading, teaching kids and sometimes praying for several hours. And, I was in a awe of their culture, their manners and that they never sweated.
They were always pristine, as if they traveled with an invisible air conditioning unit around them. In all my time with the nuns, I never saw one of them sweat.
You have to understand. This is the tropics. In the open air you sweat even if you are sitting in a lotus position in the most tranquil state of mind. You sweat. It’s like breathing. But not the nuns. They sauntered to and fro, always busy, never in a hurry. No sweat, no even when we had been beating our hands together and singing hymns to Mary for what felt like the entire month of May.
But which kind of nun should I be?
I knew some of them had to go on missions. Missions, I knew, required long prayer sessions and the deft maneuvers involved in getting people to believe stories which are frankly hard to believe. I didn’t want to do that. I was very religious. My faith burned bright in my heart but I knew what a heathen was and I didn’t think I could convince one of them to not be that anymore.
. . .
Our school principal was a nun. She was young and energetic and laughed. They all smiled but this one laughed. She favored the light blue uniform and wore her scarf further back so that you could see she had thick curly hair. She bit her nails when she was listening but really had to go. She seemed like one of those alternative modern type nuns who might exercise. In fact, under her guidance, we all had to submit to an exercise class a few times a week. I was going to be just like her!
The movie Sister Act featuring Whoopi Goldberg was galvanizing. I was definitely going to be a nun. But the film, as many films do for me, brought on an epiphany. I was going to be a nun in the United States of America. They obviously cut better deals. The singing, the adventures, the redemptive tête à tête with the students. I was going to be right there.
. . .
Our teachers were all women. They wore a suit uniform – salmon jacket, beige skirt and a little height at the heel. Obviously not enough to attract attention to your calves. We wore a pink uniform. Chewing gum, if you want to picture it. It looked like something Belle wears in Beauty and the Beast.
The only male teacher we had was the drawing professor who seemed young and rather amused by our innocence. And there was Séraphin, the groundskeeper. I always liked his name. So Biblical. Séraphin.
Then, one morning the nuns informed us that we had a special visit. A priest had come to stay with them at the pension house.
I saw that the priest was like a boss. His arrival had caused a stir among the nuns. They seemed more cheerful, on purpose. In his honor we trotted up to the chapel and confessed and then had the honor of recieving Mass from him.
Could I be a school principal nun and occasionally deliver Mass? Fanstatic daydreams ensued.
Under my tenure, Mass would become a lively and quick affair. More singing, less exposition and all of it restrained within the hour.
Because people’s personal stories are fun to hear I’d specialize in confessions.
I’ve always liked stories. My grandmother was a masterful storyteller. She just kept everything in her head. She could tell you about a 1oo things and then again from a different perspective.
. . .
But I wasn’t going to be a nun, I was going to be a feminist because one of my friends was full of troubling information.
For reasons that I still don’t understand women do not ever become priests, she said.
I consulted popular wisdom. We talked among ourselves and I came to accept that the truth. Men could be ordained. Women could not.
. . .
I started to look at the new priest as if he were injustice personified. I didn’t want to be a member of an institution that didn’t think I could become a leader. If I had continued to fantasize about the parochial field I might have wanted to pursue the papacy. And, why not? If I were good at preaching, at taking confession, at giving Mass and other priestly duties, why not?
I wasn’t going to be a nun anymore. And, you know, nunnery has its trappings. It’s not all song song song. Besides subjugation to the priest-boss, all the hours of prayer are a lot. Even if you’re not a career missionary, you may at some point have to submit to a few missions. They don’t really travel as much as they are sent to places.
I knew from experience that there were many other things women were not allowed to do because they were not men.
Gradually it dawned on me. I was going to be a man. Except in the obvious ways.