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It was 1957. Near midnight, shivery blasts rattled the convent’s double casement windows and dumped mounds of snow upon blue spruces and towering oaks. Swirling, cracking, snapping sounds rubbed against the erstwhile silence and quickened the steps of hundreds of black-laced low-heeled shoes along the long hardwood floors, polished for the occasion: New Year’s Eve. The swish of long black choir cloaks fastened at the chin heightened the drama.

Further ahead, I made out the great doors of the Gothic chapel opening out to the older nuns who bowed before the Superior, toed the wooden kneelers of their choir stalls, knelt down, and opened their libers. As the procession inched toward the chapel, steam sizzled from occasional radiators affording oases of warmth.

Four months into my postulancy in the noviceship, I watched, bug-eyed, so as not to make a mistake. Finally, I opened my liber with the others and waited for the pitch pipe’s tone from the Mistress of the Choir. After I adjusted my wool skirt on the kneeler, I gazed at the sanctuary, where thick beeswax candles shadowed the altar and other furnishings.

Then a short beep signaled everyone to grab their opened libers and stand facing each other as the Miserere was intoned, a psalm pleading God’s forgiveness for sins committed in the year, 1957. Then, followed another ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, heartfelt thanksgiving for its graces.

Just as the tower bell gonged midnight, the Jesuit celebrant began Mass, in union with the praying church all over the world. No matter the blight of racial integration in our country, no matter Sukarno’s expulsion of the Dutch from Indonesia, no matter the world’s excesses—deep Peace’s embrace revealed another realm and we were in it.

I’ve never forgotten that night.

At 6:40 A.M., I awoke with this hilarious dream:

I’m visiting a new friend in Rome, Italy, the October morning shadowing our steps toward the square thronged with shoppers. We buy food, then climb aboard her double-seated Vesta and set off for the day—a new experience for me.

In no time, we’re roaring down country roads, my friend’s thick blond hair snaking around her red helmet, the same color as her Vesta. Her heavyset body sways with the turns of the dirt roads, and I with her, holding her girth between my arms. Merriment exudes from her spirit like splashing spring waters. My mouth aches from laughter.

Beneath ancient water chestnut trees near an abandoned farm, we stop. The hilarity continues as she tears apart baguettes, then offers me Brie cheese, with red grapes and wine. Even the ravens, strut in tall grasses nearby.

The dream’s setting, Rome, Italy, suggested the center of Christianity into which I was initially enculturated until directed to search deeper for the Cosmic Christ in all of creation. Dire compliance of the rules and regulations no longer drew fire.

October morning spoke of bright aging filled with even deeper opportunities for learning prior to my transition.

The new friend revealed Precious God, disguised as a swarthy French laborer, intent upon opening me to the laughter of living: She smelled of earth. She swept the floors of my closed mind and threw open its grimy windows to another world, the one that awaits me. No longer was it appropriate to grieve my diminishment—just watch it happen and let it go. To strengthen my resolve, she also offered me communion. And she’s still in the driver’s seat.

Composing this blog still evokes laughter …

“Here, I brought this for you to wear. It’s cozy and warm—One of our volunteers made it for our patients. They’re always doing such nice things for us,” said Christina, the CNA assigned to me for the night. Then, she handed me a white flannel gown with prints of small red cardinals perched upon bare branches.

Because last Friday night’s storm had knocked out the electrical power in my home, its restoration being uncertain, I obtained a respite bed at Evelyn’s House, the BJC freestanding hospice facility where I availed myself of their oxygen and nebulizer treatments for my lungs. I hoped to make my transition from this facility and welcomed the experience of its services. I was not disappointed.

Seasoned and skilled staff, still masked for protection from Covid, welcomed me and promptly came to my assistance when needed. Their responses to my questions orientate me to the facility and my private guest room with its tasteful framed prints affording colors of the outdoors. A large window and a glass-paneled door looked out upon the private patio with an iron table and chairs, a bird-feeder, a lush meadow with four-year old-trees, the age of this facility. Two fauns spent much of Saturday afternoon with me.

Covid restrictions kept me in my room where I continued my exercises, read 1776, the historical novel by David McCullough, and prayed for those around me. Not a sound from anywhere did I hear, those twenty-four hours I was there.

And during the night, the cardinal-print nightgown contoured my body with cushiony warmth. I’m grateful for my stay at Evelyn’s House, there being only sixteen guest rooms for the use of the entire BJC system. 

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