“What I Was Supposed To Do”
DeAnn Louise Daigle AWW w/Marta 3/13/10
I felt I never pleased her because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do – and it stunned me when one of the sisters said to me at breakfast, where we were supposed to be silent in the Motherhouse refectory, “Just say what you think; just say what you believe.” Why had I been so stunned? Well, I was stunned and embarrassed because it occurred to me when she said this to me, that I’d always been afraid to say or think or believe the wrong thing, the unacceptable thing. Like wow! Here was this very bold, very intelligent, funny and never-lost-for-words sister telling me now at twenty-nine years old that in essence I should be thinking and speaking for myself, not mouthing stuff to please others, whether they were the traditionalists or the progressive-thinking bunch with whom I now found myself surrounded.
Where was I in this foray? What stand, in fact, was I taking? Obviously, I was sitting with Sister M and company; a table I chose. And these folk wanted passionately to do away with silence – along tradition-bound practice in religious life – intended to extend the sacred space we had just left – early Mass in the chapel upstairs. The new theology was about recognizing that every space was sacred space and every act by human beings – the act of speaking itself – was sacred as well. I do think we were all a bit nervous, a bit intimidated by the long-standing-centuries-old tradition for keeping silence at breakfast. But, some of us were less afraid than others and were eager to move ahead into twentieth century new theology, which actually had its roots in the past. It was more interpretation that was happening rather than totally new theology, but a view to tradition in practicing what we felt was truly intended; what the Jesuit founder meant when he said seeing God in all things and all things in God. We were, as Sisters of Mercy, very much instilled by the teachings of the Jesuit tradition, and we up-and-coming young sisters were trying to do exactly that in our own way. Some of the older sisters also understood this; others were miffed to high heaven and just viewed us as impertinent and letting the secular society dictate to us a way of living that went against what we had been taught – what we knew deep down to be right.
It was a hot time! And tempers flew hither and yon at community gatherings and meetings. Professionals were brought in to teach us how to communicate with one another. Many sisters said nothing – kept so much inside and were confused. They feared that their whole lives had no meaning if all this change was happening around them. The Latin Mass, gone; the long floor-length habits, gone; going places in a car unaccompanied, gone! Their world seemed to be falling apart. So in came the enneagram and Myer-Briggs – instruments to help us come to know and understand ourselves. It seemed an insult to many – since for decades they’d believed they were the brides of Christ and were totally given to God – and that was enough. More impertinence!
But, what stunned me was my own inability to know myself and how for guidance I looked around me and though I knew deep down what was right and true for me – I needed concrete examples of others living out what I wanted to live out for myself.
So Sister M kicked me hard that morning at the refectory table, because I’d been looking to her and to Sister A and others as examples of how to live authentically my own truth in this topsy-turvy world of change.
My mother, my dear mother, had made it hard for me to know how to please her. She so wanted the best for me, but she stifled me too. Perhaps that’s why I so looked inward. I really don’t know. Being inward was my temperament also, I think. I was different from her yet I was like her too in some ways. We both loved beauty and balance and neatness and order. But, she felt distant to me too. When I was very young I felt she really didn’t want me around. If I’d said that to her later when I was older, I think she would have been very hurt. I don’t think she realized how dismissive she was of me. Now, I think she felt guilty a lot and perhaps ashamed too that she had committed such a sin and I was a constant reminder to her.
I know now how painful her life had been – not without its moments of joy, but, she lived with a sick man, an alcoholic and no one saw his behavior as an illness; it was seen then as something evil and bad that my father was doing, and my mother could do nothing about it. They loved each other and stayed together and lived in the struggle bereft of understanding – or maybe they did understand and accept their reality. My father, who was not my biological father, was a very kind man and not one who would have intentionally hurt anyone. My mother knew this. And when I grew angry with him, she advised me not to because there was nothing he would not do for me. He loved me so much, and I knew this to be true.
Maybe love does conquer all. The old cliché is profoundly true – perhaps.
And maybe all the turmoil we were experiencing in religious life had to happen in order for all of us to accept this truth once again.
It seems the turmoil that appears in personal life and in the life of society is a kind of earthquake, that forces us to come to our senses, to come to what really matters!