Friday, September 23, 2005

How Long, O Lord?

We are, right now in my community, at a time of great heaviness. Our "old" sisters in the infirmary are doing great, while our "young" sisters are getting diagnosed with cancer left and right, it seems. We've had two deaths in less than a week; at the same time, though, we've had spans where we've had more deaths in less time.

But it's different when they're old and sick and in the infirmary and you kind of "expect" them to go. But young, vibrant, and full of life (or at least freshly retired)?

Every time I try to list off all our sisters who are right now actively being treated for cancer, I can't. I always forget this one or that one -- because it seems like there are too many. And I'm not talking cancer survivor, or even someone who finished treatment three months ago; I'm talking about "Having an appointment with Doctor So-and-So on Monday for either chemo or radiation or surgery or all of the above."

In the Benedictine order, every monastery is an independent and autonomous entity, and community is everything. What that means for me is that my monastery in Indiana is the home base to which I return for classes, meetings, celebrations, holidays, and whatever else. (It's like when I was in college -- my dorm was "home," but I always went "home" to Maryland for vacation.) What that also means is that, of the just-under-200 women in my community, I have to various degrees friendships and relationships with all of them.

Which means that there are always a whole heck of a lot of people around me at any given point in time who love me, care about me, support me, encourage me, laugh with me, laugh at me, hug me, poke me, tease me, trust me, teach me, guide me, advise me .... and basically help me discover what "me" is, and offer the free space for me to grow into that "me."

The flip side of that, though, is that a whole heck of a lot of people find their way deeper into my heart than I would otherwise experience. Which means that there's a whole heck of a lot of potential for a whole heck of a lot more heartbreak and loss than I would otherwise experience.

Saint Benedict tells us to "Keep death daily before your eyes" .... but is this really what he meant?

I hear talk all the time during this "vocation shortage" about religious communities that are "dying out" .... but I thought that referred more to communities where the population is just getting older and older without any new folks coming in, not ones that are getting new members but are having their mid-range members get knocked out of commission from major illness.

We're talking preschool teachers, pastoral associates, high school librarians, physical therapists .... Heck, less than a year ago, we were training in a new formation director (whose job is to train in all of us new kids). She was working with our new postulant, shifting over with the novices, and getting broken in on all the nitty-gritty details that you don't necessarily think of. Now, less than a year later, right before we celebrate Vespers of the Dead for one sister, the prioress tells us that this very same formation director of ten months ago is going to move into the infirmary, that Hospice is being called, and that her parents will be coming in from the Pacific Islands where they live.

It's getting so we don't even want to open e-mails from the prioress ....

One sister tonight made the comment: "All the old sisters who want to die can't, and all the young sisters who want to fight and live...." and I just added the "can't" for her.

And I know there's a lesson in all this, that we will all pull together and appreciate one another more, and I know Benedict wants us to always be conscious of our own mortality and to recognize that there's more to life than this world, but ......

What good will teaching me to appreciate my community do if there's no community left by the time I learn it?

Enough already, God, please ..... we get the point.


Anonymous jeana said...

Amen, sister. I've had enough too. As each of these folks work their way deeper into my heart, the heartbreak gets worse. I guess it just makes me realize how much it will hurt when my own really REALLY beloved people die... and how much more I need to love them now, just in case.

9/23/2005 10:48 PM  
Anonymous jeana said...

Thought number two: I just talked to my brother about it all, and I told him to make some pretty music for me. At least music and art can transform pain into beauty. And that is almost a form of incarnating Christ again NOW, when we need him.

9/23/2005 10:56 PM  

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