“We would rather be ruined than changed”
Sister Hope, as most called her, was always inscrutable to me; I felt much of her joy and most of her suffering, but something about her always remained a mystery after all. I came to know a few things about her, like her “real” name was “Verity”, and her friends – if she had any – probably would have called her “Vie” or maybe “Vera”. She seemed to me to be tall and slender, even slight, and it further seems to me she walked in flat shoes like an obese ballet dancer – light on her toes on happy occasions but heavy on her heels when she got rocked by some big event.
Like when her husband of thirteen months got killed in Afganistan while working to help with the UN. And the funeral and all. And where and how she grew up in some place before called Evanston, I think…like how different it was for her growing up almost having Everything – complete with an ice dispenser on the stainless frig door and all. There were maybe a dozen magnetic stickers littering it; pictures of all of them stunting at the Zoo, with frames: “Do More Of What Makes Zoo Happy” and her Mom’s favorite: The Harder the Winds, the Sooner They Pass” – stuff like that, most fortunately forgotten immediately after “Verity” moved away to go to Western where she met Doug who was a part time National Guardsman who would never get called up for real, and who died in the beginning of her new life. From then on, all she was sure of was that wherever she may be, she wanted to be safe. To be wherever she imagined must be “safe as heaven”. She wanted more than a room of her own, she wanted a safe room to roam. And she hoped the Church would deliver that freedom too.
“One has to find out if there is a discipline which is not conformity; because conformity destroys freedom, it never brings freedom into being”
Well, to make this short story mercifully shorter, Verity never quite recovered after the Death, and the zoo she grew up in no longer made her happy and she one day just left because she couldn’t stay, to take a clerks job at Kmart somewhere near town but which seemed a hundred thousand miles away. And she went to Church often because it was there she thought deeply about things, and didn’t worry so much. It was there, in the vestibule of Saint Anthony’s, immersed in a divine light that seemed to bathe her in a peace that came from a stained glass window of Saint Augustine, she first felt the comfort she sought. In fine, whatever else it was, it was for her a real savior; she’d never stopped thanking all that’s Holy for that just-in-time, personal ‘Resurrection. ’
The serenity that enveloped and enraptured her then and there was to suddenly transform and ultimately, transport her into – after much searching and pleading in prayer – committing herself body and soul to Mother Church in general, and The Order Of The Precious Blood in particular. At last, and for what seemed like a long time, this Sister was happy because fulfilled. Because at last she belonged, was cared for a lot, if not always loved, enough and often. She was Safe. Until the day she discovered she wasn’t. And perhaps never was or would be.
As a resolved Renunciate, Verity ascended in a spiral to become, within five years, “Sister Perpetual Hope.” She took her Vows and indeed, married Christ. Her new life in the Diocese kept her fully busy; she particularly liked teaching children. As she told me more than once when we were traveling by train to Sienna and Rome, “Children let me love them” Indeed, I can see now that all she ever wanted to do was that – love. And it was that searching that was to change her life and mine, again and yet, again.
“In words on mans forehead is written mans destiny. But God who writes that destiny is free from the bondage of words”
Sister Perpetual Hope, as part of her duties, was assigned a Community Coordinator role. Her calling included the writing and production of newsletters sent to the congregation at large. One summer day, we sat on a warm stone bench writing beside the Ponte dei Sospiri which, crudely rendered in English means ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ (pictured here.) I recall we were talking about the old Venice ‘city hall’ that backed on the canal there where official – often merely ceremonial – trials were held. We sighed with the story about the legions of convicts that had passed in chains over that beautiful bridge to the adjoining prison after being pronounced guilty. Anyway, something about that lost history inspired her and she decided to post a minimum size, twenty-two word ad in her newsletter, once. But once was enough:
NEED YOUR LOVE.
IF YOU CAN HELP FOUR HOURS A WEEK,
PLEASE CONTACT SISTER HOPE.
THANK YOU AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU.
You may well guess how this story goes! It was out of that one small act that one of the parishioners – David Preston – walked into the Sisters cloistered life. I won’t get into what he looked like, or what they said when they met, but hurry the story along to the result of their subsequent meetings – she fell deep into ‘the well of love’ She was hopelessly drowned. She adored the man, couldn’t keep him out of her prayers; she was afraid he belonged there.
“The unconscious is in the grip of destiny; it is destiny, in fact”
(End of Part 2. Final Part 3 will be posted here soon)