Sunday, July 12, 2015

CHAPTER 1: THE PATH LESS TAKEN

Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts


I WALK INTO THE ROOMFUL OF CHILDREN, who were orphaned like me, and sat at the center of their make-shift stage. My delighted eyes scanned the innocent faces in front of me, and like how I always feel around people who have the same in experience as me, I saw angels with broken wings, struggling to rise up and carry the burden placed upon their feeble little shoulders. Though my heart instantaneously broke, I still smiled and carried on with our activity.
"Last week, Cathy was fortunate enough to find a new family. God really is great and may He bless their newly formed family. Let us say a little prayer."

I bowed and was copied by all children. I did the sign of the cross and spoke clearly:

"Lord God, thank you for the blessing You have given Cathy last week. It will be a new start for her, and we all pray that You will guide her and bless her like we know You would. You have sacrificed Your only son just to save us all. That is how much You love us, and that is why Your son Jesus carried the cross so that none of us would ever do it again.

"Father God, today, twenty-four more children are carrying the same cross in their little shoulders. We all pray that You may bestow upon them again Your eternal love and let them settle with families that will love them, like You did with Cathy. But we know, in Your perfect plan and perfect time, You will do just that.

"Thank You Lord for everything.

"In Jesus' name, we pray ..."

"Amen," chorused by everyone. I did the sign of the cross again, and so did the children.

"All right, now, this activity is much like the others. I know Sister Christine has taught you this morning the story of Noah and his ark. I want you to pair in groups of three to discuss what your favorite part of the story was, and how you interpret it."

Groups soon began forming. Not too far away I saw Lindsay, the latest addition to the group, pouting about the way she was not being asked. I walked towards her, and smiling, I knelled in front of her.

"What's the matter sweetie? Can't find a group yet?"

She didn't speak.

I immediately understood that she still hadn't recovered passed her isolation, and was still unable to grasp the idea of the other children smiling about whilst she was wallowing in sorrow about her parents' passing. It is the hardest part of being recently orphaned – it is hard to reconnect with people, hard to live life outside rather than stay inside their heads, and hard to forgive themselves for remaining alive while their parents suffered death. Everyone's cases is different, but usually the process involves pain, then hatred, and would turn to self-blame if not properly dealt with. I scanned the children around me, searching for an incomplete group.

"You see Sarah and Carla over there?" I pointed at the two girls who were already discussing their task without completing their group of three. "They need another group-mate, so I suggest, you go to them and ask them if Noah's son Hem had his own family."

Curling her brows in confusion, she asked, "Hem?"

"Yes, Hem. He is alone at first, you see. The girl he was supposed to marry died right before his eyes."

She gasped. "Sister Christine didn't say that."

"Well, aren't you curious to know?" She bit her lip in contemplation. I waited for her to answer whilst displaying an encouraging smile, until she finally voiced her true concern.

"What if they don't like me?"

"You can always group with me." Her eyes grew just a fraction - the idea I have expressed seemed to appeal to her. "But only, if they say 'no'," I added.

Still looking troubled, she sat with her head on her knees, hugging her legs. Seeing her curl into a ball, I knew at that instant that her pain was deeper than what our simple discussion could cure.

I knew that I needed to do something about it.

"I'll let you in on a little secret." Showing a bit of curiosity, she casted a shy look up to my face. "I once almost burned the whole church."

Her look of shock made me laugh.

"The first time I got here," I continued, "I thought everyone was scary. I avoided them on purpose. One time, I accidentally lit a blanket on fire and the smoke enveloped our room, alerting all our superiors. When the fire was put out, they asked who started it. I couldn't answer - afraid I would be thrown out to the streets again. And guess what happened?"

"What?"

"Sister Christine told everyone she did it."

She gasped.

"What happened to her?"

"She got punished because of it. She was forbidden to go out our quarters for three days."

"But why did she take the blame?"

"Later that afternoon, I came to her to ask her why she told everyone she did it, and confessed I was the one at fault. Do you know what she said?"

"What?"

"She told me, in her exact words, 'Now you talk. If I didn't do it, your saliva will rot by not talking to anyone.'"

Her lips twitched to a small smile. It was a big enough step against her somber expression.

"Because of that, we became the best of friends. You don't want to burn a blanket and have someone get punished first before you gain friends, don't you?"

She shook her head in a "no."

"If that’s the case, those new friends are waiting." I gestured with my head towards the two girls.

It took Lindsay a second before finally deciding to face her fears. As she stood up, my heart melted upon witnessing her simple show of strength.

With new found determination, she walked purposefully to the two girls. Upon reaching them, she whispered quietly but clearly what I told her to ask them. The two girls took a moment to digest what she said before Sarah, the girl on the left, scooted closer to Carla and seemed to ask Lindsay to join their group.

Lindsay's shy smile showed how touched she was by the offer. It, in turn, made me smile.

The activity ended without much episode – the only heated argument was when Greg and John debated why the snakes were let inside the ark – and the children all returned to their quarters with new learning about God's divine wrath and how people were punished because of it.

And of course, it ended with Lindsay finally gaining friends.

"A penny for your thoughts?"

Jolting in surprise, I turned towards Mother Emilia and was greeted by her knowing smile.

It was after two in the afternoon. I was seated on the bench of the Cathedral's garden. All my musings were focused on the earlier events as around me, the wind dances with the flowers and the leaves. Mother Emilia took a seat beside me.

"Mother Superior, I'm just ... There's just something I don't understand."

"Pray tell."

I bit my lip in hesitation. With a short glance at her open face, my courage to talk was slightly fueled.

"I know life isn't fair, and God made it so, and suffering was created to bring compassion, and that all makes sense. But what I don't understand is why suffering always happens to innocent people. What is their sin?"

Her fond smile grew with every word I spoke until it was so big on her face when she spoke next.

"Ah, I see. You have those questions. And I am assuming, since you've been thinking about this for a while now, you have at least formulated some answers in your head, right?"

"Guesses, mother, not answers," I corrected. "One guess is that God tests people to see if after all of their suffering, they would still be loyal to him, like the story of Job."

The kind Mother gingerly took both my hands in hers, looking deep into my eyes which contain the color that she named me from.

"Everyone gets tested, Amethyst, not only a select few. And only after death do we get judged."

"Well then, why punish them?"

"You said 'guesses'. I assume you have more than one guess?"

I bit my lip again in another hesitation.

"It's just ... it's ridiculous."

"I'll be the judge of it."

I exhaled loudly.

"Well, you know how God is alone up there?" I gestured upwards with my head. "I just think that maybe, sometimes He feels lonely so he makes us do things for His sole entertainment."

The moment I was finished, a laugh broke from the mother's lips. I blushed, feeling embarrassed at the ridiculousness of my answer.

"No one can attest otherwise, so I guess your hunch is still safe."

"I'm sorry mother." My blush was deepening in shade by the second.

"No need to feel sorry for being curious." She fondly stroked my cheek. "And to answer your question," she added, "I think, Amethyst, that God creates suffering to strengthen us, not to punish us. He never punishes. He only makes us realize what things are important to us and to always cherish them so that one day, we can be stronger, able to fight any storms thrown in our lives. Because by then, we know what are the things we could not live without. By then, we know what to fight for."

Hearing her explanation made me feel significantly smaller in wisdom compared to her.

Shaking my head, I muttered, "I have much to learn."

"Much, that’s true. But no need to worry now. In time, all your questions will have answers. And you wouldn't need someone to answer them for you anymore; in time, you’ll get to answer them by yourself."

"When is that going to happen, mother?"

"Maybe next week?"

Confused by her instant response, I asked, "What do you mean?"

She removed her hand from mine to retrieve something from the pocket of her habit. Once she handed it to me, I saw that it was a letter encased in an envelope.

I immediately tore the envelope open to see what the letter inside says.

I hadn't even read half of its contents before suddenly, Mother Superior started speaking again to explain it to me.

"That letter is from our Bishop David Fischer. It's about your mission. The time has come for you to go out and change the world. You know how this works."

Not believing my ears, I uttered the explanation that has been explained to me over and over since the day I have decided to train as a nun.

"I'll be out there for months - could be years, depending upon your instructions - and do the mission you want me to carry out until you feel I have gained enough experience to come back."

She nodded solemnly.

"That always depends if after going out there, you still would want to come back."

Upon this news, a mixture of emotions started brewing inside of me: On the one hand, I was thrilled - giddy, even - to finally reach this stage, which was the last requirement I needed before I could start pursuing my career to be an official nun. It has always been a dream for me to help people and to change their lives.

On the other, I was terrified.

I didn't have much knowledge of how the world works.

What if I couldn't last a week? What if I meet dangerous people? And worse, what if, after all that I have served and stayed at the church, I really am not fit to be a nun?

The answers to my questions now lie on my hands.

"I'll leave you to your thoughts. I’m sure this is too much for you to digest, but I hope I'll have an answer tomorrow morning. Always remember, if you think you're not yet ready for your mission, you can always tell us. We'll postpone your travel." And possibly leave doubt on my capability to be a nun.

"Where am I assigned?"

"In New York."

With that said, she finally left me alone to mule over what we had conversed.

I've always lived my church life in the town of Woodinville, Washington. Since the day Mother Superior found me lurking in the streets of Seattle, with my sad state of grease and dirt, asking alms for my growling stomach a total of eighteen years ago, and took me in her care, I've never step foot outside of the church long enough to familiarize myself of the modern world. I remember life being cruel even then to a five-year-old child me, but still, I was a kid and didn't know much.

But now, I was no longer a child.

Now, society already views me as an adult.

And now, I was in more danger than when I was a beggar.

Nevertheless, this is the path that I have always followed. This has always been how I imagined myself as - a nun, touching lives and serving people like what Mother 

Superior and Sister Christine do. And my bus ticket to this challenging journey lies literally on my palms.

So as I thought about these at night, I realized that I already know where I will find myself next week. I just hope that New York is as splendid as how it was described in the song.


(to be continued...)

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