The Sister, My Friend
Recently I had occasion to go back to my home state, as I like to call it. I have not lived there for nearly two decades, but I suppose the place where you are born and live much of your life will always be “home.” As they say, it is where you are from! No matter where you are now, that is the place where you are from.
I was not going to the place where I actually was from. I had to go to the state capitol for a funeral. Of course, this funeral had not been part of my plans. Funerals seldom are part of anyone’s plans. Maybe it is not even in the plans of any of us living; we know we will die, but we don’t plan to! Sometimes those folks in a good hospice program are now planning to die. That is what I would do it I have the kind of death that comes with my knowing it and having the grace of some time to plan to die.
However, the funeral was for a beloved woman who had helped me and my community in so many key ways. She had lived a quiet, non-egotistical life and made everyone around her better in so many ways. For quite a few years, she made my role as a leader much more effective. She made me look good. I got the credit; she got very little, if anything. But she was happy and never complained.
I arrived in the state capitol hours before I had to be there. It is a city I know fairly well. There is much to see and to do, but I was not there as a tourist. I was not in the mood for entertainment or even excitement. The death of a friend is a solemn occasion. I was preparing to celebrate her life, but that celebration would not be a party. As I drove into the city limits, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. There is a Benedictine monastery there and I knew the sisters would not mind me strolling the monastic grounds.
I figured the monastery was a perfect place for me to bask in the solemnity of the occasion. I only know moderately well one of the Benedictine sisters, but I had not really gone there that day to see her. It was the place, not the person, that I wanted. Besides it had been some considerable time since I had seen or talked to her. I parked the car and stepped on to the sidewalk. Rather aimlessly, I headed down the sidewalk toward a grove of trees that had a couple statues.
After some time imbibing the lovely sunshiny day, I decided I would head to the chapel. Even though I am not Catholic, I love hanging out in a chapel or even Catholic Church. They do it so differently than my Quaker tradition that I feel richly blessed by that environment. Since it is a Benedictine place, I knew they would welcome me. Hospitality is a signature of the Benedictine folks. That is partly why I appreciate them so much.
I walked in and was aware there were a couple sisters cleaning and preparing the chapel for the upcoming worship events. They invited me in and were worried that they would annoy me. I laughed because I was more concerned that I would mess up whatever they were doing. So I sat down and tried to be unobtrusive. It was not too long before one of them approached me.
She asked if I needed anything, which I did not. She asked if I wanted to talk to anyone. That was not necessary and told her I only knew one of the sisters. But I am not looking for her, I added. I had come to know her when I was doing some consulting work for a university in that town and she was doing some teaching. I mentioned her name and the Benedictine sister laughed and said, “Oh, she is our prioress now.”
Pretty soon the sister to whom I was talking disappeared and soon came back with the prioress. She approached me and gave me a big hug. I laughed; I don’t get hugged by nuns every day! In true hospitable fashion she suggested we go get some coffee and chat. It was a good time of re-connecting and getting up to date on each other’s life. I thought: here we are two people who are different in so many ways, but each trying to know what God wants and then do it.
Over coffee a friendship had been rekindled. We did not need anything from each other nor were we offering anything. It was simply the joy of the moment. We were in that moment. It was simple: a cup of coffee, interest in each other, careful listening to each other’s story and prayerful appreciation for the gift that we were given in the moment. It was simple.
As I reflect on the experience, I am grateful for what happened. I realize I had put myself in the place of possibility by going to the monastery. I did not go with expectations, but I always am trying to be open and receptive to what might happen. When the prioress appeared, I did not see her as the Benedictine boss, which she clearly is. Rather she became again the Benedictine sister I know and the friend I value.
It is pretty arrogant to think what she and I managed in the moment can be the paradigm for world peace and harmony. But maybe it is. If I and everyone else can come to see each other as brothers and sisters and if we can make friends of each other, then we’ll have it. It may not be paradise, but it’ll be close.