“And if the calling is true, though we may not have gone where we intended, we will surely end up where we need to be.” — Steve Goodier
“Ma, I want to be a nun,” I said. “I’m going to enter a convent.”
I sat across from my mom in the restaurant of the J.L Hudson department store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The busy restaurant, a favorite of women shoppers, buzzed with feminine energy, soprano laughter, and soft, musical voices. A crumbled brown leaf rested in the aisle next to the table against the highly polished white oak parquet floor, probably a remnant from a patron’s shoe.
Florescent lights poured bright white radiance over the small booth where we sat, surrounded by bright green philodendron cascading out of planters that sat about six inches above us on the half-wall that surrounded our table. Aunt Irene, my mother’s sister-in-law, who worked at the restaurant, had just finished taking our order: two Maurice salads, a menu specialty of shredded lettuce, sweet pickles and small chunks of swiss cheese topped with a creamy, tangy dressing, along with two diet Cokes, no ice for Ma, lots of ice for me. Block glass walls that sectioned off groups of booths preserved the airy lightness of the place and provided privacy. Figures beyond the glass wall behind my mother looked wavy and surreal, refracted by the shape of the blocks.
Ma was pretty and looked at me through glasses that protected her dark brown eyes. We shared the condition of lazy eye and astigmatism. I was too vain to wear glasses. At 40, she was twenty years older than me, but could have easily been taken for my sister. Her dark brown hair was naturally peppered with bright white streaks and had been that way since her early 30s. My stomach was clenched in a tight knot, waiting for her reply. What she thought of me was terribly important and I wanted her to understand how important this decision was. She was a devout Catholic and I had expected her approval.
“I just don’t see that as the right life for you, Linda,” she said. “I don’t see you happy in it. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
The bustle and banter of the restaurant continued, but for me it stopped. A dream I had harbored for many years had just evaporated, fizzling like a dud firecracker that sparks and just as quickly fades to weak smoke. Grief squeezed my heart and I cried.
My mom, mistaking my reaction, backtracked, “Linda, it’s okay,” she said. “If that’s what you want you know your Dad and I will support you. It’s just that I always saw you with children, you have such a way with them, they’re just drawn to you. You will make a wonderful mother and wife. I know it hasn’t happened yet, but don’t give up.”
She was right. I did love children and yearned for them. I ached for a man to share life with. As much as I hated it, I knew my mother had spoken truth, acknowledging an inner knowing I fought.
My vocation might have been nothing more than an identity created by impatience. It might have come from a sense of duty. It might have rested in naïve perceptions of the religious life. It might have been that I saw the convent as the sole way at that time to be a visible apprentice to God, to Wisdom. I bowed my head over the white china plate and shiny silverware. My hands grasped the sides of my chair, forcing my shoulders upward. I could see my waist-length strawberry-blonde hair resting against my hoodie. My eyes focused on the silver pull of the zipper two-thirds of the way up the metal threads. “You might be right, Ma,” I said. She had known more about me than I could admit to myself.
The question was not fully resolved. Several years later, I applied to enter an order of religious sisters that I admired. It took awhile for my application to process and by the time I met with the order’s director of admissions for an interview, I had “fallen in love” again. This time, my love was a tall, gorgeous hunk of an Irish young man with a wild, curly mane of hair and sparkling, deep blue eyes.
“I’ve tried to enter a convent three times and every time right before admission I’ve fallen in love with someone new,” I lamented, embarrassed, to the director, Sr. Dena, who had been my chemistry teacher in high school. She chuckled, took a quick sip of her coffee, and closed my file. “What a wonderful thing, Linda!” she said. “Have you ever asked yourself if that’s God’s way of guiding you? Maybe your service is wanted in another way. Maybe that’s wisdom.”
I would eventually see that all paths are spiritual and that there are many, many ways to bear witness to the formless spiritual energy, the intelligent love, behind life.
I truly still do not know what to call the path I chose. I have adopted titles – counselor, psychologist, life coach, mentor, spiritual guide – but none have felt entirely right or that they fully fit.
In my heart, maybe I am and always will be a nun, an apprentice priestess. I feel the greatest delight when I speak of Wisdom, through story, written words and simple conversations with fellow humans. There is no end to the beauty, truth and love to be found in our first home of formless Wisdom and in our second home, the lush dream, the natural world, we call Life.
So though I don’t know exactly what to call what I am and do now, I am sure I ended up exactly where I was meant to be.
Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D., a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, can be found at www.thedrspettit.com. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding and clinical experience in service to others. She is available for individual consultations. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.