One of the final frontiers that remains a mystery to mankind is the inner space of dreams. What exactly is the practical, evolutionary purpose of dreaming or its metaphysical, spiritual role? I’d love to know. What I do know is that artists have often been inspired to creation by their dreams. Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed to have dreamed the words to his classic poem “Kubla Khan,” and Paul McCartney woke one night with the tune to “Yesterday” playing in his head. Me? I just have strange ones.
For example, last night I dreamed I was standing in the parking lot outside of the St. Mary’s football facility while every Sister of Notre Dame I had in elementary through high school marched past me toward the Catholic cemetery next door. I’m no oneirocritic – one who interprets dreams (Look it up; it’s a real word.) – but it may have been a commentary on my football coaching career or possibly some kind of dire prediction regarding the future of the Catholic Church, or, most likely, neither of the above but just some fetishistic repression breaking out of the basement of my unconscious mind, which is just about as Freudian as I’d like to go here.
The sisters from my earliest school days were dressed in full black, ninja-like habits with only their faces bared. Others were in the more modern, grey, midi-length habits. I recognized each of them. There was Sister Mary Cristela, who we referred to as Sister Mary Elephant from the Cheech and Chong bit of the same name; Sister Mary Claver, my second grade teacher; Sister Berneta, the accordion-playing, while roller skating English teacher; Sister Vivette, a statuesque woman of both a beautiful mind and visage; and many others.
The impression I’ve carried with me throughout the day, however, is what amazing people were the majority of them. As in any profession, there were good ones, and there were not so good ones, but in general, they were the truest servants of the god in which they believed and of the children to whom they ministered that I have ever known. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t fully noticed them, much less appreciated them, when I was in their charge, but maybe that was intentional on their part as humility was their most sacred attribute.
I’ll never forget my one foray into the convent that was attached to the school. I can’t remember on what errand I’d been sent into this inner sanctum, but I remember feeling great trepidation, a bit like Frodo delivering the Ring to Mordor or Sir Galahad in Castle Anthrax in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My experience inside the nunnery, however, could not have been more unlike either of those two adventures.
What struck me most then and remains most starkly with me today was/is the Spartan conditions in which the sisters lived: a communal kitchen; tiny rooms with single beds and a desk; few personal mementos in the room; if there was a television in the place, I didn’t see it; and a shared automobile for the occasional errand or outing. It’s difficult not to think of Luke 14:33: “Each of you who does not give up all he possesses is incapable of being my disciple.” I compare this with the lifestyle of the priests in their rectory attached to the church across the way, which I also had occasions to enter: large, well-furnished bedrooms/studies; a garage with personal automobiles; a cook, secretary, and a maid; golf outings and regular meals out with well-positioned parishioners, and it didn’t take me long to know who lived the more beatitudinal lives.
I’m fully aware that Catholic priests do not take the same vows as sisters; however, I also know the advantages of patriarchy when I see them. I think, in some primordial way, these juxtaposed visitations marked the beginnings of my adult feminism. I hadn’t thought of those heroic women, really, ever until they marched through my dreams last night. Maybe that’s at least one of the purposes of dreams: to remind us of those to whom we owe so much but whom we never bothered to notice or to express our appreciation to when we had the opportunity.
With that in mind, I’d like to say thank you to all of the good sisters who played such a significant role in my and so many others’ formations. For those still with us, I hope your god blesses you abundantly in your golden years, and for those already passed, I hope you have moved into a heavenly rectory with large screen televisions, queen-sized beds, fully-stocked refrigerators, and priests to act as your personal assistants.
I really hope I haven’t made too many grammatical errors in this post, or Sister Lenarda will be waiting for me with a ruler when and if I meet her in the next go around.
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