I almost became a nun.
(I don’t talk about religion very often on this blog, mainly because I don’t wish to alienate potential readers, but I kind of want to today. So, bear with me.)
I almost became a nun. As a kid, I was Southern Baptist and didn’t even understand what a nun was beyond Sound of Music and the idea that it was giving oneself totally to God.
(And when I say Sound of Music, I’m talking about that scene where Maria is late getting back to the convent and all the nuns are gathering for prayer. That haunting scene of them chanting and kneeling before the altar. That’s what I mean.)
I grew up, became hostile to a lot of things, Catholicism included, and lost the idea of becoming a nun. Then, when I was 20, my father died. Three days after that, my boyfriend broke up with me. These were the two most important men in my life and they were suddenly gone.
I went a little crazy for about three months. When the clouds started to clear, I felt adrift and lost but clear-headed in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. It was the sort of clear-headedness that leads to reevaluating life choices and situations. I realized I never really fit in with Southern Baptists. One thing led to another and I became Catholic. (This is the short-short version of a much longer story.)
And I wanted to be a nun again.
But I was half-hearted about it. I was torn between it and writing. I knew that if I became the sort of nun I wanted to be, which was the cloistered-never-seen-in-public kind, I would also never write again beyond letters and journal entries. And a part of me whispered, “Do you really want to be a nun for a higher purpose or are you just running?”
It’s really tough coping with the sudden death of a father. Put on top of that breaking up with a guy who, as far as you were concerned, carried the sun and moon in his pockets, and it can leave anyone afraid to move forward in life. While I didn’t have my first panic attack until around August of 2012, I was already showing signs of an anxiety disorder, and depression had haunted me for as long as I could remember. Those two things were not helping.
(Disclaimer: I am not saying at all that all nuns are running or hiding. I have met nuns who are so in love with God that being a nun was the only way for them to be themselves. I have met nuns who were heroes and saints in the making. There is so much more to being a nun, cloistered or active, than most people recognize.)
After college, the prioress of a Carmelite Monastery tried to encourage me to prepare myself for entrance. But I was so worried about how I was going to pay rent that making time for visits to a monastery three hours away was the last thing on my mind. That should have been a clue but I was too dense to see it.
A job under a misogynistic, Anglo-hating boss drove me to therapy for a short while. I began to understand how depressed and anxious I’d been of late. But I still didn’t clue into the fact that writing was my calling and not being a nun. It took a priest to do that for me.
There was this Burmese priest I went to for confession a lot. He was a really great guy. (He’s back in Burma now, bless his heart.) One day, during confession, he said to me, “You have no vocation. You are not called to be a nun.”
This priest was a very holy man. Like, you kept expecting statues to weep whenever he stood near them or something. So, when he told me that I had no vocation, I didn’t question it. But it did leave me devastated because it took away the last barrier between me and life. Was I going to move on and live or was I going to remain in that moment where I lost the two most important men in my life?
It took a few more years, two therapists, and prayer before I realized the following: I may not have a vocation (that is, a calling) to the religious life. But I have a calling to writing.
Writing is as much a way of life as it is to be a nun. There are plenty of sacrifices I need to make on a daily basis in order to do what I love to do. Like a nun, I get up early when I would rather stay in bed. Like a nun, I call upon silence and solitude as a daily part of my life. Like a nun, a certain level of poverty is required.
I also realized that the pain I endured ten years ago could be used for something other than fodder for depression. And not just that pain, but the pain and heartbreak I’ve suffered my whole life could be channeled into my writing. Whenever my characters are being stubborn about how they feel or are enduring loss or are having to suck it up for the greater good, I’m drawing on personal experience.
I am not claiming to have my whole life figured out. And I am not claiming that my writing is some sort of holy mission. But it’s an essential part of who I am. I just had to get a little lost and distracted first before I could find it.
Do you have any experiences regarding finding yourself or learning to deal with loss? Feel free to comment below.
Also published on Medium.