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Two nuns and my second confession

  • 30 November 2010

Sister Anne Marie

It was in second grade that I discovered I could not see.This thought had never occurred to me in all my years.When Sister Anne spun suddenly to write on the board,Her rosary big as a halter desperately trying to catch upWith a clack and clatter like railroad cars, I leaned overTo one or the other of the kids near me to read what weWere supposed to know. Isn't that why God made rowsOf desks, so you had good sight angles in all directions?But she noticed, did Sister Anne. She noticed each of us.She was probably all of twenty. We thought her ancient.But she knew which boy could not read, not even a little,And which of us didn't actually forget lunch, and who isWearing his older sister's winter coat with the lapels cut.She sent me to the nurse one time, perhaps I had a fever,But the note she wrote said check his eyes. Yes, I read it.The nurse put it on the corner of her desk and I peered atIt later, worried I was being sent to Siberia or something.But that finished with me getting glasses, which changedEverything. The universe had edges! I never did recover.Imagine what it was like to put on spectacles, for the firstTime, after never seeing the clarity and geometry of it all.Imagine the jolt of absolute stunned delight. Imagine that,Just for a minute. All these years later I can't stop smiling.

Sister Dorita

Or, conversely, consider the nun we had for first grade.This was Sister Dorita, who had a stevedore's forearms.On the second day of school she hauled a bubbling boyNamed David into the air by his necktie. He hung there,Squeaking, as she explained things tersely. We gawked.He didn't seem much worse for wear when he achievedThis blessed earth again. We were all hugely impressedWith the ease of hoist and suspension. It never occurredTo us that David might have been humiliated and afraid.It never occurred to us that maybe Sister was frightenedAlso, scared of her temper, worried about losing control,Worried that she could not deliver anything of substanceTo these thirty holy creatures who seethed and wept andGaped at her, hungry for something they could not name.It never occurred to us that she was a girl in her twenties,Rattled and thrilled by her vows, terrified that she wouldNever find dear friends among her new sisters, frustratedBy the many overbearing priests like exasperating uncles,Wondering what would happen to