An Impossible Silence


There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.

- Luke 12:2-3



For me and my sister postulants, the letters we received each Saturday, and the ones we wrote back twice each month, were the lifeline between the convent and our old lives. The Sisters did not make personal phone calls, emails, texts, or Facebook posts. We had only the words recorded on the page, delayed by distance and time.

The good letters brought me happiness and delight. My new nephew arrived in February! My little sister got engaged on April 7! These messages went on the novitiate prayer board, where they were exalted and cherished. My sisters saw my good news, and rejoiced with me.

But when a hard letter came—no rose-colored glasses, no sugar coating, no nonsense—it brought me ruin. The destruction of my disordered thinking, my interior lies. Letters that pierced my heart like a knife, cutting me open so I could bleed. So I could feel.

I received two such letters.

The first arrived in spring 2013.


The Letter


The letter came on a rainy day in late April. After reading it, I went to perform my Saturday postulant duty in the classroom hallway. The morning’s letter played over and over again in my head as I mopped the old wooden floors.

After I discovered the true source of my back pain, I wrote my friend Sarah* at home about it, to see what she remembered. I wanted answers. If I could recall everything that happened that day, and understand why…maybe I could heal.

Sarah wrote me back within a couple of weeks. She remembered that day in winter 2000, and was shocked to learn the connection between that event and my back pain.

“I had often wondered about where your back pain originated…But I’m sure the physical pain does not compare with the emotional pain you must have suffered,” she wrote.

The emotional pain… My hands tightened around the mop as I wrung out the soapy cords. Every time my back pain flared up, it was accompanied with feelings of guilt and shame.

That’s the part I hate the most. Yes, my back problem was frustrating. But it was my sense of guilt, and not simply the back pain, that at last made it so unbearable, I’d finally asked Sister Anna for help.

If it was just physical pain, I could live with it, I reasoned. But this other thing, this emotional wound…isn’t it time for me to let it go?

My thoughts returned to the letter. Sarah began by explaining the struggles and anxieties of that year, then described that day in winter 2000.

I recreated the scene in my head like a play: the setting, characters and plot. The entrance and exits. I was seated on the couch, at the party. We were laughing, relaxing. Then, the door opening, and the biting cold. Then—

Everyone turning, watching. Silent, or speaking words I never heard.

“Please don’t think that any of it was your fault,” Sarah wrote.

The words landed with no impact. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it.

“I know with all my heart how much they love you”, my friend continued.

Ah. The contradiction. I both felt and believed this one. I loved them, and they loved me.

The person who had hit me, loved me.

I plunged my mop into the wash bucket, wrung it out again with wordless fury.

How could that be? I demanded. And why?

My brain provided its go-to answer. Because there’s something wrong with you, Mary. Because you’re useless garbage nothing give up go away disappear

But Sarah had written, and my common sense told me, that this wasn’t my fault. The person had apologized afterwards, and I forgave them. Still, the feeling of guilt remained.

I dragged the bucket of water off the floor, swung it a few paces back, dropped it again with a weighty clunk. Soapy water splashed my forearms, then ran down my bare skin like tears.

If it wasn’t my fault…then why?

The question spun in maddening circles around my head, fan blades slicing through every other thought.

I won't think without You, I prayed. My agitation persisted.

Oh Lord, I need to talk to someone! As a postulant, I usually found the convent’s silence difficult. Today, it seemed impossible.


It all happened so long ago, when I was 14. Why was it bothering me now?

Because this letter makes it real. That morning I’d held my friend’s letter physically in my hands. I’d read her eyewitness account of that day, and her careful fidelity to the facts. My wound was not just in my head, and this letter proved it.

I sighed and rubbed my face with my sleeve. My friend had written about this situation with such kindness, I felt ashamed for having asked her about it. I hated having dragged her into my own mess.

I wanted to be healed, but not at the expense of those I loved. Wasn’t it better to just leave the past alone?

For 12 years I had tried to forget about that day, with zero success. The solution was not to ignore or negate it, but to accept it. I had to go through it to reach the other side. So I could heal.

Rain pattered against the classroom windows. I knew the Lord wanted to heal me, but I had no idea how to get started.

If only I could talk to someone!

I had my conference with Sister Anna last week, and I wouldn’t meet with her again for another month. She had 70 other sisters to take care of, besides me.

And I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk to a friend about this, not even Sister Lucia. This was something deep and personal, not the kind of charity-building, community dialogue encouraged by the Sisters. I needed to talk, but I also didn’t want to break the Rule.

O Lord, I prayed, I can’t make this journey alone. Please stay with me. Be my teacher, counselor, friend!

#


*Name changed.


Thank you for reading. This story was originally posted on Friday, February 25, 2022. I decided to repost it today, now that I am working on its follow-up post. Please visit the site in a few days for more of the story! :)


Also, make sure to check out my latest posts on Life After Convent blog!

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