I entered the Sisters of Notre Dame on July 2, 1962. Several weeks before I left home, I received an anonymous letter. It was hand-written and five pages long. The person who wrote it tried to convince me to change my mind about becoming a nun. He/she wrote: “I want you to have my thoughts before you do something which, in my opinion, you might regret.” The rest of the letter gives several reasons why I should not enter the convent.
First reason: I was too young to make such an important decision. (I wasn’t quite 18.) I should wait at least five years until I had more life experience. In becoming a nun, I would be giving up my basic freedoms—what to do with my life, where to live, what to wear, etc. I would also deprive my family of my companionship. (We nuns were not allowed to go home in those days, and our visits with family were very restricted.) And finally, I would be giving up marriage, “one of the most sacred relationships in life” and having children of my own. These were all arguments I myself had raised as I struggled with my decision. But the desire to enter was stronger than these arguments.
Since I couldn’t have a conversation with the person who sent the letter, I wrote a response in my diary to the letter. Then I tucked the mystery letter in my diary, put my diary in a box with a few other items, left the box in my parents’ attic, and entered the convent. I never saw the letter again until many years later. And I always wondered: WHO wrote it? Obviously, it was someone genuinely concerned about me—and my family. The person was a good Christian, because he/she made several references to Jesus and his teachings. Was it a neighbor? A relative? One of my girlfriends? A former boyfriend? I never knew. Until now 56 years later. Here’s how I discovered who the author was.
A little while ago, I happened to get in touch with a “boy” from my old neighborhood. (He’s 76 now!) I’ll call him Joe. I once thought that perhaps his mother had written the letter or his older sister, “Donna”—or even he did. So in one of my emails I told him about the letter. He assured me he didn’t write it, but he remembers that my entering the convent “was the topic of conversation at many family dinner tables in the neighborhood.” He suggested I send him a sample of the handwriting to see if it was his deceased mother’s. I did. He responded immediately. It was not his mother’s handwriting. But he would check with his sister.
Donna assured him (and me) that she didn’t write the letter. But as soon as she saw the handwriting, she knew who did: her sister-in-law! Donna’s sister-in-law “Edith” (now deceased) lived across the road from us and next to Joe and Donna’s family. She was a good friend of my mother’s. I picture my mother talking with Edith and saying, that although my parents had given their consent for me to enter the convent, my decision was very difficult for them and our whole family. It was very hard “losing Dolly” so soon after graduation. Edith, being the good Christian and good friend that she was, took it upon herself to pen that letter.
So finally the mystery is solved. But in the solving, I had several thoughts:
* I was reminded that I had grown up in a great neighborhood. Though our houses were far apart, I recall Edith and her husband “Stan” sometimes stopping in just to chat with my parents. And we four kids were always taking vegetables from my Dad’s large garden to the neighbors or a loaf of my mother’s homemade rye bread. In addition, my mother always took “Agnes,” our next door neighbor, grocery shopping with her on Friday mornings because Agnes didn’t drive. Back then, neighbors knew each other and did favors for each other. Do neighbors still do that?
* And we neighborhood kids did things together too: we’d stand and wait for the school bus together every morning, go for hikes in the woods, hunt for crayfish in the creek, walk a mile to Foster’s (called G & L’s back then) on Route 6 for an ice-cream cone, ice-skate on one of the three ponds in our neighborhood, and play baseball, croquet, or horseshoes—usually on our huge front lawn or in our back fields.
* And finally, after solving this mystery, I prayed to Edith, thanking her for taking the time to write that letter 56 years ago. Her last sentence was this: “I pray that you will consider these things and do what is God’s will, but that before you do anything, be sure that you know what God really wills for you.” I wanted to write back to her: “Dear Edith, Thank you for your love and concern. I entered the convent 56 years ago. And I’m still a happy nun. I think this life was God’s will for me! Love, Dolly.”
Have you ever solved a mystery in your life?
Do you have any mysteries in your life that remain unsolved?
Do you have good neighbors where you live? Are YOU a good neighbor?
PS: I ask for your prayers for a retreat I will be leading September 30 to October 6 for the Holy Cross Sisters at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. Thank you very much!
Here is a beautiful song by Joy Zimmerman entitled “The Gift of Light.” (You can visit her website at www.joyzimmermanmusic.com.) She told me she asked people to submit images of hope and light and then she put them together for the video. The lyrics are not on the video, but here they are:
Every wondrous day may you pause to remember
All the gifts you have received,
The ones that you were given long before your birth,
And those that you receive each day on earth.
(Refrain) May you know the gift of love along the way
May you share the gift of peace this day
May you find the gift of hope to give away
May your spread the gift of light we pray.
Any responses to the story, the questions, the song?