I still remember that as I arrived at the railroad station I saw a policeman standing there. I marched up to him and said, "Sir, could you please tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"
He grinned at me and said, "I sure don't know. Ask this one, " pointing to a Capuchin monk.
So I strolled over to the monk and again said, "Sir, can you tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"
He looked at me slightly amused and said, "Yes, you go down to the Salzach River and follow it upstream to the fourth bridge. Cross that bridge and you will see a red onion tower halfway up the hill. That is the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg, and they are the strictest around here."
I said "Thank you" and found my way.
In less than an hour I rang the bell and asked to see the boss. I have to laugh now when I think back on those days, because I certainly didn't know the proper way in which to address the people. I didn't know that you said "Father" to a priest and "Reverend Mother" to a nun, and not "sir" and "boss".
I was ushered into a room and, to my great amazment, it was partitioned in half by a big grill. Rather amused, I marched up and down in front of it. Hanging on the other side were oil paintings of abbesses long gone.
I had to wait quite some time before the door opened and in came a small frail nun with a cross on her chest, a big ring on her slender finger, and the kindest eyes that have ever looked at me.
After searching for a moment, a very dear voice said, "What can I do for you, my child?"
Now here I was straight from the glaciers, brown as milk chocolate. Over my left shoulder I still had the coil of ropes. On my back I had a very heavy knapsack. In my right hand I had an ice pick with which I stood like Napoleon, pronouncing, "I have come to stay!"
The meek and mild voice inquired, "Has somebody sent you, my child?"
I reared up to my five feet seven and a half inches and said, "Ha, if anybody had sent me, I wouldn't be here. I haven't obeyed anybody yet."
After these momentous words I was really and truly received into the Benedictine Abbey. The Reverend Mother must have had some other reason than the ones I gave her for taking me in. She never told me why I was admitted. As I look back on it now I cannot understand it because everything was set against it.
There at the abbey started two momentous years of my life.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Would you have admitted her?
Today I arrived home to a brown paper package sitting on the counter for me. It was a used book I'd ordered from half.com for a few dollars: Maria, by Maria von Trapp. Her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, was published in 1949 and was the book on which The Sound of Music was based. Maria is a sort of sequel, published in 1972 and expanding on the story, offering lots more autobiographical information. We learn that she was an orphan, that she had a most unhappy childhood being raised by a distant relative who often beat her (he later died in an insane asylum), that she dumped her childhood faith but picked it up again at the end of her college years after a rather remarkable encounter with a Jesuit, and that one day when she was hiking on a glacier she saw a glorious sunset, asked God how she could repay Him for such a wonderful creation, and determined that the greatest thing she could do would be to join a convent. She left the hiking trip at once and grabbed the nearest train to Salzburg. That's the setup; here's the excerpt: