I've been pretty darn busy trying to a) prepare for life in the convent in Italy, b) wrap up my life in California, and c) learn French. Here's a short summary of other stuff I've done recently.
August: Quit my job. My co-workers took me out for a really nice farewell dinner, and then threatened to follow me to Italy, find my order, show up at Mass, and shout, "Hi Rachel!" really loudly. :) A co-worker who's known me as long as I've been there told me he thinks it will all work out for me, because those last few weeks on the job I looked happier than he'd ever seen me. I was surprisingly emotional on my last day in the lab and got teary-eyed saying goodbye to people (and sea urchins). Behold the desk and the bench where I worked for nearly seven years:
Labor Day weekend: Had a great trip up to northern California. I stayed first with my college roommate, who now lives with her husband on acres of land in Sebastopol. She's got a guest room I've always liked with a real wood-burning stove; I'm sorry I probably won't get to stay there again. She invited up some other college friends and their significant others for dinner one night, and we had enjoyable conversation and they all wished me well. I was very glad the timing worked out for me to see her and our other friends one last time before I had to leave. To think I met them fourteen years ago when I was but a dumb eighteen-year-old! We all lived next to each other that memorable first year of college.
We ate well: pesto from home-grown basil, vegetables from the backyard garden, blackberry crisp from the berry bush out front, and for an appetizer... sawdust!
Actually it was frozen froth left over from apple cider making. Sebastopol is famous for its Gravenstein apples, tastier than any other variety I know but impossible to get in stores because they're too delicate to ship.
Then I headed to Corpus Christi Monastery where another former roommate of mine is now Sister Mary Isabel of the Angels, a contemplative Dominican nun. She's in her canonical novitiate year, which means she's supposed to be even more retired from the world than usual and only close relatives can visit her. But she asked her superiors to make an exception for me, in view of the fact that I'm leaving for my own order and this could be the last time in our lives that we'll be able to see each other. They granted permission and the other nuns made lunch for the two of us to eat together. It was so much food that we just stood and laughed for a while.
Then we spent hours eating and talking, both of us so happy to have been given the chance. She gave me the scoop on the various trials of her first year of religious life, and the advice her spiritual director gave her that helped her. We tried to get a picture of us together:
After that I headed down to Oakland, where the Institute of Christ the King has a parish named St. Margaret Mary. Here's their statue of the saint the church is named for. St. Margaret Mary was a nun of the Visitation, the order founded by St. Francis de Sales. The Adorers have copied the Visitation habit, which means that in most portraits of St. Margaret Mary (including this statue) she's dressed the way I'm going to be eventually. :)
Canon Moreau is the nearest Institute priest to me and he's the one who invited me to spend a few days in Oakland getting to know the parish. He set me up with a very hospitable family who hosted me in their gorgeous home, and I spent the better part of two days tagging along after him as he dealt with parish business and showed me the various places he works. It was fascinating. The highlight was when he took me to the chancery in downtown Oakland to meet Bishop Cordileone (!) and get his blessing (!!!) I got hit with holy water and everything; it was awesome. :) Bishop Cordileone is great to the Institute; he even travelled to Italy this past June to ordain some deacons for them. So pray for him, 'cause bishops have a hard job and are hated if they do it right.
The Oakland Cathedral was next to the chancery, so Canon Moreau and I toured it. Every cathedral has a cathedra, a big ol' chair for the bishop, topped with his personal coat of arms. I took this picture of Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone's coat of arms. The crab I'm told represents San Diego, where he's from. The lion with a heart represents his last name, and the carpenter's tools represent his middle name. Not sure about the star and the tree, but if it's the Christmas star and the Tree of Life they could be representing his first name. I need a coat of arms. But I digress.
Canon Moreau informed me that there was a girl from his old parish in Green Bay who decided to join the Adorers, and he took her to get blessed too (by the bishop of Green Bay) before she headed to the convent, "and she is still there." Looks like I'd better not break his streak!
After that lovely northern California tour, I got home, realized I had only six weeks left, and went into hyperdrive.
The rest of September: Mostly panicked preparations and stabs at learning French, but a number of people also invited me out for one last meal together, until my mom finally observed, "You've got a real racket going. You string them out one at a time!" It was good to have the time with them all. I had a long list of tasks like finding health insurance for a year and getting a copy of my (non) criminal record. And I thought it was ironic that preparing for a vow of poverty meant buying lots and lots of new clothes (shirts, shoes, sweaters, and a bunch of other stuff, all in dashing black and white.) It's what I'll wear as a postulant, and much of it will also be worn under my habit once I've got one.
One encouraging interlude involved talking with a girl from our parish who left to be a nun, stayed for eight years, and then left her order about a month before she was supposed to take final vows. Now she's back at the parish, figuring out where to go from here. I'd always figured that was the worst case scenario, but her story was wonderful, all about how perfectly God has led her. She'd really wanted to stay and make final vows-- "Leaving was the hardest 'yes' I ever gave to God." But she's just full of joy and peace. I wish you all could meet her. She's going to kick Satan's butt wherever she goes.
October: I'm even busier, and facing the fact that lots of stuff on my "Do before entering the convent" list isn't ever going to happen. I wish I had more time to just hang out with folks, go walking around my neighborhood at night, sit in the yard and read a book, do all the stuff I've loved doing in these first 32 years of my life. But I have pressing chores to finish. So whatever activities I failed to appreciate at the time won't have a chance to be repeated now-- no doubt there's a profound lesson in there somewhere.
Fortunately I have known for a long time that I was likely to be a nun, and especially in the last year or so I've been thinking, "This might be my last chance to do this... or that..." So although I have no time to savor things now, there's a lot that I've already said goodbye to. For example, I was right that two years ago was my last chance to go to Yosemite. Then last fall I was driving home from work right by my old high school, and I realized it was Wednesday night and the band would be practicing its field show. Probably my favorite high school memory is the way we used to march back to the band room after practice with the drums echoing incredibly loudly in the school hallways. It was magical, seriously; it felt like we were in another world, just floating along the hall, feeling the relief of having finished practice and the joy of esprit de corps, hearing nothing but the pounding drums, each section doing a little routine with its instruments. (The bass clarinets were the best.) So I pulled over, watched the end of the field show practice, and followed the band to band room one last time. They were still playing the same awesome cadence they've always used.
Another time this spring I was sent to our marine lab by the beach to pick up some special sea urchins, and before heading back to our lab in Pasadena, I lingered by the beach and walked on the sand. It was raining very softly and everything was misty and grey and beautiful, and I thought, "Perhaps I'll never see something like this again." But if not, in Heaven I'll see something better.
People think I'm really going to miss the internet because I spend so much time on it, but I'll be so glad not to be wasting hours in front of a screen any more. I consider it a great feature of my order that I won't have email or a blog
I can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'm gone in eleven days. Everything here is so normal and utterly familiar that I can't imagine it all being permanently out of reach.
I told my spiritual director that I'm stressed about getting ready to leave and not especially attracted to where I'm going. He understood at once: "Because you don't know them." How much can a one-week visit tell you? Mostly I'm walking into the unknown. Father said it was like that for him when he went to seminary in Rome: for a while his emotions were up and down, as he missed his old life and wasn't yet familiar with the new life. After a while, the seminary started to feel like his own life, and then he was fine. (It's been great having a director who can so easily relate to my situation.)
My mom's helping me out a lot, doing lots of legwork and finding all the stuff on my shopping list that I couldn't find myself. My parents are letting me dump all my stuff on them, and if I stay with the Adorers, eventually they'll get rid of it. I'll leave them my car too, which they can sell after a while (if I remember to sign the deed over to them before I go). What's left of my money can sit in the accounts till who knows when. (I don't think I have to give it away till final vows.) I'll vote by absentee ballot before I leave. Heaven only knows how I'll file my taxes next year. The details go on and on.
Tea Room at Huntington Gardens, where little tea sandwiches are all-you-can-eat. They also thought up some gifts to give me that I'd actually be able to take to the convent. It was great to hang with them one last time... perhaps I'll see them in Italy one day. :)
I still haven't seen every friend I'd like to see, so hopefully there'll be time. My sister had the happy thought of taking me to Disneyland last week. :) We hit all my favorite rides and I got to eat at the Blue Bayou for the first time in my life. You know the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? I always used to float by it in the boat and wonder about the people eating there, on the mystical dark platform under the glowing colored lanterns... Turns out if you go between normal meal times you can get right in without a reservation. :) We shared a yummy Monte Cristo and it was plenty of food for us both.
Did you know Disneyland has single rider lines now? If you're willing to go alone, you can walk up the exit of some of the major rides and be seated much faster; they use single riders to fill up holes. My sister and I split up to single-ride Splash Mountain. The regular line was supposed to be 55 minutes long, but we were both seated (a few logs apart) within seven minutes of finding the exit.
I found that this time, the part of Disneyland I enjoyed most was Fantasyland, with all the old European-looking houses and castles and fairytale stories. I think it's because if you could go back to the time when those houses and castles and stories were current, the people would have been worshiping with the same Mass the Adorers have, and some of our patron saints would have been there.
I need to get back to sorting and packing, but first, anyone who can... PLEASE tell me, what episode of Star Trek is this picture from, and what on earth is going on? The seriousness of the faces combined with the ridiculousness of the situation is cracking me up.