As I lay in bed that morning, around 6:30 according to my watch, I took several minutes to reorient myself. When I replayed its events, yesterday seemed like a few scenes out of a B-rated scary movie. As far as I was concerned, that movie ended. So today needed to be the start of a new film, a new page in the script of my life. And once I met with the abbess I’d know exactly what type of film my next one would be. At least that’s what I anticipated.
While still on my back, I reached over to the table, grabbed the slip of paper, and read over my notes from yesterday’s trip to the library. That Hecate goddess certainly covered a lot of terrain – the earth, the sea, the skyand the Underworld. Thank you very much, but I’d like to keep my feet on this ground as opposed to the one below it. And I hoped to God, Hecate was similarly minded. I sat up in an effort to move toward getting out of bed and noticed some papers under my door.
I picked them up and found a note attached to a pamphlet entitled, “Life in the Abbey.” The note read, “You have been granted an audience with the abbess at 2:00 P.M. in her study. P.S. I thought you might want to read the attached to help you prepare for your visit. Signed, Sister Sara.” Considering I’d never met with an abbess, an abbot, or any religious leader higher than a priest before I appreciated Sister Sara’s foresight, thinking she’d probably just saved me from any major embarrassment.
I knew breakfast was served promptly at 7:00, so I figured I’d read the pamphlet after I ate, not to mention that I needed the food to help with my concentration. Although I lived without the mirror yesterday, vanity played a small part in my make-up, so I needed to consult with the one in the common bathroom before I made my way to the dining hall. Although not too pleased with its response, I figured I looked presentable enough for eggs and bacon. And so off to breakfast I went.
Only a few diners sat at the table when I arrived, and all at the far end. Not wanting to make the same impression today as I did yesterday – new day, new frame – I moved to the occupied end of the table and sat next to a woman I didn’t recognize from the night before. Feeling especially brave, I introduced myself to her. Turns out her name was Brenda; she and her friends were here at the abbey on a retreat. With her sixty-hour a week job back home and in-laws living next door, I could understand why she might need a get-away now and then. Several of the other guests at breakfast were with her, and we chatted about their plans for the week. They even invited me to join them that afternoon for a trip around the island, but I told them I had other plans. After a basic breakfast of scrambled eggs, biscuits, and bacon, we parted company promising to meet up again at dinner. Surprisingly, I hoped they meant it.
When I returned to my room, I read through the pamphlet Sister left, and brushed up on my abbess etiquette. It sounded like I needed to approach the abbess like I was going up for communion, with my palms up, and after she gave me a blessing, I’d kiss her hand. I wondered what happened if I didn’t follow procedure. Considering I needed her advice, and for her to be in a cooperative mood, I vowed to try to carry out the greeting process properly. Now all I had to do was figure out what to do with the next six hours while I waited for my appointment.
At 1:30 I came back to my room after spending about five and a half hours doing something I hadn’t done in a very long time – nothing. At first it seemed wrong; like driving on the left side of the road, but I got used to it. After spending years in full throttle, in the wife/mom mode, it felt good just to park it in neutral, to observe my surroundings and the contemplative demeanor of the sisters who inhabited them. I envied their seemingly simple life, and tried to imagine myself as one of them. But I just wasn’t that creative.
Time to move on. I grabbed my list of questions and headed off to meet the abbess. I felt the tension in my body heighten as I moved toward her study. Considering I felt intimidated when I met my children’s teachers, this meeting with the abbess terrified me. And I couldn’t just go in and sit down either; I had to bow and kiss! Deep breaths, and more deep breaths. So much for the serenity of the morning, all of that just got sucked into my lungs. Then I thought, maybe I could just try to figure this out on my own; or, maybe I could summons Hecate to help me. But as I looked up I realized, maybe the abbess was standing in the doorway of her study awaiting my arrival. Too late to turn back now.
In a lilting voice, the abbess sang out, “Welcome my dear.” My first impression was of an elderly Maria from The Sound of Music, an image that strengthened as our visit continued. I stumbled through my practiced motions without any rebuff on her part, and followed her into her study. As there were only two chairs in the room, and she sat in one, I, of course, sat in the other – on the edge with my hands on my knees, ready to spring (and flee) at a moment’s notice.
In a reassuring tone she asked, “So child, what is it that bothers you?”
No introductions or anything? Her directness took me off guard because I hoped for some small talk to calm my nerves. So at first I hesitated, not knowing where or how to begin; then, as if a dike broke, yesterday’s events poured out in a seemingly endless flow – from the glasses to my dream to my trip to the library, including the questions I formed as a result. She listened, raising her eyebrows and uttering “Oh my”’s in all the right places. When I finished she pushed her chair back and gazed out the window for several minutes. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. I thought perhaps someone or something caught her attention, but when I leaned to look, nearly falling off my chair, I saw nothing but the landscape.
My clumsy gesture must have broken her trance. She pulled her chair closer to me, taking my hands in hers. “I’m sorry my dear, you will not find much comfort in my words.” She barely blinked as she spoke. “I cannot tell you what to sacrifice or which path to follow. The one will decide the other. You will know when it is time to let go. Once you do, then you will stand at the crossroads. Then and only then will God guide you in the right direction.”
I tried not to let my disappointment show, but when the abbess squeezed my hands I knew I didn’t succeed. “I’m not finished, my dear. There is still the last question.” She let go of my hands, but still held my attention.
“Although I cannot tell you under what circumstances, I can assure you that a man will be entering your life within the next several months, a man who will play a significant role in your future.”
I started to speak, but she raised her finger to silence me. “That is all I know. Be patient my child. Open your mind; change needs an entryway.”
She stood up and walked over to the door, my cue to leave. I bowed as I left, realizing I never read any rules on departure. “Thank you very much for your time, your abbess.” I bowed again and walked first out of the study then almost ran out of the abbey. I needed space. I had to breathe. I had to process what the abbess just said – there’d be a man entering my life in the next several months. Not the film I had in mind.