Away from the Manor and into the Woods

Away from the Manor and into the Woods

So, I realize that other than book-related blogs, I haven’t actually written since last semester. There is SO MUCH to update you all on (if you care—I’m still not really sure who reads this). But, because I know it is a fruitful practice for me to reflect and look back, I will try and update you as best as I can.

Last semester ended quickly, filled with work. Once the students left, I was still working every day (usually on my days off, too) to get ready for the new year. Half of my energy was going into getting ready for my first year as director and the other half was going into studying for my comprehensive exams for my MA at Notre Dame. Hence, I didn’t have much energy left for blogging, personal relationships, or anything else for that matter. Then, at the very end, as I was packing my belongings and preparing to move to the Woods, I got so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. I was dizzy when I stood up and had no energy, no matter how much I slept. Other than sleeping, watching Buffy, and stumbling to the bathroom, I wasn’t up for much—and still, I had to drive myself to the doctor because no one else would. I will say, I was very grateful for the order of fries that one housemate brought home for me. At least I had something in my system.

Finally, during that potentially dangerous doctor’s visit, I found out that it was really just a seriously awful sinus infection (those still bother me frequently) and I got some heavy-duty antibiotics to chase away the yucky. I barely got well in time to pack up and move out. Also, as a result, I probably had significantly more boxes packed way worse than they would have been otherwise because I couldn’t lift anything very heavy. Looking back, I’m really not sure why I didn’t just call one of my many students who were still in town and ask for some help.

Finally, on the penultimate Friday in May, Ι loaded the few things I needed for my summer at the Woods into my car and, leaving the rest in storage at the Churchman house, drove to Terre Haute. I left unceremoniously, without goodbyes from at least half of my housemates, feeling rather morose.  Although it is a short drive to Terre Haute from the south side of Indy, it seemed even shorter because I was so emotional. I certainly did not help that I had been in such a rush to leave that I arrived almost two hours early.

I ended up eating lunch with the other interns—who from this point on will be referred to as my community. Before I even begin to talk about the experience of living at St. Mary of the Woods and working at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, I feel the need to say that, although it was only for five weeks, I think that the community I lived with there was so much closer, deeper, more peaceful, and more accepting than any other community experience I have ever had to this point in my life. My dear friends, if you read this, I am so grateful for the healing love that you showered on me. You are some of the best people that I know.

Shortly after I got unpacked and all settled in, the other new intern arrived—Rebecca, who was mentioned earlier in my reading update as one of my vegan community member.  The other vegan, Michael, was already there but was taking part in the Permaculture Course offered at SMW through IU (I really recommend this to anyone interested in that sort of thing). He joined us in the gardens a week later.

When I mention the gardens, I feel that I must clarify: we’re really not talking a garden. We’re talking about fields. All in all, the gardens that I worked in were about as large as the small field that sits next to my grandmother’s (now Sarah’s) house in Rolla—this will help my family members have some idea what I mean. There were several plots where we grew different wonderfully delicious and beautiful vegetables—chard, lettuce, carrots, kale, turnips, peas, and so much more! Every day, we would either harvest, plant, weed, or mulch. Many days, I would come back to the convent covered in dirt, so exhausted that I would peel off my overalls and have to lay down before I even got showered or dressed. I loved every minute of it.

Who wouldn't love to wake up and see this every day?

For those of you who are friends with me on facebook, you probably saw me write every day that I lived in a magical place. It really was magical. I could go to work, harvest some chard or a handful of peas or any of our other yummy veggies (and rarely, some berries), and get to eat them for dinner. We could have what we wanted from the “seconds”—the produce that for one reason or another (some sort of blemish or damage) wasn’t considered sellable. I think I ate better during those five weeks than the entire rest of my life. I learned to love things I had never tried before (or, never liked before), and it was wonderful. Like I said—magical.

In addition to eating well, I was learning to cook—not bake, cook. Always before, my version of cooking was usually pasta-related or making eggs. Rarely if ever did I actually cook. Now, that has changed. Oh yes, friends, I can now sort of cook (although I am still not to the level of my former “personal chef”—as he called himself—Patrick, nor am I nearly as talented or sure of myself as S. Hannah). And, I like what I cook (very important).

Chard-- my new favorite vegetable!!

When I wasn’t in the gardens working or in the kitchen cooking and eating, I was either in my room or the library studying or hanging out with my community and my sisters.

As a child, I longed for siblings—any siblings at all—but most especially, sisters. Now I have to say, if I had known that all those prayers to God asking for a sister would result in me having 300, not only would I still have prayed them, I might have prayed more. I love my sisters and I miss them every day. I think that much of the sadness (I say sadness because I don’t believe I’m actually depressed, just a little lonely) that I have experienced since I moved back to Indy is the result of not having those wonderful women around to love me (and for me to love back).

Not only was I blessed with the opportunity to deepen my close friendship my dear friend S. Arrianne and deepen my friendships with the other sisters who I already knew (especially my Sister Companion, Dawn), but I was able to form new friendships with the other sisters. I learned a lot about myself as a result and I also grew to have a deeper appreciation for the importance of a truly healthy community. Unlike other communities that I had been a part of, being part of the SP community as both an associate and an intern has helped me to realize my own value and my own gifts rather than only point out my flaws. Living at the Woods was, most of the time, like living inside of a hug—warm, loving, and gentle. On the occasions that it wasn’t, it was filled with learning experiences and kind, constructive criticism. I didn’t hear the word hell used once as a location that I might eventually end up in, nor did I find myself being told that I wasn’t ___ enough—Catholic enough, conservative enough, liberal enough, fun enough, welcoming enough, hospitable enough. We recognized each other’s gifts and each other’s weaknesses and endeavored to make ourselves better and to encourage everyone else. This was the case with both the sisters and my community as well as the other staff at the WVC.

I already said how amazing my community was. It was so good to arrive and find myself with such a variety of souls. First, there was Paul. Paul was like my big brother during my time at the WVC. He has this amazing spirit of gentleness and kindness, he is so generous with his time, his attention, and his strength. He lives a life of simplicity but is also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met—he knows so much about so many things. He also has a beautiful wife and daughter, both of whom I regret not getting to know better before leaving. Along with Paul, there was also Rusty, with whom I have had many wonderful conversations, both serious and comical, and whose friendship was an absolute treasure during my time at the Woods. We enjoyed watching movies, chatting in the fields during work, and just being in the same place with a like-minded soul. I appreciated both Paul and Rusty’s kindness so much during those five weeks—and their encouragement as I tried to study for my exams.

I have already mentioned Rebecca and Michael. Rebecca is a student at SMWC and is just phenomenal—I think that girl could take on the whole world if she wanted to. I loved talking with her, hearing her stories, and laughing with her. For the first several weeks, we also shopped together—along with Michael—and I enjoyed getting to know them both as we discussed food—an obvious passion in those who work in an organic garden! If Paul is the most intelligent person I know, Michael is in the running for being in possession of the greatest variety of talent that I know. He’s a musician, an artist, an entrepreneur, a farmer, a student—not because he is taking classes but because he is a student of life--,  very knowledgeable about a variety of things, and just a generally all-around great guy. I enjoyed every minute of getting to know him. Between both Michael and Rebecca, I learned a lot! I appreciate more than I can express how open both of them were to shared discussion and how non-judgmental they were about the things we don’t agree on.

In addition to those four, there was another intern—Bree, who arrived shortly after Michael. I must say that I think Bree rather brave. She has big dreams and is seeking out ways of achieving them. She has lived in many different communities and had many amazing volunteer experiences that I think have brought her to where she is now, an amazing woman with a great deal of wisdom yet still desiring to learn more. While I did not get to live in community with her (or Paul, for that matter), I think that Bree is very admirable and her presence was integral to our community.

There were also the staff members at the WVC—Candace, kind and dynamic and with awesome stories to tell, a great mom and an good boss, David, who reminds me more of my uncles than anyone else I have ever met (seriously, he should have been a Willy or a Ponzer!) and who always makes me laugh, Anne, generous and funny and amazing and who was and is a dear friend and who I miss terribly, Nick, who I only worked with a little but who I already know is a kind, generous soul who loves to learn, and Tracey, the alpaca manager, who I barely got to spend time with but who is highly intelligent and very kind—I also enjoy being an associate with her. Lastly, there are Sister Mo and Robyn, our fearless leaders who, even though I didn’t get to work with them very much, made my internship both more enjoyable and more educational. I also enjoyed building friendships with both of them. Sister Mo has a great sense of humor but is very down to earth and wise. Robyn is almost too much like me for me to describe fairly— but I can say that she is a Southern Missouri girl, Truman state grad who later got an MA in Philosophy, an awesome mom, kind, loving, supportive, and a friend whose presence I sorely miss in my life, though at least we keep in touch via facebook!

My small descriptions cannot really do these people justice. Forgive the use of less than adequate words like “kind” and “amazing.” These people healed the hurt of the last two years and did it in five weeks, all the while making food grow out of dirt that they sprinkled seeds in and watered. They’re miracle workers.

So, that was my five weeks at the Woods in a nutshell. I got to spend my days and some evenings with my community, have lunch with my sisters, hang out with Arrianne and go on walks, talk with Joni when she was home, and sometimes, rarely, I got to spend special moments, or even whole evenings, with the sisters I am closest to—gathered around a bonfire or sitting at a table, chatting, sharing, singing, learning, and loving. Each of those evenings is pressed into my heart—a memory that I call on when I need strength.

Thank you, my sisters.

I’ll continue in the next post with tales from the SP Annual Meeting, moving in, and more!