Monday, February 11, 2013

Sister Joanne Has Nothing

Yesterday was free health fair day at our Temple. Sister Joanne from the big hospital set it up, mostly for poor folks who don’t have health care—free blood pressure check, free cholesterol check, free Body Mass Index.
She invited me for the trifecta, but the Fatso-Meter was all I really cared about. Oy, what a mistake.
Sister Joanne—herself a gezinte woman, if you can say that about a Roman Catholic Nun—laughed raucously at my stricken face.  It’s an evil chart, she cackled.
Sister Joanne wasn’t always a nun. She had a husband and a house in New Jersey.
For 6 months, until he died.
Joanne went to church to pray for him while he was sick, and continued to pray after he passed. As she told me, I was hearing things in the service that I guess I needed to hear.
One thing led to another and she found herself taking her vows.
Three vows: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. My jaw was on the floor. I could MAYBE do one out of three—yeah, and guess which one.
She now lives in a house with 3 other nuns—one is the Mother Superior of her order in the US—but they don’t call them Mother Superiors anymore.
I, of course, tried to look cosmopolitan—the Rabbi’s Wife who basically got her knowledge of nuns from watching Maria in The Sound of Music.
So Sister Joanne sold her house and gave the money to her family. The house she shares now belongs to the church, and her only closet is a whopping 2 feet by 2 feet.
She doesn’t own the car she drives to work every day, and her salary is direct deposited to the church. She gets health benefits from the big hospital.
She gets an allowance—my jaw dropped again when she told me. $75 dollars.  A month. A month. A month. It’s hard when you want to buy a present for someone, she told me. You really have to learn to save up.
$75 dollars a month and she’s thinking about presents for other people. I told her I wasn’t rich myself, but if she EVER needed anything EVER she should come to me.
She laughed her happy raucous laugh. I don’t need anything, she said.
That night I told Sruli all about Sister Joanne. I couldn’t stop. He looked at me and smiled. You can use it for your Mishna discussion this week.
We study Pirkei Avot here at the Temple, every Friday night during services. The Ethics of the Fathers. I learned them with my father on Shabbat mornings when I was a little girl, imagining the ancient Rabbis as I spread my Challah thickly with Skippy super chunk peanut butter.
This week we are up to my favorite saying: Marbeh Nechasim, Marbeh Da’agah. The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to worry about.
Usually Sruli leads a lively discussion but I had asked him if I could lead this one.
I thought I knew all about Marbeh Nechasim. I gave up a fancy job in advertising, a house in Scarsdale, a house in White Plains and a house in Englewood. I sold all my furniture, gave away most of my clothes, my kitchen stuff, and now live in the basement of a shul.
But $75 a month.
Someday, Sister Joanne will fly easily and lightly up to heaven, unencumbered by Nechasim or earthly ties. She will be bathed in the glow of gratitude from thousands of poor people whose lives she made healthier, more bearable.
I will be looking up without envy, without self-consciousness, my jaw open in awe.
I hope I will be able to hear her raucous laugh through the cacophony as the angels rush to welcome her as one of them.

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