Afternoons with Sister Marie: An Education in Living a Good Life
During my first semester at Holy Cross, I was given an amazing gift. I was paired up with Sister Marie, a resident in a nursing home, and instructed to meet with her on a weekly basis for my community-based learning course. Little did I know I'd continue visiting long after the course ended, and that the "requirement" would become a pretty special friendship.
Last Saturday, Sister Marie passed away. And I can't think of a better way to honor her life than to share everything she taught me (whether she realized it or not). Now, I know what you're thinking. And I have to clear something up. Sister Marie was definitely not your typical Sister, so if you're expecting life lessons that remind you of Sunday school or stories about a prim and proper little old lady, I can assure you these aren't those.
Instead, Sister Marie left me with nuggets of wisdom that I know I'll carry around for the rest of my life. Here are the ones that I can put into words right now.
1. Marvel at Nature Once in a While
I'd wheel Sister Marie down to the greenhouse and she'd say "wow, look at that tree," (a tree across the parking lot which, honestly, didn't look that special to me at first) or marvel at the birds checking out the bird feeder. Once, she pulled a flower that was sitting on the table close and examined it for a full five minutes admiring each small seed and petal. "Wow, God is so smart. How did he know how to make something so beautiful?" She wondered out loud. Now, when I'm out in nature I try to see it through her eyes. Give it a try sometime, you'll be amazed at the things you typically overlook.
2. Remain Young at Heart
Although she'd often tell me that she felt "old as dirt," Sister Marie's spirit was the opposite. She was always looking for excitement, and asking to be taken on an adventure. In fact, Sister Marie would look down on the other residents who played bingo because it was "for old ladies, not young girls like us." She'd much rather pass her time being wheeled down the hall at a pace that probably wasn't allowed. Which brings me to the next lesson I learned from her...
3. Break Some Rules
Remember how I said she wasn't your typical Sister? Yeah, Sister Marie was a little bit mischievous—especially when it came to trying to sneak an extra helping of dessert. She subtly encouraged a little trouble-making. Don't break any of the important rules, of course, just the ones that make life a little bit more enjoyable.
4. Learn How to Make People Feel Seen
The first way to do this? Be fully present when someone is talking to you. I know, I know, easier said than done. But Sister Marie had a way of sitting and listening, taking in your every word, that not many people have. And she'd make jokes to let you know she truly understood you, too. She'd tell me that I was crazy, but that she was crazy too so it was a good thing.
5. Remember to Have a Little Fun While You're Here
It's easy to get so bogged down with work and responsibilities that you forget to play around. But Sister Marie never forgot—and she never let those around her forget either. She loved to tease, and could bring a little laughter to even the most serious topic. Even though she didn't love living in a nursing home, she found ways to bring levity to every day.
This isn't a complete list, of course. I don't think I'll ever be able to quantify how much she taught me. But for now, it's a way to keep her memory alive, and that feels like a good place to start.