Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sister Kathleen and the Unwasted Life by Cordelia Regan

Martha note: Cordelia originally posted some quick thoughts about the aid workers slain in Afghanistan on the WMRA Facebook page. I asked her to write at greater length for the blog.  And am so happy that she did.
When I was in sixth grade, our math teacher, Sister Kathleen, told us that she hadn't gone through all the trouble of becoming a nun just so that she could teach middle-class, unappreciative American kids. The hot-tempered Irish woman had been ordered by some bishop or other to the catholic school in our affluent Washington, DC suburb. But she confided in us; she had hoped God would send her to Africa, where there was a need for her, where she could do some good. 

Sister Kathleen, stubborn by nature, quit the convent and married an ex-priest.

No matter what God tells us to do, the great majority of us will die in our beds, having accomplished very little good in this great world. Maybe we gave tithes, educated our children, donated to charity. Those are good things, but it takes all of a minute out of our week to write the check, peel the stamp, and lick the envelope.

By contrast, doctors and nurses of the International Assistance Mission have been helping people on the social fringe of Afghanistan since 1966. Of course it took the mass murder of ten of them (two with ties to Harrisonburg), for most of us to discover that these best and brightest, who could have had anything they wanted here, had been giving away all of themselves for decades.

"What a waste," was my reaction when I heard the news. Why would the murderers waste medical knowledge and skill that might one day save their own lives? Why would educated American and European professionals throw away their lives to help the terminally impoverished, the forever unfortunate? I send money to Doctors Without Borders, which I picture as a similar organization, but I never imagined those doctors trekking for days through dangerous territory to help unreachable people. I pictured them at a refugee camp, protected by UN soldiers. I guess I hadn’t read the materials they’d sent.

And then I realized how wrong I was. Those ten people were doing what they knew God put them here for, donating the gifts he gave them in abundance to people who desperately need them. If everybody gave like they did, nobody would need.

No, wasting life is what I do, watching movies and surfing the internet, sometimes for hours after I get back from my job that, although I enjoy it, has little relevance or meaning to me. The real waste is working to pay off the house in 30 years, just about the time Social Security kicks in.

If God is a woman, she doesn’t want to see any leftovers after the meal. It seems to me, these aid workers, and Brian Carderelli, who was filming their work, would make God proud. They used their lives up to the very last morsel--there was no waste.

I would bet my next paycheck that Mrs. Kathleen Ex-Nun, wherever she is, thinks so, too.

1 comment:

  1. Not so sure where to post this comment. just read your essay in the NYT magazine. Love it and related to it. Did we know each other way back then?

    20 some years later, alive, clean and sober and able to buy and read Sunday newspapers. And find a new to me writer interesting enough to google and comment up on her blog.

    One of the unforseen gifts of soberiety.