The novitiate is about letting go.
In some ways, the letting go is very tangible: I've left my friends and family behind on the East Coast to be here in Chicago; I relinquished access to my bank account when I entered the Novitiate last September; I had to leave my job, and with it the people I had accompanied, to engage in this process.
In other ways, the letting go necessitated by the novitiate is far less evident. It requires letting go of expectations of what this life might be like, letting go of the need to be "productive", as society might see it, in exchange for prayer and study. It means letting go of things you didn't even know you were attached to: independence, the need to have a 'plan', the pursuit of falling in love with a single person, and others' opinions of you... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, we (and by we, I mean novices and essentially "I") lay it all aside so that we might pursue God's call to us, delving deeper and deeper into relationship with the One who calls us, listening attentively and discerning if this life path is truly ours to take.
That discernment is no easy journey. It is full of bumps and bruises. It requires being open to taking an honest look at yourself (over and over again), and sharing what you find with the God who already knows and will point things - unknown and/or previously avoided- out to you over and over again. All of this is done in Love, no matter if that love comes through in joy, sorrow, or any other emotion imaginable. It is a journey with God and of God that ultimately culminates in growth.
This week another layer of that growth through letting go was revealed to me.
Part of what I gave up in coming to Chicago was the freedom to travel. I am in canonical time and so I can only be away for 15 days (pretty much Christmas vacation and, heaven forbid, any emergency that might call me back to Philadelphia.) Now you might say, "So what? That's not that big of a letting go...you can't travel- get over it. You're in a new city, with new people, taking part in a wonderful program, there is no need for you to go anywhere, sister!" and you would be right. There is no need. This time is focused and intentional and nothing should get in the way of that. I sincerely believe that and that's what has made the last few days so difficult.
On Tuesday, I received news that my good friend Barbara's father passed away after battling lung cancer for over a year. Barbara called around noon and so I knew something was wrong; School teachers don't call in the middle of the day just to chat. I was in class and so missed her call, but when we did connect the news wasn't any easier.
My friendship with Barbara is something that's hard to put into words. It is deep, unique, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. We both know that if we met on the street, we probably wouldn't be friends. She is So-Cal through and through and I am an East Coast girl (sarcastic with rough edges et al.) Lucky for us, we didn't meet on the street...we were forced to live together.
Forced may be a strong word for it, but let's just say that in August 2010 we both found ourselves in the same living room in a row home in inner city Philadelphia. We, along with one other young woman, had left everything behind to give a year of our lives in service as volunteers with the SSJ Mission Corps. Our first night together as a community was awkward to say the least, but as the year went on, Barbara and I developed the type of relationship that can weather life's storms, meet community challenges, and take on anything with a healthy dose of honesty and laughter.
Since those first days in 2010, our friendship has grown. We have helped one another grow as individuals and we have given support and challenge to one another where ever and whenever it is needed. So, last August when Barbara got word that her father was being given 12 months to live, we mourned together and I watched as my good friend left Philadelphia to go be with her Dad in his final year of life.
Luckily, the ties that bind are not loosed by distance, they are just adapted. Instead of meeting face to face over coffee, we talked over the phone. We shared stories, shared life, and made sure to continue on this journey together. So, Tuesday when I saw the message on my voicemail at mid-day, 13 months since that shift in our journeys, I knew what had happened.
I knew this day would come. It was and is a sad day... and it has continued throughout the week.
It is a great loss to a great friend, and so, it is a loss to me as well. In that loss, too, there is a new lesson in letting go for me. I knew there was no way, save a miracle, that Barbara's Dad wouldn't pass while I was at the Federation Novitiate AND I knew that when that day came, I would not be able to be by my friend's side. Not at the viewing, not at the funeral, not anywhere near her side, instead I will be thousands of miles away in Chicago.
Yet, the ties that bind us together are strong.
As we talked Tuesday night, Barbara filled me in on the details of her father's passing. We shared. We laughed. There were tears.
Barbara had spent her day crying. "I don't have anything left in me right now" she said into the phone. I expressed my condolences and we shared more. I expressed my deepest desire to be there and to do whatever was needed. "He's gone" she quietly stated with great pain and stunned sorrow. Silence fell over the line... a moment of recognition of something irreversible.
Suddenly, it washed over me.
"Are you crying?" she asked. Her voice quiet, truly wondering what it was she heard on the other end of the line.
"I am." I confirmed through my tears. I hadn't expected the tears to wash over me, but how could they not. The pain was real.
"Maybe, this is my form of a hug." I sobbingly mused. With thousands of miles between us, this was all I could offer. I would have given anything in the world to be there, but I couldn't be and so I cried with her then and hold her close these days. The emotion comes from a deep place- the tears offer what is let go of- a movement of connection. Without words, they came and all that remained when they were gone was love.
That is the love that life is about. It is a love that comes through in joy, sorrow, or every other emotion imaginable. The tears I cry with Barbara are tears that bind; they come when I think of Syria, they rise as I give thanks to God for all that is good in the world, they flow when I pray with and for my sisters here at the novitate and back home in Philadelphia. They unite us in peace, grace, and growth to one another. And when all is said and done, they are the tears that bind us to God- to a love that will never let us go.