All that changed one spring day while I was scoping the area from behind the statue of Jesus.
I spied a nun out on a stroll by herself, which was odd in my experience. Even more odd, was the blue habit that she was wearing, which was in no way as elaborate as the other habits I was used to. She even wore sneakers, just like me.
Funny, but although the other characters are a blur in my memory, I can recall this woman very clearly, though it's been over four decades. From her tall and thin frame, to her twinkling blue eyes behind wire framed glasses, to her gentle smile and kind voice... yes, I remember her as if it was yesterday.
I'm fairly convinced she spotted me long before I spotted her, even though I was well concealed in the bushes. Still, I think she feigned ignorance as she made a little fly by of my position during that first encounter. Over the coming days, I would see her periodically, from my usual spot behind the bushes, taking the same stroll until she stopped in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus prayer grotto. Oh, I can still see her beaming face.
One day I actually hunkered down in the bushes to wait because she was nowhere in site. Would she show? Eventually she did, and I suppose it was no surprise when she finally stopped to pray in the usual spot, looked right at me when she was finished, and struck up the following conversation.
"Hi. What's your name?" she asked.
What's my name? I was wondering what her game was when my mouth blurted out, "Michael."
"Where do you live, Michael?"
"Over that hill and through those woods," I answered. Great, I had just given away far to much information.
"Oh," she said, "how wonderful. We share the same woods. Where are you going?"
"Well," she said, as she glanced at her watch and then towards my school, "you had better get going because you don't want to be late."
I'm not sure why, but I don't remember ever talking to her again after that day, although I do remember seeing her out on a walk from afar, every once in a while.
I recall all this, mostly from the perspective of my youth, but the adult in me recognizes many facets that bear further consideration.
Over the course of my life I've encountered a great many people like these, and the memories cause me to not only reflect on how they have received me, but more importantly, how I have received them.
As an adult who has struggled mightily to live an authentic Christian life, often failing, I'm impelled to put aside judgement of other people who have also apparently failed to live up to my expectations.
Sure, Boris might have presented a gruff disposition to a young kid, but only God knows how mightily he struggled to become the authentic Christian as well. He worked hard, and I could see that much from the fact that he took care of that entire 80 acre estate single handedly. And Lord only knows every single detail of what was probably a hard life.
And sure, many of the nuns didn't seem to be friendly to me when I trespassed in their territory, but I would occasionally get an inkling of how much they too suffered and struggled to live the authentic Christian life. Sometimes, I would find one of these Sisters with a Rosary at the Marian prayer grotto, prayerful upon a rough pine kneeler near my home. At other times I might cross paths with one of them walking alone, and the interest they would show towards me by a look could just as easily convey a sense of kinship like, "Hey there little rascal. I'm a bit of a rascal myself, so let's just keep praying for each other and hoping in Jesus."
Well, I do pray for them all as I recall those times, and I have no doubt that I benefited from, and continue to benefit from, their prayers as well.
I'm also freshly motivated to strive for the authentic Christian life as shared with me by my friend in the blue habit and sneakers. How beautiful and simple it all is, and yet how hard it seems to be sometimes.
Jesus, help me to always recognize You in everyone I encounter and receive You with the love You so richly deserve.
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