Inspired by reading the post by Elizabeth Scalia, Cheating the Habit of Being, I wished to share my personal experience in regard to wearing a religious habit, and will post vocation stories from some of my Sisters serving around the world.
In 2004, on a home-visit, I found myself driving my Dad’s 1966 Mustang south on the 101 at eleven o’clock at night. I was on the last leg of the six and a half hour drive back from Sacramento, and, looking down at the gas meter, I decided I’d better stop soon. I saw a gas station ahead, and pulled off the freeway. I was kicking myself for not stopping earlier when I saw how deserted the station was and that there were no other shops or people around. I pulled into the station and was determined to buy only as much gas I needed for the rest of the trip, and get on the road as quickly as possible. All went according to plan; I pumped the gas, put the gas cap back on the car, and hurried back into the drivers’ seat. With the turn of the key, the engine roared into life. I put the car in drive, and then it happened.
There, in front of my car stood a young man in his early twenties. My first thought was to maybe put the car in reverse before I became a casualty! But then I saw it. Looking at the man’s face, even in the not-so-bright lights of the small gas station, I could see streaks on his cheeks where tears have flowed. His hands were stretched out toward me, partially imploring; partially ready to brace for impact with my car! He came to my side of the car. I cracked my window a bit, and he asked me, “Ma’am, are you really a nun?” I wasn’t prepared for that question. He asked me, because he could see my veil. I told him, “Yes, I am. Can I help you?” As I got out of the car, he explained that his girlfriend had been in a car accident and she wasn’t expected to live. There was also the problem that the father of his girlfriend didn’t approve of the relationship and refused this young man the opportunity to say goodbye.
It is a helpless situation. Here I am at a gas station at eleven o’clock at night with a young man in tears. I asked the young man his concerns for his girlfriend. We talked about heaven and hell. I went through the articles of faith with him, asking him the various points, “Do you believe in one God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?” I think it surprised him to see how much faith he had. We talked about God’s mercy and hope. We moved to a more serious discussion, “Are you willing, if God is calling your girlfriend home, to let her go?” I noticed then, he was shaking like a leaf. It was a cool evening, but not cold. He responded in between new tears, “I don’t want to lose her, but I want to let God do what he wants.” I suggested that we pray. And there we were, praying for his girlfriend, for healing, and also praying that God’s will be done. I don’t recall how long we prayed, maybe seven or eight minutes, but by the time we finished, I could see a physical change in the young man. His shoulders were more resolute; he was no longer shaking ; his eyes were clear.
“Are you going to be all right?” I asked him. He smiled and said, “Yes, sister. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m better now. Thanks.”
Making my way back to the highway, I knew, yes, he will be okay.
This post is cross-posted at Patheos’ “The Habit of Witness” series.