My first examination of the school year was last week. It covered Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson—both of which I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned here. The test was two short essays and one long essay. There were several options of what to write on for the long essay. I didn’t write on empathetic suffering in Mariette in Ecstasy, and I partially regret that. Take two.
My personal experience with nuns is minimal. I attended a Catholic elementary school in New Hampshire, but there were only two of them left in the teaching faculty. The sister that taught music retired form teaching during my time there. The other sister was my first grade teacher. The main thing that I remember about her was her love of whoopee pies. I’m not sure if that is how you spell the word for the two chocolate cakelets with cream in the middle, but autocorrect made it that, so I’ll take its word. My Mac is obese.
The lunch table was the central point of middle school life. It was a market of junk food and crude jokes. Cold lunchers like myself eyed the platters of hot lunchers with gut-shriveling envy. On the rare occasion I would slip into the cafeteria area and grab some garlic bread or a plate of pasta after everyone had settled into their place at a table and after my bagged lunch was depleted. I felt a bit foreign approaching the lunch ladies, but they quickly became allies. “Just take it. No one should leave the lunch room hungry.”
During science class she would tell me about her. I’ve forgotten all of it.
But in my memory, her scars are sill fresh.
The man at the Vietnam War Memorial is still weeping. The girl in Spanish class is still hunched over her desk, shaking. The woman in uniform sitting next to me on the plane is reading a text message while a couple tears slide down her face.
I do understand this:
To ask can be to validate. To ask can mean to heal.