I sat across the table from Sr. Carol, pushing my salad around the plate as she spoke about the upcoming weekend for the Sisters of Saint Joseph community in Erie, PA.
“We’ll be going over the statements of reality,” she said. “As we plan for the future of our work and our mission.”
Statements of reality.
“Twenty years ago, we had over 200 sisters,” she said. “Now, we have 72. That’s a statement of reality.”
She went on to say that the median age is 82 - and that nationally the number of nuns has declined from almost 200 thousand to less than 50 thousand in the past 20 years.
I was struck, during our conversation, by the stark admission of truths, and by the sisters' ability to so boldly stare down what must surely be an uncomfortable truth. These women have committed their lives to a community of like-minded people, and have seen little to no growth in the past 30 years.
I talk and write about my time in the convent as a punch line sometimes, simply because the idea of being a nun was and is, so counter-cultural. There are people who don’t even know what a nun is.
But it was these very kinds of conversations that drew me to them in the first place. A strong group of women who were smart, educated, and committed to promoting social justice, equality for women, and kindness. Yes, there were, and are, religious beliefs tied to those actions, but in the end, kindness and compassion are perhaps the most universal religion of all.
I like the idea of re-framing truths that you can’t change as statements of reality as opposed to brick walls that you bang your head against. In our conversation, I saw both Sr. Carol and Sr. Mary willingly leaning into a hard truth - that the community they have always known will not exist beyond their generation, and embracing that reality for what it is.
Not a failure on their part, or anyone else’s part, but an acceptance of the radical imperfection that we all have in one way or another, and that makes us the whole people that we are.
We cannot always fix and change everything.
There is a wisdom in acceptance. They were going to spend the weekend thinking about the hard things so that they could continue to get to the important things.
There are so many lessons here, especially for me. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I spend a lot of time in denial, about aging parents, about aging pets, about my own mortality. It often seems so much easier to just ignore all of the truths in life and just live with a constant edge of low level (or high level) anxiety.
Perhaps what I’m looking for here is grace - the grace to lean into my own statements of reality and truth, so that I too can focus on what’s important, on being the whole imperfect person that I am.
And I wish you the grace to do the same.