Our Lady High School

 

Sister Mary Francis, the current principal of Our Lady of the Angels High School, stepped out of the campus chapel, pocketed her rosary, breathed in the warm evening air, and frowned.   It was all wrong.

Despite three decades spent in Oberon, she still had not adjusted to the seasons here.  The air tonight, for example, still smelled of summer, to her mind.   Or, what she considered to be summer, in any event.  She missed the spicy tang to the air that she remembered from the autumns of her childhood; with its hints of damp leaves, smoky fires and frost filled nights.

Not that autumn didn’t come at all, of course.  But, it was late and far too brief, and winter never followed after.   It had been years since she’d seen snow.

She should be glad of that, she supposed, given the way her joints had taken to aching when the colder weather set in.   But, still, she missed it.   She missed waking up to the blessed silence of a world turned white; as beautiful in its purity as the soul of a penitent; all its imperfections gone, washed clean by God’s Grace and the Blood of The Lamb.

There were still mornings, late in the year, when the air smelled of snow––although, it never had and never would fall here.   Hail was the closest they would ever get. And that was wrong as well, since hail was proper to summer.

Still, if the dear Lord had seen fit to scramble the seasons in this part of California, no doubt He had His reasons, and who was she to argue?  She was just an old woman who had seen too much and learned too little; who’d just spent the past half hour on her knees in prayer, desperately seeking peace of mind, and finally achieving some small measure of blessed serenity.   Only to have it evaporate in one instant, in one whiff of honeysuckle scented air.

"God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change," she muttered as she headed back across the school grounds toward the building which housed her office.  It had always seemed the most difficult part of her patron saint’s prayer.

Her path took her past the lot where the lay teachers parked their cars.  The lot was filled, a forcible reminder––not that she needed one––that tonight was not just an ordinary school night. She felt a now familiar heaviness settle in her chest. She’d never enjoyed these events, but ever since she’d been promoted to principal, five years earlier, she’d come to loathe them.

She loathed being appealed to by everyone who held a grudge, or had a problem, or was looking to advance their child’s educational career, without regard to the common good, or whether such advancement was, in fact, merited.

But, mostly, she loathed being fawned upon by people she suspected of having no real respect either for her, or the office she held.

She stopped for a moment, closed her eyes and offered up a silent prayer, asking for forgiveness.   Surely she should be more tolerant, more humble, less quick to judge.   Surely, by now, she should have learned to accept what the Lord had sent her.  But, the truth was, she not grateful. She was not grateful, at all.

She missed teaching.  She missed it as much as she might miss a limb, or one of her senses if she were to suddenly lose them.  She missed watching how one single concept might spark an idea in a bright mind; how the flame would race from one thought to the next, from simple concept to more complex, until knowledge and understanding burst forth in full flower.   Or, the glow in a slower student’s eyes when she finally realized, after much effort, that something which had been incomprehensible, perhaps for months, suddenly made perfect sense.

It was true, she’d never had great love for those students who refused even to try, but even some of those had surprised her, over the years.

But that part of her life was over now, it seemed.  Now, her days were filled with scheduling.   With endless paperwork.  With petty bickering, and the settling of arguments.   With all the bureaucratic minutiae that went with the office.

She knew she should offer her suffering up as penance, but her hard heart refused to bend that far.  She couldn’t even bring herself to confess her unhappiness and seek absolution for her selfishness.

She should feel honored at having been chosen for this office.  She should be offering daily prayers of thanks to the Lord, for His great mercy in singling her out, for exalting her to this position.   Surely, if she kept at the task long enough, she would eventually learn to see that this was a blessing she’d been given.

For now, however, that Grace still eluded her. She felt like she’d been cursed.

She passed beneath the pergola that shaded the school’s courtyard, pulled open the door, and paused once again.   Here, too, she sensed a wrongness, though its source was harder to define. She’d been sensing it a lot these past few weeks.   And, although she was not the type of person who put much stock in what was commonly termed atmosphere, she was finding the feeling increasingly hard to dismiss.

But where was the source of the trouble?   Was it her own resentment that seemed to have infected the very air, or someone else’s?

©PG Forte 2005
Visions before Midnight

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