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Monday, June 27, 2011

insights: sister mary and the station wagon of nuns

the view from our room at the White Elephant Hotel
a quintessential resort in Nantucket

I am a Massachusetts girl and to me summer means:
  • Hazy, hot and humid days with late afternoon thunderstorms that leaves Interstate 91 steaming and the cool air smelling like ozone
  • Butter Sugar corn from farm stands in Amherst
  • An early morning stop at Dunkin' Donuts on the Mass Pike for an iced hazelnut coffee on the way to The Cape (Yes, my Seattle friends, it's ALL about Dunkin' Donuts)
  • The James Taylor concert on the lawn at Tanglewood on the July 4th weekend
Living in the Northwest, we have rain and mist and cold even in June/July. There is no equivalent to Cape Cod. I am homesick. We’ve lived here in Seattle since 2001 yet I ache for home. Terribly. I miss the way the night sounds when the crickets chirp in the hazy nights. I miss the way James Taylor’s voice bounces off the trees in the Berkshires as we sit on the blanket and drink wine as the sun sets at his concert. I miss driving past the home I grew up in and the way the blueberry pancakes taste at Sylvester’s in Northampton. I miss it all. Which is why we planned to go home for two weeks this summer. Bonus this year! We couldn’t wait to tell our families about our good news. A few weeks ago we were happily reading the baby name book. We had already taken to calling one of the babies Aquanetta, since we had both doubled over laughing until our stomachs ached when we came across this name in the book.

When we found out that we no longer had good news to share, I told L. that I just couldn’t go home. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go to the James Taylor concert at Tanglewood and see a new dad with a baby strapped to his chest in a Baby Bjorn. It was too much. I was torn. I am torn. I want to go home and stand in the morning sun in the sweet, small country cemetery where my grandparents are buried and ask them if they could please send our baby to us. For keeps this time. But I can't go home. Seeing L. with our nieces enjoying an ice cream cone on a hot July night was too hard to even imagine.

So. We made the tough call.  We cancelled flights and the rental car.  The lovely reservations manager at Nantucket’s White Elephant Hotel kindly helped us out with our non-refundable stay. We emailed our family and friends and explained that we weren’t coming home.

All that was left was what to do with James Taylor.

Months ago I bought our family James Taylor tickets. Nine tickets.   If you aren’t from New England you may not know how epic a James Taylor concert is at Tanglewood. This isn’t a hot dog, bag of chips and beer kind of event. Over the span of the July 4th weekend and four concerts, families bring their best lawn blanket, some bring candelabras, crystal and silver. If you were to walk in the dew-dropped grass amidst the blankets you would see cool lobster salad rolls, mojitos freshly made in a sterling silver cocktail shaker and strawberry shortcake served in crystal goblets. A James Taylor concert in the Berkshires is the EVENT of the summer. Which is why we bought tickets months ago.

We asked our family if they wanted us to mail them the tickets and they said no, if we weren’t coming they didn’t want to go either.

Now we had nine tickets that were going unused and I thought the only choice was to sell them. Over dinner, the night following our decision to cancel our trip I asked L. where he thought we should sell the tickets. Did we want to mass email our friends back home and see if they wanted the tickets?

Then L. said “What about Sister Mary?”

I looked up at him. “What?”

“Your friend, Sister Mary. Isn’t that her name?”

(I met Sister Mary last year when she answered the phone at the Dominican Monastery back home in Massachusetts when I called to ask if the nuns could pray for us. I immediately fell for this calm, witty, sensitive nun who assured me that the nuns would pray for us.)

“Sister Mary? She’s 84 years old. She works at the cloistered nuns convent. Cloistered nuns. They. Don’t. Talk.”

“Yeah,” L. said “But maybe she’d like to take her nun friends. I know they can’t talk but maybe they can still go to hear James Taylor and hum along. Can they hum?” he asked.

I looked down at my orzo. “I don’t know,” I said tilting my head thinking. “Do you think humming along at a James Taylor concert is considered talking?”

“I don’t know. You’re the Catholic one,” L. said.

“Yeah, but humming versus talking cloistered nuns isn’t something they covered in Religion class but OK I’ll call her,” I replied.

“Um, do you think she could take a picture of the nuns on their picnic blanket at the James Taylor concert?!” L asked grinning. It had been a couple weeks since either one of us had smiled.  The thought of nine excited nuns in a station wagon on a very quiet drive from West Springfield to Lenox, Mass. made me laugh too. It felt good.

The next morning I called Sister Mary (who is NOT a cloistered nun which means she CAN talk with the outside world) and even before I could offer her the tickets (which I thought was a LONG shot) Sister Mary exclaimed ‘“Oh, how I love James Taylor!” I thought I could feel her face light up across the phone line.

“Sister Mary, would you like the tickets” I asked.

“Really? Really? Oh my goodness, I would love these tickets. I have so many friends who loves James Taylor and I just love the Berkshires. Really, could I?” Sister Mary replied.

I felt ebullient. Out of something sad we did something good. For the pure pleasure of making someone else happy.

I overnighted the tickets to Sister Mary and her friends and called L. at work to tell him the good news. I think he was more excited than I was at the prospect of nine nuns humming along to “Sweet Baby James.” Having seen James Taylor at Tanglewood when we first got engaged I remembered how the New England crowd cheered and sang along when James got to the lyrics:

Now the first of December was covered with snow,
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting, with ten miles behind me And ten thousand more to go. . .”

Am I sad about not going home and missing everything I love about New England including James Taylor? Yes, I am but maybe this was exactly how things were supposed to be. I’ll be with L., and wherever he is, is my home.

And so, this weekend if you are spending an evening with James Taylor at Tanglewood, amid the happy families, cuddling couples and giggling babies will be Sister Mary. She’ll be the 84 year-old nun with the joyful smile on her face, beaming at James and singing along to “You’ve Got a Friend.” And if you see her, would you say hello for me?

Happy 4th of July!

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