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Remembering Sister Alice

sdane's picture

During Linda Susan Beard’s visit in out class, I couldn’t help but continually think back to Sister Alice Strogen, who passed away last week and who danced in and out of my life over the last ten years, always playing an important role.  As I’ve been thinking about how to process her very sudden death, I keep going back to the grief that Sister Alice herself had to face on an almost constant basis as a byproduct of her job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  What was so interesting about her is that (unlike many doctors and nurses I know) she really did allow herself to take the time to feel intense sorrow over the deaths of the children she worked with.  But after pausing for that moment of sadness, she kept on doing her work with the same commitment and passion.  I was drawn to Prof. Beard’s experience participating in a silent retreat after the murder of her nephew, and how she relayed the ways in which she dealt with her inner, personal demons during that time.  In the piece we read for class, she talked about an “encounter with the Lord” she had on her way back from that retreat.

In the "vision" I experienced all of a sudden the image of Thomas asking to touch the wounds of Jesus. What Jesus said to me directly was that I should place the tip of my pen into those wounds, that the ink I should use was the blood in those sites of violence and pain, and that, once I learned how to do that, the painful dividedness I experience would dissipate. I tell myself these days that that advice not only fits with the subject matter of my teaching, but that the Lord may also be telling me something about making suffering life-giving for me and for others.

As a pretty staunch atheist, I used to always feel very uncomfortable when people told me about their conversation with god(s)/spiritual beings.  But I now appreciate hearing these stories, because I think that, if nothing else, people might be becoming aware of an insight that was inside them all along – and that I should focus on the wisdom they are sharing, rather than who (what?) it comes from.  I really do think that Sister Alice used to place the tip of her pen into her wounds, and I think that doing so was what allowed her to live her life so fervently despite the misery and sadness she saw on a daily basis.  So, in thinking about her death last week, I’m trying to follow both her direction and Prof. Beard’s advice, and pause for a moment to remember her, and actually allow myself to be sad.  And then, like I saw Sister Alice doing, bring the memory of that sadness to then go on to optimistically continue to  live life.