Monday, July 22, 2013

Sudden Angels Part 1: When Nuns Run

I try to walk our dog Maria twice a day.  We found her through Animal Ark, a no-kill shelter association who rescued her from the Red Lake Reservation where she'd been left at a dump with her two puppies.

Hers is a difficult biography, and her soulful eyes indicate she's been through plenty.  She's learned to accept a lot, and I think that's made her neutral about life, believing everything comes and goes, I suppose.  She probably decided long ago that she couldn't be surprised by anything.

But on our walk one evening, I saw her be amazed at the corner of Exeter and Dayton.

Behind a wrought iron fence, Maria saw two rabbits.  She almost missed them but turned her head at the last critical second.  She froze.  They were close enough to touch.  Countless times we'd passed that way with nothing out of the ordinary appearing.  We'd seen our share of squirrels, birds, other dogs, an occasional cat, but never had we spotted two rabbits sitting side by side.

They seemed unremarkable to me.

She saw the unexpected.

In the life of a dog, it had to be a thrill.  She must have wanted to leap the fence, but some instinct told her that would have destroyed the moment.  Her mind must have calculated the possibilities, knowing those rabbits would run if she moved.  So she watched, slowly easing to sit.  It seemed so important to her that I waited.  Finally she accepted the full measure of delight and stood to walk away with me.

I know she remembers that day.  Given free reign, she heads for Exeter and Dayton like a house afire.  She searches the yard each time we pass now.

I doubt if she will ever disconnect from her two-rabbit memory. Instinct holds onto her surprise sighting.  I can't blame her.

The other day I found my surprise at another corner.

If we walk east, we pass the playing fields of a catholic university.  Depending on the season, we see baseball, lacrosse, or football players.  Because I'm not athletically inclined, I rarely notice the teams.  On this particular day, however, an unlikely flapping of fabric at ground level caught my eye, and I turned my head to see nuns playing soccer.  They wore traditional attire, completely covered from head to toe.

I had never imagined nuns running.  They moved in swift waves of back and white cloth, leaping like graceful exclamation marks against the sky.

I didn't know where to put this discovery in my mental file system.  They weren't praying or helping the poor or reading scripture.  They were falling and laughing and bouncing a ball off their foreheads.  My instinct was to take a picture, but the unexpected metaphor of their presence was never meant to live on a screen.  Maria waited patiently beside me, following their game up and down the field.

They seemed unremarkable to her.

I saw the unexpected.   

Even now the memory of those nuns running reminds me I have unexpected lessons waiting.  The things I think I know still hold possibilities to uncover.  They will be my great surprises.

Unimagined glories remain if I simply turn my head.  If I believe I can be amazed by the sudden angels in the world.


  1. Karen,
    We met a while ago. I am Jana's friend Jeanne from pre-NC days. I went to parochial school mid fifties thru mid sixties. The nuns that taught me were very athletic. There was usually what we now call a "pick-up" basketball game during recess. Also, there were four that were some of the best at double Dutch jump rope that I've ever seen. Thanks for the memories. Glad it brought you joy.

    1. Jeanne, thanks so much for taking the time to reply. It means so much to me to know this brought back your happy memories. I'd just love to have seen that double Dutch jumping. Living near a catholic university is really lovely because, among other things, I hear the choir practicing and the chapel bells chiming.

  2. As always, I am awestruck at your way with words. This is such a beautiful story. In Alaska I worked at a Catholic hospital. I first began my running experience with a 60 year old nun--Sister Claire. She did, however, change into typical running attire when we ran. Years later when I again visited Alaska, I had a chance meeting with someone who had known Sister Claire and told me she was living in a home for retired nuns in Washington state. This brings back pleasant memories for me also. I look forward to more stories of your encounters with sudden angels.

    1. Thank you for the story about Sister Claire. It had never occurred to me that nuns do ordinary things, so it's great to learn what I didn't know. I'm happy I have a reader in you, my cousin-in-law.

  3. I just loved the images you share of the unexpected. Noticing is everything. But noticing and writing about what you notice is truly a gift. Thank you for continuing to share this gift. Cliff

  4. Karen, I went to a Catholic school for two years and you description of the nuns playing soccer creates a wonderful image. In my mind Sister Camille, our principal, is bouncing that ball off her forehead.

  5. I really appreciate hearing these recollections about nuns--simply wonderful and charming things I never imagined.