Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 37

JOAN was shocked and hoped that her face would show no sign of her anxiety.

“Come to my study after breakfast,” she said. “Everything may seem different in the morning. A good night’s sleep can solve many problems.”

Ben got up from his chair and looked down at her.

“I don’t believe it will solve this one, Sister.”

“Ben hasn’t finished his soup,” Imelda observed.

“He’s gone to his room to rest,” Joan explained. “And we must rescue what remains of the day, sisters.”

Ben didn’t appear for supper and Joan took up a sandwich and some tea to his room. But he was fast asleep so she went quietly away again.

Lying in her bed that night, Joan searched her mind for a reason, just a small clue as to Ben’s anxiety. Maybe it was something that had happened down on the shore. Whatever it is, Joan thought, it is just a new challenge with which we must cope.

She tossed and turned for most of the night but sleep didn’t come even though she prayed hard for it. She saw the first fingers of dawn shining through the gap in the curtains and rose to look out of the window. The day promised to be a fine one. Joan took a deep breath of the fresh morning air and braced herself to face whatever the day would bring.

Kneeling in chapel that morning, Joan remembered what her Sister Tutor had taught when she was a novice.
“Concentrate firmly on the prayer within your heart, for you can be distracted in the space of an Ave.”

Joan couldn’t concentrate at all. Her tired mind raced with thoughts of Ben and the problem he would share with her later on.

She rubbed her eyes with one hand. This would not do. Emma began the hymn on the harmonium. Joan took a deep breath and sang the old familiar words with her sisters.

When they arrived in the kitchen Ben had set the table for breakfast, and the big kettle was just coming to the boil on the Rayburn.

“Well done, Ben.” Sister Clare beamed. “That’s a great help.” She gave a stir to the pan of porridge that she had set to simmer before going to chapel.

“I shall begin the toast?” Sister Jan asked.

“Shall it be ‘here’s to a good breakfast’?” Ben joked, not showing any sign of the stress he had shown the day before.

Joan sensed a hint of tension belied by his merry smile.

Jan gave him a withering look.

“Always I make a good breakfast,” she said. “Even though Sister Clare only teaches me to make porridge in the Irish way.”

Clare gave the pot an extra stir.

“In my mother’s recipe book there is only one way.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Imelda took her place at the table. “The jolly Scots know a thing or two about it.”

The sisters laughed and even Clare had to smile.

“I have to agree with that,” she conceded.

Ben seemed to have cheered up considerably and Joan thought that after a good night’s sleep his problem was now not so overwhelming. She noticed, though, that through all the banter which kept the sisters much amused around their table, Ben was quiet and ate very little.

Breakfast over and the dishes cleared away, the sisters went about their tasks. On the gravel drive outside, Madeline went past the kitchen window on her bike and up the drive on her way to yet another of their local doctor’s lonely patients, to give company and comfort.

Joan planned to go to the study to catch up on some paperwork. Sister Clare began to sort out the ingredients for their lunch. Feeding the nuns was a full time job, Joan thought with a smile.

Sister Jan dried her hands on a towel and folded it neatly before putting it over the rail of the Rayburn.

“May I have a quiet word with you, Mother?” she asked.

“Of course you may, Sister. I’m going to the study, so now would be the perfect time.”

As Joan settled herself in the chair at her desk, Sister Jan took a chair facing her and clasped her hands in her lap.

“I find it difficult to begin,” she said softly.

“Is it about your work here?” Joan asked.

“No, Mother, it is something else entirely.”

“Just begin at the beginning, Sister,” Joan said. “That’s the best idea.”

Alison Cook