Pleasures and Ponderings

Monday, September 24, 2007

From Nun to Nudist to Now

I’ve wondered often how I, who was a nun for a year, could
have become the authority-free woman I am today. Of us nine kids, I
probably took Church rules the most seriously. I remember urging my
teen brother in the 1950’s to ”be careful” on his dates. I hadn’t
understood what sex was about until I was myself a teen, so I took it
on myself to encourage siblings to follow the rules.

I remember tattling on classmates in grade school, feeling
totally justified, since rules were made to be kept. One of the nuns in
my 12 years of Catholic schooling said that if we thought we had a
vocation and didn’t follow it, we’d never be happy. That put the fear
of God in me. Knowing myself to be “a good girl,” I suspected God
might want me as a nun.

So my second year of college found me in a convent in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It felt a little bit like pioneer life. We sewed
names on all our clothing, including cloth sanitary napkins. Twenty of
us postulants slept in a big dorm, with sheets as dividers in our
approximately 4’ x 8’ sleeping area. We had one black outfit for
Sundays, and one for weekdays. We went to Confession on Saturdays,
and I associate the smell of baking bread with those weekend

We’d pray the Rosary on daily afternoon walks, and listen to
Madame Butterfly often in evening recreation, because the Postulant
Mistress liked it. (I do too). Even at age 19, I couldn’t understand why
the other girls talked during afternoon chores. The rule said No Talking!

I’d probably still be a nun if it weren’t for a wise Mother
General. She interviewed each of us at the end of our year as a
postulant, before we became a novice. I was going to be Sister Nathan
as a novice, though I would not take the vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience for a few years. When the Mother General asked, “Are you
happy?” I answered, “I’m not happy, but I’m satisfied.” And she said,
“That is not enough for a bride of the Lord.” I’d most likely still be
Sister Nathan otherwise, if I’d not been so gracefully dismissed. In
1961, I was still authority-ridden. I had no other life experience than
as an obedient Catholic.

Two years later, considering marriage to an Iowa suitor, I was
still innocent/ naive enough to confess that I’d sat on my boy friend’s
lap. Told that was an occasion of sin, I never did it again. That
romance ended in a few months. Five years later, I had taught one
year of sophomore English and one year of junior high English,
followed by four years of second grade. I was engaged to Don, whom
I’d met through a correspondence club. I even had my second graders
write him a letter.

I was, at 26, a virgin on my wedding night. Interestingly, no
one had told me I wasn’t supposed to enjoy sex after marriage. To my
surprise, after the first couple days and nights of the honeymoon, as
we walked toward our Hawaiian lodging, I’d be chirping, “We’re
almost there!” And to this day, when anyone says, “We’re almost
there,” I have happy flashbacks to February, 1968.

Now I was still “a good Catholic” a year later at a Church
camp when a priest, who later left the priesthood and married an exnun,
said around the campfire, “If the only reason you go to Mass on
Sunday is to avoid mortal sin, you shouldn’t go!” My mouth must
have been hanging open. This was a man of the cloth giving me
permission, it seemed, to do whatever I liked. Apparently, at the time,
all I needed was a bona fide authority figure’s pronouncement to
loosen the shackles that had bound me all these years. That campout
was the beginning of my liberation as a woman who could now begin
to think for herself.

When I was unhappy a few years later, often thinking, “Is this
all there is for the rest of my life,” it was only after a good friend
convinced me I wasn’t meant to be unhappy that I dared to separate
and then divorce. As the first one in my family to divorce, I did not
feel support from my parents.

As many divorced people did in the ‘70’s, I enjoyed a good
deal of personal freedom. I’d spent a summer month on a car trip to
California from Iowa, while my kids, around 4 and 6, were with their
grandparents on the farm. Seeing personal ads in California papers, I
came back and placed the first such ad in the Iowa City paper. I met
Don and Frank, both professors at the University of Iowa. I grew to
love them both, and my kids and I spent alternate weekends with
them. Both lovers knew of the other, and felt fine about our times
together. I’ve never felt tempted by swinging, but can see the
potential merits of polyfidelity. I see people as capable of loving more
than one partner. If not for jealousy, it could have many benefits
beyond having more than one lover. (The ex-nun in me is amazed that
I believe this. But I do. )

How can I explain to you, let alone to myself, how the
obedient child became the autonomous woman? From that priest at
the campout to the influence of many friends and authors and public
figures, I have learned to listen inside more and more. I am
comfortable in my body, and love the childlike freedom of no clothes
whenever I get the chance. Still, I am not surprised when the old need
for propriety and approval occasionally come up. I am now quicker to
notice when I have taken someone else’s truth for my own. And I’m open to any now experience that my heart leads me to.
Moreah Vestan, Author, Life Coach, NVC facilitator, Columnist

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