At just 17 Mary Johnson, author of An Unquenchable Thirst, was inspired by an image on the cover of Time magazine. That image? It was Mother Teresa. The path? Becoming a nun for the Missionaries of Charity. By age 19 she entered a convent in the Bronx to begin her training. It wasn't an easy decision. But was it the right decision?
The young Texan was ready to devote her life to the poor. She was ready to live in poverty and devote her life to God. To anyone who does this, I'm sure it's very rewarding. But perhaps you should be older than 19 before deciding to lead a life full of restrictions. Mary, who later becomes Sister Donata, struggled to adhere to the principles of the Missionaries of Charity.
No more worldly possessions, a vow of chastity, limited contact with family, and the absence of friendship and touch were just a few of the things the young nun struggled with. She was surrounded by women just like her. Women who were called to serve God. She has lots of people to talk to? Right? Not necessarily. Sure they can talk to each other, but she wasn't supposed to seek out a friend. You aren't supposed to want things for yourself, even something as simple as friendship.
"The Rules against touch seemed overblown but didn't annoy me the way the prohibition against friendship did. As my hopes for a friend among the sisters were dashed, I also realized that banning the joy of friendship meant freedom from the pain of exclusion as well. We would all belong to one another." (Pg. 30)
Think about the last time you got a hug or even a nudge on the shoulder from a friend or family member. Was it something you were craving? Probably not. Why? Because you haven't been starved of that connection. I'm not saying being a nun is a bad thing, but if you haven't really experienced life yet how can you make a decision that will impact the rest of your life?
She loved working with people in need. It seemed that was the easy part of her life. Within the convent was another story. Her superiors weren't always the nicest people. Sister Donata was often afraid to speak up. If she does it can be seen as defiance. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong, Sister Donata has to know her place. Mother Teresa, who plays a prominent part in the book, had a very deep devotion to helping others and to serving Good. Living up to Mother Teresa's example wasn't always easy for Sister Donata, especially when it came to her sexuality.
Sister Donata hadn't experienced romantic love. When Sister Donata felt a deep connection to Niobe, another sister, she wasn't sure what her feelings meant. Was she just yearning for a friendship? Or was she in love with this sister? Sister Donata had already taken her final vows, giving into her feelings would violate her vow of chastity. She didn't want to violate her vows. Sister Donata did her best to rededicate herself to God, but it wasn't easy. Niobe was very aggressive, she pursued Sister Donata despite her objections. When she gave into her feelings, I thought that was the perfect time for Sister Donata to leave. It would be years before that happened. Her internal struggles were taking over her life, so much that it seemed to be impacting her health.
I don't think it's spoiling the book to say that Sister Donata went back to being Mary after 20 years of service. Those 20 years of service were very interesting. She was very honest in writing about her struggles. At times you feel like you're inside of her head. But by the end, I wish I knew more. Her transition back into society is glossed over, it's like a footnote. It would be interesting to know her struggles, if any, with the change in technology. She began her training in 1977 and left in 1997, I would think there were a lot of struggles with the change. She went back to college, learning in classrooms with students old enough to be her children. Perhaps, she isn't done telling her story. I would love to know more.
Note: I received a copy of the book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.