Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Sister Daphne’s Dilemmas
When we first met I was in my fifth year of teaching. It was the time of liberal studies in colleges of further education. The naming of courses is always political. Liberal Studies became General Studies and then Communication Studies as the cultural imperative to give apprentices and those returning to education after failing at school, a broader sense of the world, a critical consciousness and a capacity to see behind the media’s gloss and bias, slowly foundered on successive governments’ strategies to force social engineering to the forefront, whereby the young would be fitted for what was called ‘the world of work’.
Anyway, as a liberal studies teacher I taught psycho-drama to professionals (doesn’t that have the ring of the times?) The acid generation, the hatred of the establishment, the dropping out, the hair and gaudy attire, the last great surge towards personal freedom and anarchy, were all part of an optimism that helped constitute and drive the curriculum.
One of my students was Sister Daphne. I set up a mining accident in the classroom. Lines of chairs became tunnels. The game revolved around whether you would escape or save others at risk of dying. One of life’s great dilemmas. Sister Daphne died on the classroom floor. In tears. Afterwards she said it was totally disturbing. She also came to me with dreams she was having. I don’t remember them now except that they revolved around the shattering of structures – including the convent walls.
When she joined the convent the biggest day of her life was the day she would leave her novice status and take the ring of Christ. A bride. She was overjoyed and after the rituals and prayers she told me she ran outside, flinging her arms in the air in exultation. Her new ring slipped away into the bushes. The search took hours. Once repatriated with it, she said that the sun shone every day for five years.
This did not mean that she was immune to tests of faith. Her most graphic story involved her at Evensong prayers. Her mind began to slip away from a holy focus. A darkness seemed to cloud her thought. Her head ached. She put her hand up to ward off the pulse of evil and her hand contacted an enormous spider, sitting over her ‘third eye’.
I was very fond of her. She was always open about her internal battles between faith and skepticism, always tolerant of others and it was she who asked me, an atheist, to work in the convent, to care for emotionally disturbed adolescent girls, an experience that has coloured my social and educational philosophy ever since.