I’ll tell you something from my own experience that I haven’t shared with too many people.” Her dark head bowed. “Before I came to the school as a counselor, I used to be a Sister of Notre Dame. I was a nun.”
“Yeah, I heard. I didn’t know you could quit.” Cory tried picturing her in a long black habit with a string of beads hanging down the front.
“It’s not the Mafia.” Ms. J laughed and took a swig from her can. “I came to realize after several years that I wasn’t a nun because I loved God and wanted to serve Him—even though I do love God—but I was a nun because I wanted to fill a hole in my life and thought being a servant of the Lord and learning and seeking knowledge would reward me with meaning in my life and fill that void. That was my desire—the fulfillment of myself, knowledge, the attainment of spiritual peace. It sounds like a noble desire, right?”
“I guess, yeah.” Cory pulled off her bumblebee gloves and set them aside. God talk always made her uneasy. She plucked at a few yellowed leaves.
“Wrong.” Ms. J wandered down the row to an area of the table devoid of any plants. Brushing some dirt away, she hiked her bulk up onto the table with a clumsy effort and patted the empty spot beside her. Cory hoisted herself onto the table next to her but placed the sweating soda can down between them.
“Cory, I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version—you kids still use Cliffs Notes?”
“Okay, here it is. Short version. Humans and their desires go wrong when they buy into the concept that we’re sufficient unto ourselves—when we stop seeking anything outside of our own lives. We spend time, money, and energy running after something only to find we’ve become enslaved to our desires. The point is this, Cory. Desire’s potential to bring you happiness depends on the legitimacy of the object desired. Something more than merely human input is needed if the search for fulfillment is to be satisfied.” Ms. J fanned her face with her gloves. “When I left the order and started my new career in juvenile counseling, I felt the hole in my spirit start to close, and I actually felt closer to God than ever before. I was doing work according to my calling—the work I was meant to do.”
Ms. J sighed. She lightly touched Cory’s hand but quickly took it away. “I can see I’ve lost you. Let’s put it this way.” She took a gulp of soda and continued, “You tell yourself everything would be different if you could just lose weight. Or, if you had more friends at school . . .”
Cory felt her mouth turn down into a scowl.
“Okay, wait now. Then you get older and the desires become more important—that promotion at work, the money to buy a bigger house. Then I’ll be happy, you say.”
“Ms. J, I know those things don’t count in life. I mean, they’re important—”
She held up her hand. “But that sets up a pattern for your life. Then it’s something more complex. You want to be, say, the best actress and though you’ve gotten starring roles, you haven’t won the Oscar. So you’re miserable. Or, you think the perfect partner will complete your life and you find out there’s no such thing. But you keep searching. Or, you find a way to pull some honor out of the ashes of a disaster only to become consumed with guilt and dream of revenge.”
“Your essay. You see the people you love chasing after things that give them no peace or pleasure. They’re worshipping false gods.”
“And I’m like that, too? That’s why you wanted to talk with me?”
“Cory, I saw something in you when we first met. You were a seeker, who was looking around for something special in the world that would fill the empty hole. I was afraid you might look in the wrong direction.” She hurried to add, “Or waste time trying to figure it out, like I did.”
Cory wasn’t sure about all the other stuff but she was sure she had felt the void—one which had widened when her dad left and her mom retreated into her own world, a void that was growing between her and Jess the longer she kept quiet, and a void that flattened and spread over everything. She’d wanted to talk to someone about that stuff and maybe that’s why she wrote some of it in that stupid essay. “And those people? The ones in the essay. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to do anymore . . .”
Cory looked at the rows of open-mouthed orchids, blurring from tears that threatened to spill over.
“Tell me about them.”
A cloud passed, casting the greenhouse into dapples of gray. Soon the sound of raindrops on the glass roof grew to a crescendo and nearly drowned out the words that poured out of Cory, the words that dripped down the glass walls, ran along the damp hoses, and circled the drain in the cement floor. The words that lightened her with their release.
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