In a recent diary, I mentioned that I will soon have to start taking driving lessons again. I also wrote a diary several years ago about nuns I have known. Putting these two seemingly disparate topics together brings me to the story of a former driving instructor's experience with a nun.
In the yet-to-be published book, "Confessions of a Driven Man--The Adventures of a Drive Test Examiner," David Finoweitz describes her thusly: "Her habit was white and because of the joyful way she wore it, the cloth looked like white light despite the voluminous material and the winged headpiece which must have weighted her down while giving the appearance of flight."
He said to her, "You look like someone I could entrust my life to."
But despite her "winged" headdress, driving a car was what she needed to learn to do, so David got down to business. The first thing he noticed was her strong Irish accent. He started to give her some basic instructions, but then hesitated, because he didn't know what to call her.
"She was certainly not my sister, but that was only a title. And why was I so flustered? Was it because nuns and monks were not part of the tradition of Judaism which emphasized marriage and social interaction? Or because I had so little contact with nuns? Their attendance at the DMV was rare, especially in this Medieval guise, now that the Catholic Church’s dress code had been liberalized. But I grew impatient with my embarrassment and decided to go ahead and call her Sister Mary. All human beings were brothers and sisters, so why did it matter?"
After they returned, he gave her a temporary license, then they shook hands. Before she left, she said, "Oh, thank ye! I have been so dependent on others to get to the doctor. Now I am more at ease." She seemed on the verge of tears.
"What's wrong? Are you ill?"
She replied, "It was in England (she'd been living in the UK--where they drive on the left side of the road--before coming to California, which was one of the reasons she needed driving lessons), I was told I had cancer. Over there many doctors do not believe in mastectomies. They just cut out the lump. That's what they did to me. A year later, the cancer had spread and I was transferred to a parish here to be with my family and work in a convalescent home. I go for chemotherapy once a week at a big hospital. I'd be going out of my mind, thinking about myself if it wasn't for the patients at the convalescent home who, thank the Lord, keep me busy. I’m too young to die, don't you think?" "
I was shaken. Sister Mary Agnes was only a bit older than me and I was feeling my mortality. Also, I liked her."
She was smiling through her tears. David squeezed her hand and began to tell her about someone he knew who had beaten cancer by going on a carrot juice fast, but she said, "I think it's too late for carrot juice, I’m afraid. Right now, it’s more important that someone cares. Thank you."
He goes on, "For the next two weeks, I occasionally thought about her. I even said a Jewish prayer or two for her. Then one day, I got a letter at work. It was from her. 'Dear Dave,' it read. 'Thank you for listening, and for being so nice. I did not expect so much compassion at the DMV. I think of you as my friend. My sister, that is my real sister, is taking dictation because I had a bad reaction to the chemotherapy and my hands are numb. I have been in the hospital for several days and thinking about my friends. I just wanted you to know that you are included. May God bless you.' My eyes moistened and I had to duck into the men's room."
A month later, while he was at work, a lady in her fifties, wearing a nurse's uniform, walked up to him. "David?" she asked. "I am Margaret, Mary Agnes's sister."
"I'm happy to meet you," he told her. "How's Sister Mary?"
"Ah! She passed away, may she rest in peace," Margaret sighed. "We all miss her so much. She cared nothing for herself but with her last breath she asked us to take care of her patients. I thought you would want to know. Agnes mentioned you often."
"I gave Margaret my condolences, gave her a small hug, and went back to work, saddened. But that night I had a dream.
"There was a golden light. Sister Mary Agnes' face appeared out of that light and she laughed in that bell-like way I remembered. 'Dave! Dave! I am so happy! Now I know you are Jewish. You were so nice I thought you were Catholic! You didn't have to feel uncomfortable. They’re no Christians or Jews here, just light and love.
'See you later, dear friend!'"
And when Dave takes that final drive, he probably will.