I met her in the local Catholic Church where my daughter does pottery. She looked about eighty. She was struggling to get up the stairs to the storeroom cupboard. I offered to help but she refused. After a few minutes she came down with what she had been looking for. It was a box of shoes for a homeless young woman she had befriended. She introduced herself as Sister Anne. She was a Jesuit nun. She had bright blue eyes that were clear and youthful although her frame was weak and hunched over. She talked in a soft Irish accent about the homeless woman she looked after. She told me that the woman had been put into a home when she was a young child because she was considered too hyperactive. She had since drifted from home to home. She was now a homeless young adult. “Imagine your own parents doing that to you. How do you recover from that?” she asked. I guessed it was a rhetorical question.
Sister Anne had been the young woman’s friend for over six years. She was among the many homeless people she looked after. She talked about their antics as if to give them dignity, to ensure that they were seen as more then just homeless. “They are quite fussy you know. They still have standards even though they live on the streets. There is this one chap that is very picky about the kind of shoes I bring to him”. The conversation then moved on to the best ways to parent. She talked about how important the early years were. She held the top of my arm in part for support but also to make sure she had my full attention: “Children need a lot of love especially when they are young but they also need boundaries. Kids today are given too many things they don’t need when what they really need is our time and our love”. I could tell she had a lot more to say on the subject but she cut herself short… “I must be going,” she said. She picked up the box of shoes and left. I wasn’t sure how far she had to go. As I watched her walk slowly down the road I felt a sense of loss, perhaps because I guessed that once she was gone there would be no one to replace her. I was sure that the younger generation would produce their own version of Sister Anne but wasn’t sure what she would look like and whether she would value the importance of taking time, of slowing down long enough to notice what mattered.