It was the last day of my middle school. I had arrived early, one of the first few. The skies were still dark with only a hint of sunlight seeping into the new day. The school itself was still ensconced in a rare silence. Few lights had been turned on in the hallways, no doubt by Sister A, the headmistress of the convent girl school. I went to my class, dropped off my almost-empty school bag and walked down the side staircase. My sleepy senses were waking up with every step I took.
Slowly, I opened the door to the small prayer room and looked inside. No one was there yet. Dark and permeated with a sharp lavender scent, the room was only lit with a few candles. One had almost melted completely, I realized wistfully. Chairs were placed in rows around the room, like makeshift pews. I carefully made my way to a seat closest to the small statue placed in the middle of the room. There She stood with open, welcoming arms. Her face, caressed by the soft flickering candle light, had never looked kinder. My heart grew heavy, my chest tightened. I clasped my hands together on my lap, closed my eyes and recited the familiar prayer silently. It would be my last time in that room. It was only fitting.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
The prayer that I had first learned when I entered the convent school was one that I would recite over and over again at every mass. But never in the prayer room. In that safe space, it was just Her and me. I would sit on that same seat, in the near dark. I would talk to Her silently and emptied my heart. I shared all my fears, my pains and the many joys I experienced. I didn’t hold much back, not even my doubts about God’s existence and Hers.
Despite years of prayers and countless visits to the prayer room, I was still unsure I was made for the Catholic faith. How I desired to belong then, to embrace a religion I already knew and walk the same path as many of my friends. I was graduating from the convent a drifter, I thought, ruefully and apologetically. Nevertheless, the school, especially its prayer room, had been a place of refuge for me in my tumultuous growing years. It was a blessing I have continued to be grateful for.
Thank you for everything , I said to Her.
I continued to sit there for a while, absorbing every peaceful moment with Her until I started hearing shuffling of footsteps outside the door. Sister A would be coming in soon to blow out the candles. It was time to go to class and join my friends.