My brain on a jet & let’s go!
July 25, 2010

I was born with a “let’s go” gene.  I would sit in a chair at my grandparents’ house with a view of the driveway. If I heard my mom’s car or my dad’s pickup start, I was out the door like a shot. I asked the destination only once we were en route. True, the worst place was the electrical store where my dad would buy stuff for his ham radio set up (his call sign was K6JYP – anyone out there remember?) There was nothing there that interested me so I would root through the truck and always found treasures in the back of the seat, loose change included. I mean, what did my dad do? Throw change over his shoulder? He also had a penchant for cherry danish. If I was lucky, they were only a day old upon discovery.

Then I entered the convent, a never-ending journey, smooth, bumpy, stormy and beautiful, that far surpassed family adventures, school field trips, and Girl Scout camping jaunts.

Since then I have taken countless boat rides on the Staten Island ferry, train trips up and down the Bos-Wash corridor, fights long and short and made so many road trips I cannot remember them all (and one four-day film retreat cruise). I do know I have visited all U.S. states, except Iowa and North Dakota – and Guam. In addition, I have had the opportunity and privilege to have visited 17 countries. Except for visits to my family and a pilgrimage to Rome and Lourdes, these were all ministry related. “Join the Daughters of St. Paul and see the world” is my motto. I also figured out that I had driven almost the entire east coast on I-95 from the Canadian border to Jacksonville, Fl.  And using trains, buses, cars and a U-Haul, I had actually crossed the country over the years – in segments.

But today I am taking a relatively brief flight from Los Angeles to San Antonio via Dallas to co-teach a weeklong course on media literacy to Catholic school teachers. A man passed me on his way to take his seat and noted how nice it was to see a nun in a habit. I smiled at him as I could feel the perspiration staining my veil in the sweltering time before the A/C was turned up. “So few nuns do these days.” “It means I have to behave myself,” I replied with a smile. I never know what to say a when people say this about nuns and habits. (The story of an older woman approaching two of our nuns in a church a couple of years ago always gets a big laugh among us; in a stage whisper she said from the pew behind, “It’s so nice to see sisters with their clothes on”.)

My community in the USA wears the veil, so I do as well most of the time. Because I have MS I am extra sensitive to the heat, something that can exacerbate symptoms, so my use of the veil depends on the temperature.

This is an early flight; I had to get up at 4:00 A.M., as did the sister who drove me to the airport. I offered to take a cab, but she disapproves of paying for a cab on principle. I think many folks on this full flight probably got up even earlier. The man next to me is already snoring peacefully. Please God, no louder.

Do you read those in-flight magazines? I don’t always, but in these days of Kindle, there is time between take-off and the announcement that it is OK to turn on electrical devices, to browse the catalog selling everything you will never need, to reading what I have always considered the act of a desperate traveler: the magazine.

As we taxied down the runway, I closed my eyes to say my pre-flight prayers. I make the Sign of the Cross at lift-off, and morning prayers, too. If it is a long flight I pray the Rosary. Today I picked up the July 15 “AmericanWay” magazine and much to my surprise, found some interesting articles. One sidebar got my attention: “New Rules for Social Networking”. It listed four points: 1) Nix the close-ups; 2) Mind your manners; 3) Fear commitment (do you really want this person as your friend?) and 4) Think twice (before sending).

The article that stood out for me was, “Activating the Brain” on brain stimuli research for MS patients. Experimental research seems to regenerate brain function for patients with multiple sclerosis, something no one thought possible. The brain is such a marvel to me (though director Tom Shayac’s existential new documentary “I AM” seeks to prove that the heart is more essential.)

I look up; “Diary of a Whimpy Kid” is playing on the monitor but I have already seen it.

There’s an article about sailing in my hometown, San Diego. I skimmed that one; I love the ocean but not sailing.

There seem to be thousands of dense advertisements and annoying postcards. Flip, flip.

Then another sidebar caught my eye – about the contemporary Irish novelist, Tana French. I read her first two books earlier this year. Murder mysteries, the people who solve them and the families and communities affected.  Boldly crafted writing and wholly engaging (so, yes, I agreed with the reviewer.)

Neither the Sudoku or crossword puzzles were yet filled out. I am not that good at either, but it makes the time sitting on the runway, waiting for a gate upon landing, pass more quickly.

There are some military personnel on the flights, but other than this, no hint of current events, unpleasantness, or actual problems. Flying can be a respite, though getting through security is a continual reminder that all is not well in the world.

And now a guy sleeping in the seat behind me is roaring but no children are fussing or crying. The flight attendants are helpful and pleasant. I say “thank you” to all the crew, intentionally and sincerely every time they pass by to pick up the trash or offer to sell me expensive snacks. My favorite airline is Southwest, but I am trying to improve the others by affirming the crew and staff whenever I can. It’s a small contribution to the wellbeing of the universe (but it’s been a long journey to develop travel spirituality, and I am not saying I am always as generous as I am today.)

I was born with a “let’s go” gene and I am grateful.


Jamie’s story: growing in grace
October 9, 2009


Here is a photo of actor Mark Derwin, my niece Jamie, and actress Robin Riker at the Catholics in Media Awards earlier this year. Jamie has just been accepted into Georgetown University’s nursing program. I asked her if I could post the essay that she sent them as part of the admissions process. I found it very moving and I hope you will, too.


In July of 2006 I launched my own business, a women’s clothing boutique, in my hometown in California. I held ownership of the business for three years, and as I look back on the journey, I realize that I faced many challenges and obstacles that have provided me with many beneficial lessons about life; important lessons I never could have anticipated or predicted. What I remember most about the journey are the people I met, what I learned about them and what they taught me about myself. In my role as owner, I met countless women, listened to many stories, and engaged with a diverse population of strangers on a daily basis. One customer in particular, a woman whom I met early on, I will never forget.

Tina* discovered my boutique shortly after I opened my store for business.  Fit, stylish, and attractive, she seemed to have everything one could want.  Tina was the last person whom I would suspect to be a shoplifter.  One day Tina strolled into the store, and something struck me as strange. The week before, a distinctive and expensive pair of designer sunglasses had gone missing.  After I became aware of their absence I assumed I had simply misplaced them and was sure that they would turn up.  After a moment, I realized that what was odd was that Tina was wearing them.

I was surprised and amazed.  Tina had apparently forgotten that she was wearing them as she walked in, friendly and smiling.  She must have noticed the shock on my face and realized what she had done, as her smile quickly faded and she nervously tried to put the sunglasses out of sight. Meanwhile, I knew I had to say something. I quickly realized I had a choice; I could confront Tina, demand the glasses back and then tell her to leave the store. I could even call the police.  Instead, I chose to stay calm and approach the situation in a civil manner.  I was angry, hurt, and blind-sided all at once, but I knew that if I got upset or emotional the situation would not be resolved in a constructive manner. Thankfully, we were alone in the store. After a few moments of silence, I said Tina’s name gently and asked her whether she had taken the sunglasses, and if so, would she kindly return them?  Tina was speechless at first, and then she began to tremble.  She seemed nervous and embarrassed and I was surprised to suddenly feel a rush of compassion for her.  Tina confessed to the theft and apologized, but offered no excuses.  I thanked her for her honesty.  I told Tina she would be welcome in the store in the future, as long as she left her purse at the counter while shopping.  Tina looked very upset but thanked me for being so understanding. She quickly left the store, and I never expected her to return. However, one week later Tina came in to shop and was very friendly and pleasant.  Over the next three years, Tina returned often.  She always left her purse at the counter and we never referred back to the incident again.  .

I truly was surprised when I was able to see the situation with Tina come full circle. During 2007, my store was broken into, and the glass of the front door was completely smashed in. I had the door boarded up for a few days, waiting for final repairs to take place. Tina visited my store during this time and saw the damage. When she came to the register to pay for an item, she handed me a $50 bill and told me to contribute the money towards repairing my door.  I was deeply touched. The money was nice, but the gesture was significant. I never could have anticipated a more meaningful interaction with someone who had previously stolen from me; to turn around and offer me one of the best gifts I have ever received. It was not the gift of money, but it was the gift of generosity and kindness in my own time of need.

What I learned from this particular experience is that kindness and compassion can evoke very positive reactions and outcomes when dealing with people. I also learned that no matter what mistakes people may make, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  I now understand that the only real control I have when working with others has to do with the choices that I make and the actions I take.

Another very important lesson was learning how to extend compassion and place boundaries with others that have the potential to take advantage of me. I had no control over Tina’s choices, but by being kind and establishing strong boundaries with her, she remained a loyal customer and acquaintance.

I learned that Tina’s actions had nothing to do with me personally, but that her choice to steal must have come from personal issues in her own life.  I am grateful that my ability to act compassionately, something I learned from my parents and family,  has taught me that, when given a second chance, people can and will respond well. They respond often in ways that cannot be imagined. We all make mistakes, and we all deserve a second chance.  People are not throwaway, and how they act in one moment is not necessarily who they are as a person.

I will always carry the memory of Tina with me. Most importantly, I believe I can transfer this learning moment to my life as a nursing student in the second-degree program. This experience is a standard for how I intend to relate to my classmates, professors, and most importantly, the patients I meet and serve while in training.  By remembering this lesson of our common humanity, I am confident that I can transfer this to my future nursing practice and to each patient without distinction.

*name changed

The real “September Issue” is grace
September 14, 2009

Photo by
Photo by

First of all, let me tell you about this photo. I asked Sr. Tracey (one of the sisters in my community) what image came to mind when she heard the word “grace”. She said the ocean, big, blue, all-embracing. I asked because I wanted to lead into this reflection with this image in mind….

Last Friday I went to see “The September Issue”, the story of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine, the biggest ever. The film also focused on Anna Wintour, the editor – some say that the Meryl Streep character in “The Devil Wears Prada” was based on her.

Although the film was about fashion, it turned out to be a grace-filled experience.

I wrote it for this blog and then thought to share it via my blog on the  National Catholic Reportersite. I invite you to click through to savor the moment.


Legends of the hummingbird
September 3, 2009


I bought a Papyrus card (their logo is a hummingbird) the other day. Inside was a paper that said:

“Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”

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