Friday, June 17, 2011

Stay in Your Cell

"What we have committed ourselves to constitutes a monastic cell. When we are faithful to that, namely, to the duties that come to us from our personal relationships and our place of work, we learn life's lessons by osmosis. Conversely, whenever we betray our commitments as they pertain to our relationships or to our work we become less than what we are.

We are all monks and it matters not whether we are in a monastery or are in the world as spouses, parents, friends, ministers in the church, teachers, doctors, nurses, laborers, artisans, social workers, bankers, economic advisors, salespersons, politicians, lawyers, mental health workers, contractors, or retirees. Each of us has our cell and that cell can teach us what we need to know." ~Ronald Rolheiser (Lessons from the Monastic Cell)

For the past fourteen years I have worked as a nutritionist for the WIC Progam (Women, Infants and Children.) I love helping young mothers to learn about eating well as a means to care for themselves and their children. It's great when I can mentor them, sharing my own parenting experiences and reassuring them that they are wonderful mothers, performing a difficult vocation to the best of their ability. I have a close friend at work whose office is directly across from mine. Melissa and I will often lean back in our chairs and talk across the hall to one another between clients. Working with her brings me great joy. Most mornings I look forward to going to work with enthusiasm.

But on Thursdays....on Thursdays it's hard to muster that same spirit of vigor for my work. Thursday used to be my day off and it was my favorite day of the week. I would attend Mass, purchase the family groceries, work out and then return home to find that the Catholic Herald had arrived and I would voraciously pore through it while eating my lunch. But schedules change and now I work on Thursdays while Melissa does not, so my end of the hall is quiet and lonely at work. Moreover, Thursdays are always the slowest day of the week. We don't usually certify families for WIC benefits on this day and instead it is the day when clients come to pick up their WIC vouchers (checks for healthy foods in the grocery store and at Farmer's Markets) and maybe have a quick weight check or iron check and then meet briefly with myself or one of the other nutritionists. Thursdays drag. And to make matters worse, my boss has asked me to spend the majority of Thursdays sitting in the waiting room, greeting the clients as they come in and reviewing the "Nutrition Topic of the Month" with them, which this month happens to be "Fast Food." It is a dull and dreaded job for me.

I've been trying to gain some spiritual growth from my dislike of Thursdays. I tell myself the words that my dear friend Danette always likes to say-"God has you right where He wants you." I try to sit quietly in the waiting room and pray the rosary while I wait for clients to arrive. I try to drown out all distracting thoughts from my mind and focus on "staying in my cell." Despite my best efforts, I find that overcoming the discomfort and dislike that I have for my job on Thursdays is a very difficult challenge and by the time my workday is over I arrive home in a foul mood.

But recently, I met someone who is in a different type of cell which put my Thursday predicament into a whole new light...

At first glance of the chart I thought that I was about to work on a typical postpartum certification-new mom (non-breastfeeding) with her five day old daughter. This was an experienced mom who had another daughter who was four years old and the only complaints listed with this past pregnancy were the normal nausea and a struggle to quit smoking. When I went to the waiting room and called her name, she didn't respond. I called again and her boyfriend nudged her and she finally got up and came with her family to my office.

Shonice had a flat affect to her appearance and she didn't answer me when I would speak to her. After giving her a chance to try to answer my questions, Derek her boyfriend and the father of the baby, finally spoke up and told me that within the first day after Neveah was born, Shonice went into a severe postpartum depression and has been nearly unresponsive. They had just come from the psychiatrist who diagnosed her with the depression as well as schizophrenia and bipolar disease. The doctor gave Shonice some type of shot and assured Derek that she would be more like her usual self within a few days. It was a tragically sad situation that makes me cringe at the realization of how vulnerable women can be to their hormones. I might have been complaining about my cell in the waiting room, but Shonice was in an entirely different type of cell from which she could not find spiritual, emotional or physical solace on her own; she was now completely dependent on others. (names have been changed)

It's a fact of life that we all will find ourselves in cells from time to time, maybe those of our own choosing or perhaps those from which we did not have a say, and the best we can do is to accept our lot in life, work to survive it if we are able and offer it all to God as a sacrifice of love. I pray that I will find the strength to cope with my "Thursday cell" as well as the other life cells in which I find myself, in a fashion that is more pleasing to God, without squirming in restlessness or complaint, but understanding that the longer I remain in my cell and accept it as the will of God for my life, the more deeply I am growing into a true and more loving union with the Lord.

What kind of cell do you find yourself in?


  1. Wow. Did I need to hear THAT today! For some reason I've been feeling rather isolated...maybe just a side-effect of the summer schedule. And when I look around, and I see that other people experience isolation as well. It's a common feeling, especially in our modern time. But I do recall that many of the great spiritual writers would identify isolation as a blessing, a privation that allows us to make room for our Lord. Thank you for reminding me of this.

    God bless you, Anne. Our sufferings of isolation are being offered in communion with Christ, therefore we are closer to each other even though we image ourselves alone.

  2. OOPS! Should have been "even though we IMAGINE ourselves being alone."

  3. Anne, I really enjoy reading your posts. It is a great line of work you are in helping those that need it so much. Reflection is dead on too, that those with chemical imbalances, hormone issues affecting emotional well-being did not choose to be that way. It does inspire me to offer some of the inconveniences, or self-control that I am in dire need of not just for those in purgatory, and not just for conversions, especially within my own family, but also for healing, or just that the hand of our loving God will touch them, and they will know it is from God that their comfort or relief comes.

  4. Anne,
    This is a very sad story. I will pray for "Shonice". Hormonal fluctuations can be horrendous both after childbirth and during those years when menopause starts to sneak up but this story was heartbreaking. May our Lord heal her.