Writing 101, Day Two: A Room With A View
Arms fully loaded and pulling a suitcase behind me, I tripped up the steps to the A-framed stoop and let myself in the door without ringing the bell. Inside the deserted hallway stretched before me. Sister Danielle wasn’t in her office to the left. Odd for a Friday night. I juggled my box of decorations into the small chapel at my right and literally dropped them onto a pew. The beautiful crucifix of blond wood still hung behind the altar, and the eternal flame burned in the red glass candle holder just above it. I always felt such peace in this chapel. Peace left over from a million prayers prayed down through the years.
I didn’t have time to dawdle, however, as soon 27 women would descend on the retreat house for our annual fall women’s retreat. I still had lots to do. Pulling the suitcase and the overnight bag along behind me, I passed sleeping rooms on the right side of the hallway, laundry facilities on the other. At the end of the hall I peeked into the dining room and kitchen to see if Sister D was about. Nope. She must have gone up to the nun’s house for something. This building USED to be where the nuns who taught at St. Joseph’s High School lived. Now they were housed in a whole new facility and for years Our Lady of the Mountains had served as a guest/retreat house.
Back out of the dining room I went down the hallway to the left passing rooms on both sides as well as the showers. At the end of the hall would be the Commons Room where we held classes and discussions, and just sat and gabbed. A huge rock fireplace spanned one end of the room. Double sliding doors led out to a deck that sat up above the hilly yard. Library shelves lined two walls, and sofas and chairs strewn with pillows were scattered all about. But my room, the one I always chose, was the last one on the left.
I dumped my bags on the bed and hung my coat in the teeny, tiny closet. Nestled in between it and the wall was a sink and mirror. And if you weren’t careful, you bumped into the desk and chair when you turned around. The Hilton it was not. In fact, the only other things in the room were two twin beds maybe four feet apart with a night stand and a lamp between them against the wall below the only window. The rooms had been single cells for the nuns when they lived there. It was quite a feat to shove two beds in them. But it was also homey. Like pulling a nice warm blanket around you. I always felt safe there.
The retreat house was situated up on the side of the mountain well into the scrub oak tree line. It was so secluded you couldn’t even hear the traffic below. As I looked out the window I could see the leaves on the oak had turned reds and browns. The stream that ran through the surrounding woods was a dry bed now, and the stone bridge that ran over it was lonely. I debated going out for a walk on the wooded path, but I knew folks would be coming soon now. It was 5:15 and check-in was 5:30.
Still not knowing where Sister D was but more than willing to take advantage of the quiet, I walked back to the chapel and sat in the last pew in the far corner where no one coming in would notice me. Then I just got quiet. I didn’t think of anything in particular. This was our 12th year together as a group. The planning for the weekend was done. The guest facilitator was going to be great, and personally I couldn’t wait for Compline on Saturday night when all the lights were put out except candles and we took a vow of silence until the worship service the next day. It was my favorite part of the weekend, even though it had taken me literally YEARS to learn to keep my mouth shut!
I would spend the next three days making sure everyone had what they needed, herding late comers to meals, even drying tears, and loving every moment of it. But this time was for me. It was why I always came early. I needed to still my mind and my spirit and remember that it was God, not I, who was in charge of everything. And that was a great comfort.
These are actual pictures of Our Lady of the Mountain Retreat House