"Angels came in the window..."
Peggy is in her early forties and is married. She works as a writer and has expanded her career to include landscape painting. She is very happy most of the time and leads a balanced life. She has a great sense of humor and lots of friends. She is self-directed and thoughtful. Because she lives where winters are cold, Peggy likes to travel to warm climates—California, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii. She also likes the snow and is learning to cross-country ski. She likes entertaining, playing games, and cooking for people. For exercise she goes power-walking in the park. (Interview: late ‘80s)
Peggy’s inner life:
The first inner experience I remember happened when I was about six. It's the best memory I have of being alive. I was standing out in a field about a block away from home. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. I had been playing with one of my friends and she had gone home. Suddenly my awareness expanded, everything dropped away and I saw reality as it really is. The sky looked much bigger, and all the colors looked clearer. Everything looked and felt huge. I was in the middle of it all, experienced, wise. I thought not as a little child but as a wise person. I was aware of myself as a really old person in a little child's body. I'd been in existence for a long time.
Actually I was older than an old person. I was experienced and had the awareness of an experienced person. I was looking at myself as a little girl, but I knew that life was bigger than it seemed. Life was more significant and more meaningful than I'd been aware of as a six year old or a three year old. In the ongoing process of this life there was purpose connected with that bigness. The experience was a touchstone for me. I knew my life was going to have greater meaning. I experienced the seed form of something larger than changing everyday life. A wise person lived in this little body. It seemed magic but not in a fairytale way because it was real and it was breathtaking. It was quiet. Blissful. I think of it in terms of awareness more than a sensual experience. I wasn't aware of my body. The experience lasted perhaps ten minutes standing there in the field. I thought, "Ah, this is incredible." Sometimes through the years I would remember the experience and feel happy that I'd had it, but it wasn't something I thought about often.
One night I had, I guess you'd call it, an out-of-body experience. I was in bed and had already gone to sleep. Angels came in the window and pulled me up out of the body and flew up. There were three of four of them and they pulled me out from the head. They were all holding me and lifting me up. When I was up around the ceiling I remember looking down and seeing myself asleep on the bed. They took me through the open window. It was a warm summer night, I remember, because irises grew outside my window and I could smell them. There was a sweet fragrant night air feeling about it. Then they took me away someplace into the night sky. I have no memory of where they took me.
I saw the sky and all the stars. The stars were the same distance away as always. I wasn't conscious very long after they took me out the window so I don't know where we went. Even when they put me back in the body I wondered why it had happened. It seemed that I had learned a lesson. I felt more knowledgeable afterwards from having had the experience, but not from the lesson. I have no awareness of what it was. When they brought me back it was still dark outside, not yet morning, but most of the night had passed. I looked down on my body sleeping on the bed; they put me back in, and I was asleep.
I didn't think about it in the morning, but I remembered it and wondered where they had taken me. I still wish I could remember. The three or four angels had transparent light bodies I could see through. They were about seven feet tall, not giant. They were soft, gossamer creatures with a human image about their bodies, but they weren't vibrant or brightly lit in the dark. They were bluish white, and softly glowing with sparkly light emanating from the forms. They had faces but I didn't particularly notice them. There was total silence. I felt kindness and caring coming from them, but neutrality more than anything. They were on a mission, sent to get me and take me somewhere, but I knew they wouldn't have any more to do with what was going on after that. The fact that I wasn't afraid is phenomenal considering I was leaving my body behind on the bed. When they took me out I was asleep, but I wasn't dreaming. There was a sense of its happening, of some difference between dreaming and things that actually are happening. It happened. It was a neutral pleasant experience without the clarity of wakefulness because I was asleep at the time.
When I got older, thirteen or fourteen, religious life began to get enlivened. My family was religious, particularly my mother, my sister and I. We went to the Baptist Church and were strong fundamentalist, Bible beaters. I went to Bible study and was dedicated to religious life.
The last experience I recall was very simple. It started when I was around thirteen and I had it often for about three years. It was a time when I would regularly read the Bible and pray fervently for different things. Sometimes kneeling by my bed at night, praying, and sometimes sitting in church, praying or listening to music, my spine would straighten automatically and my head would go up by itself. When the spine straightened I'd feel tingling in the back of my head. It felt like somebody had stuck a rod up my spine.
After the spine got straight and the tingling reached the head, I would see white light and feel intense happiness, a feeling of well-being and light in my heart. The light would come on like an explosion but a little slower than that sounds. It would go, "Poof!" and the light would dazzle my closed eyes as if I were looking into a lightbulb or a white screen. If I opened my eyes the room would look brighter. I knew it was an innocent experience and always felt it came from God.
During the experience of my spine straightening I sometimes felt uncomfortable after the experience would be over because I didn't understand it. It was a powerful experience and I wasn't sure about it. I would both want the experience to continue because it was so blissful, yet I also didn't want it to happen. I would start to pray knowing that it might happen, but I couldn't turn it on and off at will, and sometimes I'd pray and it wouldn't happen. I wondered what it was, but I never asked anybody about it or my other inner experiences because I didn't think they would understand me or be able to help. No one had ever said anything about things like that.
I felt I was special and had a sense of having gifts. My childhood experiences have been a wonderful guiding light in my life. They are an inspiration to me whenever I have doubts or feel bad. They reassure me that there's more to life than humdrum existence. As a child I had a feeling of assurance about life, and I had a feeling of general order that I could trust in which I associated with God. Now, I am a grown-up. I work and have responsibility. I'm very happy and I meditate.
Those experiences from childhood have inspired me to look for more in life. I'm sure it will become even more important as I get older. I think it will be natural as I get wiser to focus more on spirituality and see the rest of life as less meaningful than that. My spiritual life is central but its values are integrated into my daily life. I have always had a desire to have God or experience God. In childhood that desire arose spontaneously. Now it's conscious.
More about Peggy’s childhood:
I grew up in Santa Barbara, California. There were two of us, my sister and I. She is three years older. I was a cute little girl with big white teeth. I had dark brown eyes and brown hair which I usually wore short, sometimes straight and sometimes permed by my mom. Most of the time I was happy. Some of the time I wasn't. There were some difficulties in my family, but mostly I was happy.
My parents were divorced when I was five, so when I think of our family I remember my stepfather, my mom, my sister and me. After the divorce we moved from Washington to California. I liked California so that eased the hard time and insecurity of the divorce, yet because my stepdad wasn't my natural father, I always felt a block in our relationship. I didn't feel comfortable on my summer visits to my dad either because he had also remarried.
My stepfather was an adventuresome, flamboyant guy. When he'd come home from work he’d have something for us to do instead of sitting down and having dinner like most people. One of our favorites was to go over to the beach and watch the surfers. My sister and I would play in the sand. It would be sunset. My parents would sit in the cay and talk and watch us and the surfers. Then we'd go home and have dinner.
My sister and I had a lot of freedom because my parents weren't restrictive. One time, when I was about twelve and my sister was a little older, we cooked breakfast for our parents. I cut the grapefruit with a jagged edge, and we baked little muffins. The meal tasted delicious and our parents were happy. My mother let us experiment and do things ourselves. Even if we created a disaster we got to do it.
I had an affectionate relationship with my mom. She liked to hold me on her lap and hug me. She would have liked to keep me young, and when I was about ten I rebelled at her kissing me goodnight. I felt she needed me too much.
When I was a kid I liked to do everything. I loved school, I loved recess, and I loved coming home. I played all kinds of playground sports, especially dodgeball and four-square. School gave me a focus, an outlet for my creativity and energy. I loved summer vacation and playing with my friends in the neighborhood. I was a strong leader and more aggressive than most of the other girls. I was queen of the rings and I could skip. I took it seriously and liked being active.
The most important thing to me as a kid was having fun. I liked having power, conquering life, learning new things. I liked to discover new places and went on exploration walks by myself.
My sister and I were good friends until I was about nine or ten. She taught me how to read. Sometimes being the youngest was hard, especially when we'd play games like Monopoly and she'd always win. She grew up fast and became an adult quite young and interested in boys, and after that I had trouble relating to her.
Before that she was my best friend. We would walk to a magical place of three hills, fighting our way up through a jungle of tall soft, spring green grasses and bamboo. The feeling of being there was very sweet. We lived on Cliff Drive in Santa Barbara and would crawl down a giant cliff over the rocks to play in the tide pools and build rock houses. Most people didn't go to that part of the beach because it took a hard trek to get there. I was a dare-devil but never got hurt. During the rainy season the creeks became torrents. I would crawl underneath overpasses in the rafters, sometimes by myself. It was exhilarating and I never thought of falling or being in danger. I was well-coordinated.
We did some things with our parents but my life revolved more around my friends and my sister.
I'd make up stories and tell the kids I was from a circus. I'd balance on the bars around the swings like a monkey. The most mischievous thing I ever did happened one summer when Mom was at work. I was nine and my sister was twelve. I decided I'd make a fun house like the one at the circus, sell tickets, darken the room and fill bowls with toilet paper and water like guts. I put the garden hose inside the house and turned it on. By the time we turned it off, the water was about three inches deep.
Another time I wrote, starred in and directed a play about babysitters. It was important that everything be done right—refreshments, the tickets, and the play. We invited the entire neighborhood, and our parents came. We sold popcorn and cookies, but the cookies were soggy and I was disappointed.
When I was eleven and twelve I would invent elaborate games to act out in the yard with other kids. I loved to dress up. Once I found a pink satin dress in a neighbor's garage, and wore it around for a long time. I gave myself names, Star or Ruby, usually gemstone names. I had the same best friend from second grade to junior high and was deeply loyal to her. There was always one person I was close to and I would be off and on, cool and warm, with other people.
“Actions and consciousness interwoven in a river of light"
Claire is a forty year old writer and mother of two boys. She is tall, slender and fair with a soft Southern voice. Her life centers around mothering her children and refining her relationship with God. She feels it's divine work, that anything can be divine, that everybody works together and people are a blessing to each other. One day, she says, she will be chasing after her children to thank them for her gaining enlightenment. She also makes the thickest spaghetti sauce on the planet. (Interview: late ‘80s)
Claire’s inner life:
I had moments when I was enthusiastic and lively and others when I was quiet and thoughtful. When I was with other people or on stage I'd get excited, but when I was in church with God by myself, I experienced quiet. I wrote poetry from the time I could write and loved to compose soft songs on the piano.
While I was active I enjoyed thinking about the quiet inside. Even when I was rushing around, there was quiet within in the place where the heart's got a space in it. I would experience it when I'd strike out on my own on a horse or on foot.
There was magic within me that I knew wasn't within other people because of the way they treated their food, and the way they treated each other. I knew there was something about me. The way I explained it to myself when I was young was that there was me and there was a place within me which is vacant and untouchable by anybody, even me sometimes, but it's always there. When I would experience anything, whether it was playing outside or getting fussed at by a parent, none of it touched that place within me. There are no walls; it's vastness. It's beyond space and time without any vibration in it at all.
I remember getting spanked and thinking to myself, "Hmmm, this is interesting. The spanking on the body but not the spanking within." It hurt, but that space within me wasn't touched.
Lots of times we'd all get spanked because my mom wouldn't know who did what.
I thought it was interesting and asked my brothers and sisters about it a couple of times, "When you get spanked does it hurt you inside?" without knowing how to explain myself.
"Man, it hurt. What are you talking about? Yes, it hurt." They didn't know what I was asking.
I asked my mother about it, but until I was about twenty my mom never responded much to questions like that. Then, right before I got married, she said, "Well, I'm glad you're marrying someone who's so intelligent, because I feel you need to be grounded."
She didn't say I was spacey or careless or carefree, but she hinted that she thought of me in that way. I didn't think of myself that way, but I wouldn't care as much for surface things as other people seemed to. I could see that those things weren't the substance of life, even when I was young. I was born knowing that I had God within me and, number two, that the result of my actions would come back to me.
Almost daily from earliest childhood, I remember experiencing different levels of consciousness within myself, and those different levels were attached to modes of behavior. I didn't understand it, but I felt myself fall through and I would be able to see how these levels are attached to different kinds of behavior. Simply put, if you are mischievous then that behavior comes back to you in any way and on any level of mischievousness. If I stole a candy bar from the store and nobody found out, when the reaction would come I would know what it was for. That happened clearly many times in my early life, and through that I taught myself how to behave. I knew that my mother's wishes for us and her religious background were connected with karma even though I didn't know that term. You behave in this way so that you will get grace and be strong, so that you will be able to act on a higher level in the future.
I experienced traveling through various levels of consciousness and realized quite clearly that there are different levels. As I would experience finer levels, I would see the behavior necessary to achieve that level of awareness. I always wanted to be on that finer level.
I realized, "That's what I need to go for."
When I would come back up from that experience, I would visualize a stream ahead of me of actions and consciousness interwoven in a river of light. It was visual in the way that knowledge can be a visual experience, and it was also physical. When I had the experience of a finer level of consciousness, knowledge entered into my physical being, filtering up into my brain.
I still have this experience, but I'm very private with it. I tell very few people about it. I feel to express it in words, it loses everything.
I don't know what you're hearing, but I know what the picture is to me, what it does to my physical being, and how fulfilling and unifying it is for me. I learned when I was little and by myself with this experience that all I need to do is understand it for myself. It is wonderful for me to have that experience and to be with it. I don't need anybody else to understand it.
I also have memories of being with adults before I could talk. I was being held and not able to speak what I wanted to say, but there was so much love around me that it didn't matter that I couldn't speak. I also knew I'd be overcoming that limitation, just as I know that I'm going to overcome the boundaries I'm in now. Of course, I have to act and think in a certain way in order to progress most quickly.
I have an aunt—she’s still alive—with whom I spent summers simply because my mom would set me aside for the summer. She felt I needed a special place to be. I think she saw me as mischievous and a trouble-maker. I did make mischief.
My aunt was my mother's oldest sister and she was a writer. She's retired now. An older sister also spent summers with her until she got too old to go, that is thirteen or fourteen. My aunt introduced me to fairies and gnomes, goblins and angels, although I didn't see them then. She assured me of their existence and their pleasures in life, how they were and what their existence was like. She wove fairytale after fairytale, as far as I can tell, from her personal experience.
She also had a twinkle in her eye as if to say, "It's great that you believe me," so I don't really know, and I don't want to press it any further than I have, but I was always reaching for that experience.
I looked for the fairies and for what they might leave behind in places. I would leave little things for them to come and get. Of course they always came and got them. I would sew tiny things by hand for them to wear and play with. My aunt lived on my family's rice farm in Louisiana swamp land with bamboo, cypress, everything you can imagine growing lush around. There are lots of places to leave things for the fairies and for them to come to. The tiny things I left were always gone when I came back to check.
Now I experience these beings living in nature. They abide everywhere, and my ability to perceive them is according to the degree of my perfection. I behold the existence of deities or angels or whatever that come into that form and express themselves in beautiful sunsets, rainbows, and, say, a flock of birds flying off together in the sky.
Sometimes I'll see the being and then it's gone because a doubt rises in my mind as to whether or not it's there. It's both an intellectual and a visual experience. One time when I was young we were fishing on the water. The sun caught a wave and I saw a body of white light there for an instant. It was just about a foot tall with extremities and head and hair. Yet I doubted, and then what I saw was a wave tumbling. Last week in Colorado I saw something similar and I realized that had happened to me many times in childhood, but even then there was an intellectual doubt, "Nah, that can't be." Now with devotion and my heart opening up I see and enjoy it for longer periods of time.
I did see an angel behind me. I perceived someone behind me needing to get by. I turned around to tell this person, "Give me a second," and there was this beautiful being around twelve feet high, its hands outstretched sending its blessing. If we want to bless ourselves with that vision we act right and think right and do right so we can see it. By seeing those things we realize how permeated creation is with God and therefore with ourselves. That's what we are.
As I got older I knew, "Thoughts come from there, so that's where these visions come from. This tunnel of light and these activities come from there. This knowledge comes from there..." I knew that my fulfillment was connected with that.
I'll never feel like I've reached a point that I’m satisfied, and this yearning may be the bane of my existence. I always feel there's more. I feel the fabric of the cosmos within me which I'm nurturing and forming into the tapestry of my future. I'm satisfied with my childhood, my mother and my father and all those experiences, but the way I am, I keep reaching. I've been that way all my life. I've never held onto an experience much. They were there and treasured and thought of as special to me.
Certainly in living with my aunt, they were considered special. We could sit together and she would talk to me about my ancestors. I would tell her stories which she knew, but which I had never heard, about people who had died before I was born. She loved that and would encourage me. To her that was completely normal. My direct experiences of coming through that genealogy were visual. I didn't know who the people were, but I could describe them to my aunt and she would tell me who they were. She told me she thought I was another Claire, a beautiful lady, single all her life, wealthy, who did a lot of work for charities. When she grew older Claire told people she was ready to die and wished she could go ahead and die. She would say she was ready to be received by Christ. Finally she burned her house down and burned up with it. They found a few things and my aunt gave me a sterling silver spoon with her initials engraved on it. Claire burned her house in the late 1800s.
I don't experience unhappiness in connection with past lives. It's like looking in a mirror that's reflected in a mirror. I keep seeing myself through all those things and maybe I've got different clothes on. Good Lord, it takes so long to grow. A lifetime is so short that I balance between my own impatience in this lifetime and the patience I know it takes to structure stability. I came into this lifetime to make sure it's stable.
I felt I had tasks to perform. There're many tasks we all have with our friends, with educational systems, political systems—whatever we're involved with—but I've had a vision all my life of myself kneeling in front of myself. There are two of me. One is a very old man with white hair, white beard and sunken eyes on a silk bed with silk over him.
He's holding my hand and saying, "You will have one more opportunity to gain fulfillment. This is what I want you to do for me. Gain fulfillment for me."
The interesting thing is, that man on the bed is me, and that message is carried through to me from me. That is my task this lifetime: to fulfill the promise I made to myself. This is the verge.
He says, "I'm dying and I know I’m coming back. You've got to swear that you'll get there."
The me holding the man's hand has always been me in whatever form I perceive myself at the time. In childhood it was as a child. I had the vision in childhood from the time I started having goals for myself. I was on the swimming team and my goal was to be number one, then number one on the basketball team, then to get good grades. That is when the vision started coming up.
I realized, "This is not worth all the energy and attention I'm giving it. This vision is and this quest is the only thing I need to accomplish."
I knew the fulfillment would be total. Because I had that space within me that I knew was untouchable, that never went anywhere or did anything no matter what I was doing, I set myself to work toward becoming fulfilled and not to knowingly do anything that would deter me from that. I want to enjoy life, and I know to do that I must nurture that space within me.
As a child I felt set apart, but I don't like that thought because in our family we got the message that we are together no matter what happens, and when something happens to one of us it happens to all. I was raised to think we're a unit. Whenever there was a decision to be made about anybody it was discussed at the family meeting on Sunday. Of course our parents had the ultimate say and would guide us. I treasured that connection, but still I did feel set apart. On the surface I was part of that group and there are other special people in my family, but they don't necessarily experience their specialness.
What was my dream in childhood? To be at one. I wrote poems about unity. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. What I wanted was to be in his image and likeness and to know fully what that meant.
Who am I now? I'm incomplete and always reaching for more. I feel complete in that I love the experiences I’ve had and can see in hindsight who I have been. Those visions bring me to the future and to this moment, but who I am is yet to be discovered. Who I am now is a soul who's searching for that absolutely complete status. My spiritual life permeates everything else. My meditation, my reading and my lifestyle all support my spiritual growth.
I don't look at anything without seeing myself. Even if it's intellectual I always insist that's me. If there's any disappointment I know where it's coming from. I need to balance the desire to constantly thrust myself forward with the knowledge I need to stabilize my present experience.
I've had to protect that in myself and to take care of myself. It's really up to me. I could slip and fall and hurt something on every level. I could slip if I'm not careful and destroy a very fine thing within me. It's a gift and a promise to myself.
More about Claire’s childhood:
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There were eleven children in our family, and I was right in the middle—number six. I was happy. I still am happy and hope to get happier. There were eleven kids, but our family was actually bigger because we had a live-in nanny, two regular cooks who came in, and a yard man.
To give you a picture of what we were like I would let you peek in the window to see us at dinner. My father was more of a formal person than my mother because she came from the country. Every evening at six we sat down to a formal dinner. We had to be clean, well-dressed, and quiet. My mother was infinitely patient with this. This dinner routine was my mother's way to get us to eat, and to teach us that you can be outside, loud and rambunctious and having a wonderful time, but you can also be self-contained.
My father lived the lie that we were always neat, clean, and well-behaved. He would only see us at dinner, and then the nanny and maids took over to put us to bed and the house was certainly quiet then.
At dinner we would visit quietly. Only one person could talk at a time, and if we were directing our conversation to someone, that person was expected to look at us and listen. It was wonderful. Behavior was within such strict boundaries that we knew exactly how to behave and what to expect the other person to be like. Everyone knew how you were going to be, too. After dinner we were pretty much ourselves again, and someone's behavior might surprise you. Somebody might push you down the steps or walk up and give you a hug for doing them a favor.
At the dinner table I recall my mother's patience and my father's formal insistence on this environment for us. She would excuse us to him and laugh with us when someone's knife would slip and his meat would fly across the table or someone would spill her milk. That's a picture of what we were like.
I loved my dad and really missed him when he died. When he did die I began to develop a relationship with my mother, and now I'm closer to her than the other kids are. My dad was distant to some of the kids but not to me nor to two others. Even now when I talk to some of my brothers and sisters about it, they're a little resentful that he showed himself to me. It was a two-way street. I would see him and want to be in his lap. Others would see him and feel, "Better be on the floor," or "Better be in Mom's lap." It was like it is with good friends. We were attracted mutually, and so were the other two he was close to. He would always accept us and give us advice.
He advised me when I went off to boarding school about how Catholics are. Though I was only nine years old, my mother could never have heard and accepted that conversation because she was a strict, religious Catholic. My dad gave me some distance from the situation I went into so I could observe it without being caught up in it. When I wrote home from that school I wrote to my dad because I knew he'd understand what I was going through and would help me more than my mom could. I also knew my mom had something he didn't have religiously and spiritually because of her strict adherence to the norms and regulations of the Catholic church.
My first vision of myself is me around ten or eleven. I had hazel eyes and long blond hair down my back which I wore in a ponytail with bangs. I didn't wear make-up until I was fifteen. I wore a blouse with a neat little collar, shorts, white bobby-socks and tennis shoes, no jewelry. I usually had a cigarette stuck down in my underwear from age eleven until eighteen. My parents and brothers and sisters and I were always built just right. We were never too skinny or too fat. I always felt just right.
I'd strike off by myself and take long walks. We lived in the country, and I'd often take food with me and be gone a long time. We had five horses, so I'd tell my mother I was going and just go off by myself. Sometimes I'd meet a friend or two but I liked to be by myself. I felt confident and liked to accomplish something new by myself. Adventure usually suggests being a little afraid, but I wasn't. If I was asked to do something at a swim meet or sports' competition that I'd never done before, I'd love it. I swam on the country club swim team for four years and played field sports, and on the volleyball and basketball teams all through high school. I loved my coaches and won the president's award for physical fitness. At home I played baseball with my brothers.
I was mischievous. I was loved by everybody and knew nobody would hurt me no matter what I did. I used that as a calling card to do anything I wanted. When I was at boarding school I snuck into the cloister, snuck cigarettes, and switched names on report cards.
Because there were eleven kids in our family, there was always so much to do. We'd play with the ducks or the cats and dogs and each other. We had a Monopoly game going constantly. We went roller skating, jumped rope. I liked doing projects and my mother still has an ashtray I made of popsicle sticks in Girl Scouts. She also has the cookbook I made in a spiral bound notebook the summer I was fourteen. Each recipe mentions which friend was in the kitchen helping me cook, what the celery would do when I'd chop it, or how to choose the right pot for the dish.
With other kids I was the leader of the pack, and I loved my friends. I made good grades and was friends with everyone in the class. I had two close girl friends from second to sixth grade, Laura and Sid. Our special thing was the Virgin Mary. There was a grotto in the school yard and we had statues in our rooms. We'd give her flowers and our poems. I loved everyone and had to have everyone in the class come when it was my birthday. There were fifteen of us and we still keep in touch.
At home even though there were a lot of kids and my mom always had help, I never would have said she didn't have time for me. I always felt she was there. I never thought, "Where's Mom?" I had a great time and was never lonely. Even at bath time, there were three kids in the tub with me.
When I was sent away to school there were a few teachers I loved and a loving principal, but most of the nuns who raised me were strict. My parents helped me understand them and I learned how to maneuver under authority to get what I wanted. I learned to swallow my pride and control my personality to fulfill my desires without offending anybody and at the same time, respecting them. It's given me a good understanding of other people, especially those with a strong religious background. Learning was not that important to me, but I knew I had to have an education to get where I wanted to go.
My parents were the most important thing in my life. Before a person knows she can do everything herself, she needs someone in her life to help her realize that she can.
My religious life had tremendous impact on me. It was totally everything to me. That was what I had to relate my experience to and what my parents used as criteria for judging anything in life. One evening in the beginning of sixth grade I talked to my mom in the evening after she'd checked all the kids' homework.
"Mom," I said, "I don't know whether I think the pope is infallible."
It was very difficult for me to bring that up to her. To her he was the representative of God on earth. By questioning him, I was questioning her, but I needed to talk to her about it. Three days later I found myself in a convent boarding school three hours from home. All because I asked that question.
The school was so quiet, hung with wisteria, out in the bayous, out in the countryside of Louisiana. My mother told the Mother Superior that I needed grounding in my religion, that I was a questioner and needed a quiet environment.
In my first letter home, I said, "I think you have me in a crazy place. It's very strict, and I think I should come home."
I got the letter back on my pillow that night with a note from the principal. "We don't write this kind of letter."
I rewrote a nice letter to my dad saying it was important he call me. He called.
I cried, "I've got to go home."
He came two weekends in a row to see me and explained that I'd been put on this planet to learn. If I'd been rebellious, I'd have killed myself, but I was more inward and I realized he was right. My parents taught me this: God is within me, and he is infallible. God is the goal of life.
There's a lot about Catholicism I don't agree with, but I appreciate a lot of Catholics. My exposure to the roughness ended all right. For four years my punishment was to get up at 5:00 a.m. and put the missals out in the church for the nuns. As they chanted, I would settle deeply into silence. I'd jump out of bed in the morning to go. The morning fog, the birds singing, the chanting were all heavenly.
Usually when a person finished school, the principal told the parents, "Now you have a transformed young lady."
When I left school she told my mother, "Now our school has been transformed."