In my senior year of high school, I got a job in the acute ward of a psychiatric hospital in St. Louis County. Its head nurse, Sister Kenneth Anne, walked the hallways of the unit with a serene countenance and kept us mildly amused with an acerbic wit.
Drink your coffee, girl, she’d instruct me. It’s us or them, and so far today, they’re winning.
Once a month, she’d gather the staff and warn of the impending full moon. She’d tell us that the phases of the moon impact emotions, more so in people whom she labeled “the craziest among us”. She’d straighten the short veil which she wore, hike her skirt a bit, and tell us to buckle our shoes. We’ll get through this but probably not without a few people getting hurt. She didn’t mean the patients; she would never harm anyone. She meant us — the staff.
Sure enough, by the morning after any full moon, an aide or a nurse would have long scratches or a wrenched arm as a result of a scuffle. But the patients would drift into sleep bathed in moonlight, unknowingly secure behind the locked door, the scrubbed floors, and the eternal glow of the desk lamp in the nurse’s station.
I remember Sister Kenneth Anne whenever the full moon shines over the meadow in the RV park in which I currently live. I thought of her last night, as I stood by the bonfire that one of my neighbors had built. The moon slowly rose in the east. I sat near a visitor to the community, a young man who talked about science with such fervor that I could see a spark in his eyes brighter than the reflection of the flames. From the circle of neighbors in their folding chairs, laughter floated into the sky with the ashes and the smoke and the scent of burning wood.
I drove home around ten-thirty, leaving the younger folks to start their movie and pour another round of Margaritas. I stood on my porch for a few minutes, watching the slight sway of the trees towering over my tiny house. Sister Kenneth Anne’s face appeared before me, passive, pleasant, perceptive. She arched one eyebrow, raised a finger, and let the corners of her mouth tilt upward ever so slightly.
Hang in there, girl, she said, in a calm voice still familiar after more than forty years. This, too, shall pass.
It’s the first day of the eighty-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.