When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a saint when I grew up. I learned all about the saints in catechism. In order to be a saint, I had to give stuff up and pray and be good and think about God every minute. My favorite saint was St. Francis, ’cause he lived outside, and spent time picking flowers and talking to squirrels and birds. That’d be the berries, to live like that. Sister said he gave up a lot, living like a poor person, even though he was from a rich family. I didn’t think that was so hard; we went camping in the summer and it was a whole lot of fun, eating outside and just cleaning up in the lake. Besides, St. Francis knew his Dad was still rich, so if he got tired of smelling worse than a pig sty, he could always go visit his Dad, take a bath, and have a little rest from his poorness.
The easiest way earn sainthood was martyrdom. Sister said it was really hard to be brave enough to die for the faith. I wondered why, ’cause if I died for God, straight to heaven I went, no matter how bad I was up until that time. No waiting around in Purgatory to suffer for my Venial sins. Purgatory’s was like being put on simmer: souls burned, but not on the high flame of hell. If I went to Purgatory, I would suffer for some time, depending on the number of Venial sins, and how many people prayed for my soul, then the gates of heaven would open, and my lost soul would see the face of God. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any Mortal sins; that would get me an indelible blemish on my soul which never washed off, probably like India Ink. Still, I could be forgiven for Mortal sins, if I confessed to Father. I guess it’s like having a grape juice stain on your shirt; God just pretends not notice it anymore, ’cause he can tell you wished you weren’t so darned sloppy all the time, so he says, “That’s all right, just be more careful next time.” But you gotta say you’re sorry first. I went to Confession every Saturday after catechism, just in case; if I died with a Mortal sin on my soul, straight to hell I’d go, no chance for forgiveness, no matter how much people prayed for me. Confession was kind of tricky, too; if I failed to confess a sin, that was a sin too, so then it was double-trouble. I figured I’d probably be in Purgatory at least a little while; it was pretty hard to avoid.
Anyway, if I got lucky, someone, it would probably be a communist from Russia, would stick a gun in my face and say to me, “I’ll kill you if you refuse to say you don’t believe in God.” Well, hey, I already knew I’d go straight to heaven, no need to pay for any sins, so fine, shoot me. I’d look them right in the eye and say, “Nope. I won’t do it.” Not only would I go straight to heaven, I’d get a “Saint” in front of my name and everyone would know who I was. That’d be easy as pie. Still and all, I didn’t want to be like St. Cecilia who got her head whipped off with a sword. She just lay there with her head bleeding and hanging on by a thread, praying that she’d stay alive long enough to get some message to the bishop. I was willing to die, but I could forgo all that pain.
Sister told us about St. Therese, who saw her name written in the heavens when she was just a little girl. She got to be a saint and she wasn’t a martyr. I kept looking for my name in the stars after that. You would think it would be as simple to see an “A” as it is to see a “T”, but no such luck for me. I never did see my name in the heavens, not even one letter of it. All I saw was the Man in the Moon scowling at me. Mom told me that the Man in the Moon saw everything that I do, and if I’m good all day long, I’d see a smiling face. If I saw a frowning face, it must mean I was bad sometime during the day. I looked up in the night sky: no “A” and a scowling Man, then I’d think back over the day. Yep, sure enough, I was bad. Again.
Well, maybe I could be a nun then. I was pretty sure it was easier to be good and to have a clean soul, if I went to church every morning, prayed six times a day, and sat around in between drumming up questions and answers for kids to memorize for catechism on Saturdays. I loved the way the nuns’ habits smelled like incense, and I would never have to brush my hair. My friend Connie, said the nuns shaved their heads; so they could get those starchy things on really tight, otherwise there would be bulges on their heads where the hair bunched up. I could choose my own nun-name too, maybe I could be Sister Mary Francis. If I was lucky, my job would be taking care of the bird bath, and after I was a saint, there would be statues of me, too. I could see it: right beside St. Francis, would be a statue of St. Adela (also known as Sr. Mary Francis.)
I changed my mind about being a nun when I realized nuns can’t have any kids of their own, and martyrdom sort of lost its appeal. There’s a lot of people I really like being around: my kids, my grand-kids and all the other people that I love. Besides, I’d hate to leave my husband, George, alone; I think he would miss me. These days, I’m still trying, I’m still making mistakes, and some days it can feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. I try to say I’m sorry right away when I’m wrong, and I hope I get forgiven when I don’t recognize when I’m wrong. I’m trusting that someday when I see God he’ll say: I know you tried hard, and that’s good enough, even if you were pretty darned sloppy a whole lot of the time.