24 hours to die, 24 hours to live

Back at the cloister a new postulant has just entered the cloister. Sister Beatrix was bubbling over with joy and enthusiasm to begin her life as a Sister of Mary Magdalene. Her enthusiasm was infectious, although it was becoming a bit taxing to some of the more sedate sisters. Mother Magdalene was aware of the emerging tension when Sister Beatrix came in to meet with her for her formative spiritual guidance. Sister Beatrix had barely taken her seat when she began, “Reverend Mother, why does my mind wander around to forbidden places? Why am I so inclined to gossip when none of the other sisters do? Why do I feel such frustration and resentment for others instead of a sense of compassion for all sentient beings like Sister Visentia?”

Mother Magdalene smiled to herself, recognizing that she needed to take the situation in hand and help Sister Beatrix to slow down and to find her pace within the flow of the cloister. Mother Magdalene took a slow breath and thought she might take a bit of a risk with Beatrix. “Sister Beatrix, your questions are thoughtful, but, it seems to me that in 24 hours from now you will die.”

Sister Beatrix looked startled. She stood up and started to walk out of Mother Magdalene’s office.

Mother Magdalene asked, “Sister Beatrix, where are you going? You entered my office with such vitality and enthusiasm, and now you look so down hearted.”

Sister Beatrix replied, “But Reverend Mother, you just told me that I have but 24 hours to live. I must go and say my goodbyes to the other sisters before I die.”

“Ah, but there are 24 hours,” said Mother Magdalene, “sit, and we will talk a bit more.”

“Please Mother,” Sister Beatrix asked, “I must go and gather myself and say my goodbyes.”

Beatrix quickly left Mother Magdalene’s office and returned to her own room. Sister Bryda saw her crying, and softly knocked on the door. Beatrix wept as she told her what Reverend Mother had said. Then Beatrix asked to be left alone, and she wept into her pillow. Time quickly flew by with Beatrix weeping, pacing and weeping. Before she realized it, there were only 3 hours left. Death had not yet arrived, but Beatrix was all but dead as she lay on her bed waiting.

When there was only one hour was left, Mother Magdalene came to Sister Beatrix’s room and knocked on the door. She said, “Sister Beatrix, why are you lying on your bed with your eyes closed, crying. Death is still a whole hour away! An hour is 60 minutes – 3600 seconds – long. That is a lot of time. Get up, wash your face. Let us talk a bit.” 

Sister Beatrix sat up and said, “Mother, why should we talk now? Please may I just die peacefully?”

“Oh, Beatrix my child, there is still time and our talk will be concluded before your final time arrives.”

So, Beatrix pulled herself together, washed her face, and sat waiting for Mother Magdalene to speak.

Mother Magdalene asked Beatrix, “Now, my daughter, in the past 24 hours, have you gossiped about anyone?” 

“How could I gossip? I was only thinking about death?!” replied Sister Beatrix.

“In the past 24 hours, did your mind wander?  

“How could it, I could only think of my imminent death” said Sister Beatrix.

 “In the past 24 hours, where you frustrated with others?” 

“Oh Reverend Mother, not at all, I was only thinking about death.” 

Finally Mother Magdalene said, “Dear Beatrix, I really don’t know when anyone will die. I do know that we all have to die some time. But understanding the ultimate truth – that every living creature must die – can be very liberating and enlightening. All the questions you posed to me have been answered by yourself because of the awareness of death that you experienced during the past 24 hours. The difference between you and the other sisters is that you were aware of death for hours; the other sisters here have been practicing that awareness for I have been aware for years. Be patient with yourself. Cherish the moments, spend your hours thoughtfully and with compassionate awareness.” 

“You know, Mother Magdalene,” Sister Beatrix murmured thoughtfully, “this reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite quotes, I think she said it was from someone named Gwen Brooks. Mom would often say to us when we complained that something was impossible, she would say, ‘You are alive until you are dead. Ten minutes before you are dead, you are alive. You could save the world in ten minutes.’ I guess mom and Gwen Brooks knew something!”

“Indeed.” Mother Magdalene thought outloud, “indeed.”

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