The noise from the extreme right being extremely wrong about women has made me think about some of the strong women in my life. My very strong mother, Gladys (Vaz) Morais, my older sister Elaine, and the feisty Irish Franciscan nun, Sr. Enda (Sr.Philomena Ryan) who dominated my years at the Assunta Secondary School in Petaling Jaya as its ball-of-fire headmistress.
I was drawn to and learned from all three a certain fearlessness about embracing new ideas even while holding on to my faith. And the will to “Just Do It”—long before Nike told us all to do the same—but mostly to sell more shoes.
I have always had trouble buying shoes for my large, flat feet—but despite that, Nike’s gospel did not resonate as much as my mother’s aphorisms turned often, wittily and well, from her native Malayalam into English. I learned more listening to Mum’s stories of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and of managing with very little while caring for an ever expanding family of immediate and extended relatives. Clever ads with million dollar budgets left a far more fleeting impression than being exposed to the works of Betty Freidan, Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer by my sister who made me read stuff before I understood why I should. And in school the message from Sr. Enda and the Franciscan lens through which she taught us to view the world meant more to me than what Nike was selling with its ballyhooed tagline.
It is true though that we do need good running shoes to get away from the flame-throwing in the public space by the likes of the dementedly Catholic Sanctorum, for example. While he turns purple with righteous indignation at the wicked ways of the ungodly (i.e. people not like him) the words I heard most often from the three women who so shaped my sensibility was not “GOD WILL PUNISH YOU” but “God will understand.” I like “understand” a lot more than “punish.
Maybe it’s because I am an unshakably Vatican Two Catholic. My most vivid memory of Catechism class with Sr. Enda was listening to her tell us how Pope John XXIII threw open the windows of the Vatican to let in some air, but that the winds of change that blew in were more like a gale. What a rush of wind it was!
This blowing in of the Spirit is what the likes of Sanctorum, the Newt, and the powerful men in costume in stained glass basilicas are hoping can be blown back with their misogynist proposals to police women. These men of the stump and men in red actually seem to think they can and should return to the days before we shook out the claustrophobic mustiness of conventional religion and a society in which discrimination was institutionalized.
Good luck to them! They clearly have no idea what a spirit-infused woman is capable of. Sr. Enda used to point to our devoutly Hindu school clerk and say to us that “being a good Hindu like Kalyani was better than being a bad Catholic.”
It is hard to imagine any one of our xenophobic political candidates who look to succeed by diminishing women or demonizing immigrants and the first African-American President of the United States saying anything close. Would any one of them say, for instance, “It is better to be a good Muslim than a bad Christian?”
Happy Feast Day, Sr. Enda!
Meanwhile, in Petaling Jaya this weekend: Assuntarians gather to celebrate Sr. Enda’s feast day with her. From Hawaii to all at my alma mater and especially to Sr. Enda: much aloha and gratitude for teaching the girls who were lucky enough to be educated at Assunta, how to be open to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”