Somewhere in the back of my mind there was a memory that a sister close to Mother Teresa had left the community and written a book about her experiences as she came to this decision. I didn’t know that person was Mary Johnson or that she was associated with A Room of Her Own foundation.
On October 14, Mary was the moderator of a reading at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica. I went because I knew Genevieve Kaplan, one of the To the Lighthouse poet winners. Mary introduced their books in an intelligent and insightful way, holding up each book as she described how the writing and the covers suited each other and calling out how she had felt as she read each book. The sun began to set as it only does at the beach in Santa Monica. I didn’t know who Mary was, only that her approach as moderator was refreshing and heartfelt. Maybe there was a little something else I recognized.
When I got to the table to purchase some of the books, I saw An Unquenchable Thirst. Mary had said nothing about her book. I read some of the blurbs on the back and then everything clicked. This was the woman who had been a Missionary of Charity, a nun in Mother Teresa’s order.
Until 1970 and for six years I had been a member of the Medical Mission Sisters. For two of those six years I studied Graphic Design in an art school and lived in a downtown Philadelphia apartment along with students in pharmacy, nursing, medicine and design. After all these years, I still felt somehow connected to Mary’s good will, openness and joy. I purchased her book and read it in under a week. I have time now. I am in the midst of a four-month long break from normal intimacy, while my husband is traveling and living in Europe.
Then I am about to retire from an administrative position in a Los Angeles school of art and design. Like Mary, I needed a project after a dedicated life, even if mine was to students in an art school. And while I love writing poetry—I have 2 books and 2 chapbooks published—I want to turn a manuscript of an episodic memoir into a graphic novel. I have bitten off lots with this project but I don’t mind finding a way to make words and images work for each other, support the moments and stories I want to tell and let their secrets sing. I only hope that I can be as honest and ready to grow as Mary has been.
Barbara Maloutas’ published books and chapbooks are: the whole Marie, In a Combination of Practices, Coffee Hazilly, Practices, Her Not Blessed and most recently, of which anything consists. Her work has appeared in journals, writers on writing collections and poetry anthologies. She developed and supports the book arts program at Otis College of Art and Design.