Retired Sister Pivots in Response to the Pandemic

Sister Louise Bernier participates in a Zoom meetingBy Sister Louise Bernier

Retirement + Pandemic + Pivoting = Awesome Opportunity. One of the things I’ve learned from retirement is that I need to have a schedule as well as something purposeful to do each day. From the pandemic, I experienced the need to pivot, to let go of old habits and solutions and to develop new responses to events.

Having the time to attend to life is wonderful. Having a schedule encourages me to be disciplined, attentive, and to be intentional about the choices I make. My schedule includes reading digital newspapers – the Chicago Tribune and New York Times – as well as doing the puzzles and pangrams.

I’m currently reading Sister Madelyn Gould’s book of reflections, Heart Speaks to Heart. I recommend it for the gospel reflections in it, but even more for her modeling of the pattern of connecting common life experiences to gospel-based understandings of them.

For several years I have been a member of a book discussion group that developed from a Franciscan study group started by the Wheaton Franciscans. We are currently reflecting on Teilhard de Chardin’s essay, “The Heart of Matter.” Do I understand all that he says? No, and that’s okay. It is truly possible to make connections between his experiences and mine, and the monthly faith sharing within the group is life giving.

Zoom has been a great tool for pivoting. We do book club on it. I belong to the Chicago Vihara Buddhist temple in Oswego, Illinois. Tuesday night “practicing meditation” sessions at the temple have become Tuesday night Zoom meditation sessions. This has enlarged my experience of what it means to be “in the moment” and carries over into daily living.

Zoom has also made it possible to participate in monthly, international discussions of Fratelli Tutti. The breakout sessions are direct (no “empty chat”), informative, and experiential.

I have always complained to myself about not having time. Well, how have I used the time made available by all the “old things” I used to do but cannot do now?  The time I have now allows me to “cook” in the back of my mind the things I’m reading, hearing, and am challenged to do. I’ve been closing out and moving on: think cleaning, tossing out, giving away, and organizing information.

Caring for myself has become more possible because of time. My knees are not doing well, and my primary care doctor has been telling me for years to get an exercise bike. I finally got one.  (I’m told that this is the exercise machine that people get that they do not use.)  I make it a point to ride at least three miles on it every day. I may not be physically going anywhere, but I’m sure it is helping.

Time also gives me the ability to put things down when I feel that I’ve come to a dead end and then pick them up later. It’s amazing how refreshing this can be because it lets me see new angles. I can finish the Sunday crossword puzzle, the pangram, and the episode of “Frontline” that I was too tired to finish viewing.

I’m taking on the challenge of letting go of cable TV and am indulging in streaming video. I use Roku to stream European and Asian programming – I recommend Britbox, Acorn, and NHK channels. This is a whole new pivot for me, but I have found some interesting programs: Time Team, Irish Lighthouses, British Gardens, Waking the Dead, Silent Witness, Balthazar. Google these on the internet to see what I’m up to!

Lent is on the horizon. How do my reflections relate to this new season? When I do something special, like a Lenten exercise, I tend to drop it when Lent is over. I find that how I am using my time now promotes growth, and I expect that Lent this year will involve a continuation and deepening of the path of growth that I am already on.

Yes, retirement and the pandemic have their darker aspects – that’s life. Pivoting involves facing them and making them work in a positive way for me.

Sister Louise Bernier is a School Sister of St. Francis living in Illinois.