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2009-04-28 - 12:42 p.m. Germany...

Hard to believe that we have been in Germany for a week now. We left last Tuesday on an overnight flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt. We were unlucky in that we were unable to get a bulk head where our baby girl could sleep (turns out that when you buy a seat for your child you are not eligible for bulkhead/infant status - who knew that we would be penalized for paying too much). So we experienced a very long night with our child stretching and kicking and crying for a space to lie flat. poor thing.

The next five days were a blur of jetlag and in-laws. It took quite some time to convince Susi that night is day and day is night over here. She really rather enjoyed waking up at midnight and staying awake until 4am despite efforts to persuade her otherwise. After 4 days she is back to sleeping her 11-hour nights, thankfully (and now her parents are getting caught up, too).

One wonderful thing is that her Oma and Opa have a fantastic garden, and they are minutes away from a huge park where Susi can crawl all over the grass. She is ecstatically exploring and learning all kinds of new things.

Oma and Opa are a little bit more stressful for their daughter-in-law (i.e., me), although overall things are okay. I'm being smothered in love (when do you want to eat? what do you want to eat? How shall I cook it? what do you want to do tomorrow? do you like my handkerchief? Here, take it then.) and in angst (it's too cold; you'll catch pneumonia; don't play on the grass, it's wet; you're barefoot! you'll freeze!; don't open the window, you'll let in bees; it's too light out for you to sleep with the blinds up; don't sit on the concrete! you'll get a bladder infection!...) etc etc etc. There is a constant buzz and nervous hovering that makes you feel a little bit like you might explode, and an indoor temperature that makes you feel like you might incinerate at any second.

Everything is "gefaehrlich" (dangerous) - there are possibilities for death and destruction at every turn for us and for Susi in this house. It's a way of life for K's father, it seems. News of a global pandemic reached the papers this weekend - I think he will have fodder for WEEKS on this one.

But I don't wish to be mean. It's always difficult to try to go and live with other people, and in their hearts I see that this is all well-intended and loving. And K is right - as the week has progressed, they have relaxed slightly. I think that they are still amazed that we are not dead (I do tend to go out a lot without a jacket...).

Anyway, the trip has served its useful purpose in that they have gotten the chance to know and love their little grandchild.

Today we took a trip to a small, nearby village, where K's sister lives. This is not an ordinary visit in that K's sister is a cloistered nun. She just completed her initiation into full nunhood last month (sorry, I don't know what the proper names for this would be). So, today we took Susi out to meet her aunt.

We did so with a little bit of trepidation. K's family is protestant. His sister converted to Catholicism about ten years ago and then decided to become a cloistered nun in 2003. It has not gone over very well in the family. K's father is not fond of the Catholic church (to put it mildly). All of us have a hard time understanding or accepting her decision. K has often wondered about the decision to be cloistered. Why remove yourself from the world when there is so much more good that could be done? These are difficult questions and I could deliberate on them for quite some time, only on my observations from 3 meetings with K's sister. In the end she has stuck to her commitment for five years now, has worked through a 2-year vow of silence, and lived in a confined space with 16 other cloistered nuns.

Today we went to visit, with Susi as our blessed buffer for the moments when conversation dwindled. We walked into the visitation room, and within a few minutes, K's sister appeared on the other side of the bars. We fought off the sense that this was a prison.

There was a small dumb-waiter-like contraption off to the side where one could deliver goodies to the nuns. It turned out that Susi was just small enough to fit into the dumb-waiter - so we spun her over to the nun's side. K's sister and Susi played for a solid half-hour. Susi was wonderfully cheerful - a ray of sunshine, as K put it.

And then all 16 of the sisters came in for a visit. Poor Susi had a moment of uncertainty when suddenly faced with 16 women dressed up like severe looking penguins.... K and I exchanged a glance, wondering how this would go...

She took it with immediate grace when she realized that she actually had an AUDIENCE of 17 smiling nuns. And boy did she perform, grinning from ear to ear, gesturing, chattering, laughing, playing with the toy bunny they brought for here. They wanted to give her the bunny (and I thought - if we keep the bunny you can bet yer life we are naming it "Nunny." I smiled quietly to myself at my personal wit. ha ha. We left Nunny behind). After about an hour K's sister wheeled Susi back around in the dumb-waiter and we went on our way.

It was an extremely pleasant visit, and all of them were so pleasant. They sang us a beautiful song before they said goodbye. They were wonderfully friendly and good-hearted. But it still touches both of us with sadness. K's sister has a huge heart, and an amazing amount of empathy for people. It is hard to accept her cloistered praying as her mission to do good in the world, when the alternative would be for her to share her empathy, her ability to care for others, and her love of laughter and good things with the world in other more humanistic ways. It's my personal bias. Perhaps it is selfish, and I would never tell her unless she pushed me to.

It's also hard to watch 17 very good-hearted people give their lives to a church that seems to place their role as devout women at the very bottom of the totem pole. Like K and K's father, I have a hard time with the structure and decisions of the Catholic church, for so many reasons.

Anyway, even with that sadness and those opinions... I am very glad that K had the chance to see his sister - she is a very bubbly and caring person - and it was a particularly special moment watching Susi spread so much happiness amongst these women who see outside visitors less than once per month, and to see her crawl among them, chattering up a storm, no fear, no hesitation. It was particularly special. Because next time, Susi will be too big for the dumb-waiter.

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