Get Thee to a Nunnery!

When I was 17 I discovered the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar series, and my life took a turn for the better. These religious enigmas were suddenly less enigmatic and ever more accessible to an Orthodox Jewess struggling to balance her role in religion with her quest for secular education.

Nuns– and not of the Whoopi Goldberg variety– were capable of taking a break from their marriages to Jesus and letting loose in the bowling alley or local amusement park. While they maintained their primary responsibility– spreading the word of their long-dead husband, the nuns depicted in this calendar also found time for themselves. They quite simply struck a work-life balance; they worked hard, but they also played hard(ish).

I continued to purchase the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar for several years after, but upon graduating college my devotion to the annual publication had dissipated. And then last night happened. While walking back from a restaurant week indulgence which included goat cheese cheesecake and excessive amounts of French breads, I happened upon a midtown convent.

And as I meandered by I noticed several very stylish nuns lurking beyond the church gate. Though sporting the traditional nun garb, they each had managed to customize the otherwise generic robes into something uniquely their own. Employing traditional accessories– belts, bags, and rosary beads– they succeeded in letting their individual personalities shine through.

They soon noticed the gazing Jew in black and politely smiled, exhibiting a look of content I’m pretty sure I have neither felt nor experienced. These nuns were entirely satisfied with their careers and “marriages.” At which point my friend Christine interrupted my jealous reflection and said, “Maybe I should join them? White is kind of  my color.”

I didn’t laugh. It wasn’t all that crazy to me. There are many moments when I dream of living the traditional Orthodox lifestyle– married and with the first or second muffin in the oven. There is both beautiful simplicity and a philosophical complexity in choosing that life.

And now– at 24– well beyond the marriageable threshold, that world has become like that of the convent– something fantastical, but otherwise inaccessible. Peering into it is both a comforting and confusing experience. I admire the tenacity of those who abide by its strict rules and regulations, but perpetually wonder where their sense of fulfillment comes from. Is it their children? Their freshly baked challahs? Their collection of Holy Scriptures?

Like any philosophically religious woman wandering through a secular world, I’m searching for a sense of completion. I’m searching for the kind of content the fashionable nuns were sporting. And I’m praying it doesn’t cost as much as New York City real estate.

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