I have letters written in 1930 and 1931 to my mother by her aunt. I hold the same paper that the writer’s hand once held. The creases where she folded the paper are still there. As I read, my mind is following the line of ink exactly as her mind guided her hand to shape the words - my mind and her mind are in tune across more than 80 years. I feel good about that - and I will use a New Age term to describe the feeling. It is “holistic”.
Although religious dogma insists that it can, and New Age theories speculate that it can, there is absolutely no proof that mind can exist outside of the brain. Nevertheless, there is something real that ‘hangs about’. Not only has every ancestor of mine contributed to the program (my DNA) that allows me to have the thoughts and the feelings I have, there is the identification one human has for another through their common humanity. Every ancestor of mine felt sorrow, loneliness, humiliation, disappointment and loss - just as I have.
In our over-stimulated modern lives very few of us feel any connection to past lives lived before we were born. An opportunity to feel holistic is not recognised. In my old age I seek those opportunities. Since I became interested in my grand aunt, I have had a small monument erected on the forlorn-looking grave of a relative who died in 1891 at the age of 21. He had no children and his last sibling died in 1952. Nobody had given him a thought since. Now I do - and I put some spare dollars to good use.
So, who was the person who wrote the letters, who was dead before I was born, and yet, for whom I have a warm feeling?
On 8 May 1880 Anne Frances Madden stood with her port on the small railway platform at Perthville NSW. There was little in the port - just a few things from a past life - as where she was going all would be provided for. She could see the red brick convent with its shining metal roof just up the road from the station. This was were she was to live until she died, 55 years later. There were no locked doors and no bars on the windows. Anne was to be trained to become her own jailer. The locks and bars were in and on her mind.
A naturally introverted child, the presence of Jesus intensified with her praying. He was her constant companion walking besides her. She had no need for the companionship of children other than her seven siblings. There was nobody from a more liberal family to enlighten her - especially on how babies were conceived.
She had noticed changes in her body since age 12 but did not know what was going on. Her mother said that happens to all girls growing up. She had witnessed the homebirth of her younger brothers and sisters and believed that it was God’s will that they grew in their mother’s belly at a time of His choosing. Her mother believed that that was all she needed to know. Her father did not care much what she believed. Afterall, she was only a girl and he had the making of his sons into men who could survive in the rough competitive world of men to worry about.
She decided to be a nun at age 14, but had to work around the house for four years as 18 was the lower age limit. When she said that she wanted to be a nun, her mother was elated as God blessed the home that gave a child to the church. For those four years, her mother ensured that her mind had to be kept on the straight and narrow. The local church supplied ‘suitable’ reading material (mainly on the lives of the saints).
Her father was born in 1816 in County Limerick. He had been a policeman in the Bathurst district of NSW, and he knew what the real world was like. He did not share the elation to hear of his daughter’s ‘calling’ as his much younger Kilkenny-born wife experienced - but maybe this was preferable to having 10 children and an oaf as a husband.
So, before Anne can learn anything about the birds and bees she is cloistered in an environment where she will be sheltered from ever finding out. She will be taught that even a mild feeling in her genital area is an evil. The word “sex” was never used, as biology had nothing to do with it. The word was “impurity” to emphasise that this was a problem of the soul. Lucifer’s diabolical temptations to stray from Christ had to be resisted through prayer - and more prayer.
With the passing of the years, the impurity problem no longer existed. The mind had been trained. The appropriate neural networks had been hardwired. But, as the years of living such a strange and almost loveless existence dragged on, the temptation to be fought was the temptation to question. So, the need for prayer never diminished.
The nuns in that rural convent were kept occupied with housekeeping duties, gardening and teaching the farmers’ kids in the small attached school until anxious dads removed them to work full-time on the land. However, praying was the nun’s primary job. In the letters now in my possession, Anne promised to pray for all the family. Then she would add, “Pray for me”.