Posted April 07, 2011:
A Hidden Love
by Paulette Curran.

Yesterday, just a few days after the funeral of Joan and Marg, while walking to St. Mary’s, I ran into a neighbor from about a kilometer down the road.

"Are things quieting down there a bit now?" she asked, and I sensed her sadness.

"Yes," I said, "finally." We were silent for a few moments.

"Did you know them?" I asked her.

I figured she might know Marg, at least slightly, but I didn’t think she’d know Joan—Joan the most solitary of our poustiniks, Joan the only one of them who was in poustinia seven days a week. I rarely saw Joan myself except passing by.

"Oh, yes," she answered. "They often walked by my house. Marg would wave, but Joan didn’t. But Joan was an artist. I knew that just by seeing her. Sometimes she would just stop and stare at something, really look at it.

"Joan often came to Mass at the parish. She sat in front of us. She never spoke to us, but she would always give us a little wave."

We were both silent for a short time. I could sense her love for Marg and Joan—and her sadness that she wouldn’t be seeing them anymore.

That exchange kind of sat in me. Then that night, I suddenly woke up, and something fell together in me—something about Joan.

I had been surprised at Joan’s memory night at how many guests, young staff, and applicants told of memories they had of Joan.

One of them was Yong Jo Lee, a man guest, one of whose jobs it was to bring water to Joan and to the others living on the island. (The cabins there have no running water.)

Yong Jo told us that the first time he came to her door, he and a staff worker, to deliver wooden panels for her icons, "She didn’t ask my name. Just said, ‘Don’t let the cat out.’ But she let me look at her drawings. I went to art school and I draw, so I was interested. And she always thanked me for the water."

He told how sometimes he had to make two and three trips to bring water; the wagon carrying them was small. "Even when it’s -30 degrees!"

"But then after she died and I went to pick up her empty water bottles, her house was so empty. I realized that I’d rather bring her twenty or thirty bottles of water a day than not have her there."

Joan herself was only too aware of her shyness and difficulties in relating to people.

When Victoria Fausto, the director of the applicants (our equivalent of novice mistress) had thanked Joan for something she had done for her, Joan replied, "I feel like when I do something for you, I am doing something for the applicants. I can’t relate to them."

But it wasn’t true that she didn’t relate to them—even though she had little contact with them.

One applicant, Tina Tan, whose contacts were only "business" ones—laundry and kitchen—told me she always knew that Joan cared about her, that somehow, through words or gestures or a look, Joan let her know that she valued her as a person.

Another applicant, Beth Scott, Joan touched deeply. Here’s how Beth told the story:

When I first came as a guest, I thought Joan was a pretty scary person. I had a sort of run-in with her, and then I avoided her because I thought she didn’t like me.

Then after a while I thought, "I’ll just say, ‘Hi, Joan.’"

That turned out all right. She didn’t seem to dislike me for saying, "Hi, Joan."

Sometimes she would say, "Hi." Sometimes she didn’t. Then one day, she said, "Hi, Beth."

I got all excited. She knows my name! She wasn’t thinking of me as "that person who really annoys me!" So it was "hi!" and "hi!" and then sometimes she’d tell me about her cat. So we had this connection.

Then I was announced as an applicant, and one day soon after that, I was walking across the yard and saw her, and I just said to her, "Hi, Joan," and she kind of muttered, a Joan-mutter. I kept going.

When I was about fifteen feet away, with my back to her—and she looking in a different direction—she said, quickly and barely loud enough for me to hear, "I’m really glad you’re here."

I turned around and said, "Really? Really? Oh, my goodness! Oh, that really means a lot to me!"

Well, that really threw her. It really did. She looked like she felt all confused and like she’d said something bad. She made kind of muttered noises and said, "I mean it…. But …"

It really did mean so much to me. I could see that she didn’t usually say that sort of thing. And that she didn’t know how to respond to me, that she couldn’t just say something like, "thank you."

She had showed me her vulnerability.

So what’s my point in this article? Simply this: though Joan had little contact with these people, I suspect that she was very aware of each one, and that in her own way, she had communicated her love to them. But except for Beth, I doubt she had any idea they were aware of this love. Sometimes love is very hidden—even from the one who loves.


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