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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


You may recall that I found out long ago that at some point in time in the ever more distant past, Sister St. Aloysius had suffered from a brain tumor.  As many of you who have had some sort of catastrophic illness can attest, having this type of thing happen to you can change your outlook on life considerably.  I have had some very interesting discussions with her as a result.

On this beautiful spring day, a letter from a reader called to mind one of those talks:

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
I'm sorry to be posting this in a comment on another post, but I don't know how else to reach you. I have a serious problem: I live in an apartment building, and the people above me are insufferably loud. Not "normal" loud, but jumping, running, bouncing balls, dragging things across the floor kind of loud. In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening—it never stops. The residents there are a woman and her young son, and I have tried explaining to her multiple times that their activities sound like an earthquake in my ceiling that shakes my walls and nearly topples my bookshelves. She is very nice, but insists that she can't believe it's that loud, and that she can't control her son, that he's "just at that age". I have tried complaining to the front office and they have mentioned it to her, too. Short of harassing my neighbor or anonymously sending her Dr. Dobson's child-rearing books in the mail, how can I make this stop? I can't go on with them waking me up every morning, preventing me from taking a nap during the day, constantly interrupting anything I'm trying to concentrate on...
Please help me!

One of two things is happening, or both.  She doesn't believe you.  She doesn't care.

I have three options for you:

1.  Be vigilant.  Every time you are disturbed, tell her and the office.  Tape record the noise.  Ask someone from the office to come to your apartment during the noise.  File a formal complaint. Make sure someone knocks on her door every time it happens.

If you go for this option, make sure you are truthful.  There is going to be noise from above when you live down below.  They can't live silently up there.  They have to walk and move things and maybe thump and bounce once in a while.  Complain when there is something to complain about.

2.  Befriend her.  Bring the child a little gift or ask her for dinner or coffee.  Don't talk about the noise at all. Let her talk about herself.  Dote on the child.  Once you are friends, you can ask her for small favors.  "I have a big meeting tomorrow and need to make sure I get some sleep.  Can you try to be extra quiet tomorrow morning?"  Enlist this child's help.  "Will you remember to be quite as a mouse?" "I'm so tired. I need a nap.  Can little Lonny watch "Rio" for the 200th time while I snooze for a bit?"  This will take time.

But you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Unless you just want to splatter them on the countertop with a flyswatter  and get it over with.

3. Love the noise.  I don't mean love it, as in "I love Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."  I mean just embrace the noise and stop fighting it.

I have mentioned that Sister St. Aloysius is rather a nervous person.  She once told me that during her treatments, especially leading up to the procedure that removed the tumor, the doctors were very worried that she wouldn't be able to handle how very still she would have to be for quite some time while they worked on her.  So they arranged for people to come and work on relaxation techniques with her.  This involved some sort of 'guided meditation'.  A very calm woman showed up to work with Sister St. Aloysius,  had her lie down and focus on relaxing every muscle in her body one little muscle at a time.  As soon as they began, everyone in the neighborhood decided to go out in their yards and laugh, holler, talk, start up lawn mowers, throw screaming children into the swimming pool and do whatever makes the dog bark so that his barking can cause all the other dogs to bark.

The mediation lady said,  "I'm so sorry.  This is not very relaxing, all this noise."

And Sister St. Aloysius said, "It's not a problem."  She said she found a great peace in the sound, as she wasn't sure if she was going to survive the tumor or the surgery, that she wanted to soak up every sound of life being lived.  It was relaxing. 

So love them. Love their lives and the noise life makes.

I'm sure there will be times when the noise is a bit much.  But at this point, you're counting and tensing and waiting and grinding your teeth, which is just making everything worse.

I recommend option 2 and 3 combined.  And St. Scholastica, the patron saint of thunder storms.  She was visiting her brother, St. Benedict and it was time to go home.  She didn't want to go home. She wanted to stay and talk.  He insisted she go.  She prayed.  A violent storm sprang up so she had to stay put.  They spent the night talking while the storm raged.  She died the next morning, no doubt with a head full of prayer, and thought and thunder.


Katney said...

My husband attends a relaxation class at the cancer treatment center. It is the best sleep he gets each week.

Anonymous said...

I use foam earplugs so I can sleep while Sister Snoretta snores like a wild hog just down the hall. At first I was worried that I wouldn't hear my alarm, but the earplugs tend to drown out the muffled noises but allow the sharper ones (like my alarm clock) to still come through. I had to live in an apartment for three years. What an opportunity to grow in grace!
-Sister Mary Margaret (Not Sister Mary Martha - similar, but not congruent!)

Claudia said...

I would recommend ear plugs, especially for sleeping. If you can sleep the night your whole world will be better.

My husband snores, it was ear plugs or divorce......

Kira said...

I just wanted to say that I thought the final line of your post was just lovely. Beautifully said.

Gigi said...

My neighbours are not the quietest folk in the world, but sometimes I find I can find a rythm in the noise that actually helps with cleaning, cooking, even writing.
The closing of your post is so affirming and beautiful. I live by the coast and often go to sleep with a head full of prayer, thought and thunder; it's a powerful lullaby x

Anonymous said...

I have lost my will to live. Which saint can I request intervention concerning the sin of despair?

Anonymous said...

Anoymous to Anonymous - I will pray for you. I know what it's like. I am right there with you, but let's not either of us give up. It's what the DEVIL wants. Also, please go see a doctor (if you have not already done so) because many types of depression can be treated. Having a chemical imbalance/emotional disorder is no different than having any other body part needing correction. We wear glasses to correct vision, so there is no harm in taking the right medications and following the right nutrition/rest plan to correct our inward vision!

Jerry said...

Thank you sister. I am so happy to have found your blog. It -and you- are amazing,always so helpful and such a wonderful sense of humor.

Stephen said...

I do not appreciate noise or unwanted distraction especially by children in public spaces like my favorite eateries. I also am irritated by Republicans, know it alls & those that feel entitled. I am driven nearly mad by overhead lightbulbs & doorknobs. Go figure.
I do like smart nuns with worthwhile advice. I will be back. Love from Portland, Oregon.

Maureen said...

Would it be in order to talk about Divine Mercy Sunday? - about which I know very little, and it certainly wasn't something that was observed in the years before I stopped attending Mass - which was not long after Vatican 2......
When I found the Latin Mass again, I became aware of Divine Mercy being celebrated on the Sunday after Easter - it isn't something which resonantes with me, I have to say, and the priest did say that it is an optional devotion - what's the party line?

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous, who has lost the will to live:
As someone who has been hospitalized three times for suicide attempts, I strongly recommend the following podcast:
I also recommend a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapist). Very few people actually need medication for depression. They just need to get out of their rut and learn how to stay out of it. This podcast talks about how to do that, and a CBT can teach you how to do it. As you'll hear in the podcast, mindfulness-based meditation has proven in recent years to be much more effective than anti-depressants.
St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases. See some prayers to him here:
I recommend a novena, to start.

To Stephen, who has some weird irritants, like me:
You sound a little Aspie. Like me.

To Sister Mary Martha: Thank you so much for the advice! I figured you wouldn't recommend (1), but (2) isn't really an option for me. I'm a perpetually swamped graduate student who isn't very good at socializing to begin with (see my Aspie comment to Stephen), and I've already complained to this poor woman so much that she probably really isn't interested in chatting with me. So I guess I'll focus on (3). Although it is going to be hard... I will have some chats with St. Scholastica. :-) God bless you, Sister. <3

Anonymous said...

First, I am irritated by anyone who claims to be a Christian, yet is not pro-life. I am only irritated by Republicans that are pro-choice. I am irritated by mostly all Democrats, and a good number of Independants, all because they are pro-choice. Secondly, I am irritated by socialists. Third, I am irritated by people who are irritated by Republicans yet do not list a reason.

mph said...

Altogether now, "Bind us together Lord..."

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience, including with the neighbor shooting arrows outside of their livingroom window. (They lived next to us.) They were extremely noisy, and when the landlord didn't do anything, I buried a statue of St. Joseph upside down, with the hope of anything to happen to relieve the noise. (Be it our move or theirs, or whatever. Just have a peaceful home.) Two weeks later, the neighbors moved out and we had nothing but normal sounding neighbors. If they got too noisy, they left.