Slowing down to listen & learn

We sat at Sister Michael Ellen’s desk in the archives. I was watching a PowerPoint, and she paused on each slide to share some fun facts. It was a presentation she had made for the Diamond Jubilee (60 year) celebration of her postulant class of 1953. The care with which she chose the photos and even arranged the headings so that it would be visible from all viewpoints is just a glimpse at the type of person Sister Michael Ellen is. From our first few weeks together, I know that she is someone who always keeps others in mind, doing what she can to make their lives a little easier.

The class of 1953 had 18 postulants enter, nine of whom stayed. Each sister had her own slide and photo. Sister Michael Ellen was able to tell me their name (birth and religious), a few facts about them and a personal story about each one. The photos on the slide are ones she had taken -- photography being a hobby of hers -- and she pointed out the locations of each, adding personal anecdotes.

What amazed me most was the ease with which she recalled this information. I find that the memory of people who are a few generations older than me are amazing. When I related this to Sister, she said with a laugh, “Well, I’ve lived a little bit longer than you!”

That’s not it, though.

The world we live in is instantaneous. Memories come and go -- texts, photos, social-media posts -- some of which stay for years, and others that we delete. Besides significant moments, usually only ones that have had some sort of emotional impact on me, I find it hard to recall specific stories, names and locations. Sister Michael Ellen is able to do this with memories that are over 75 years old and answer on the spot when I ask her questions.

It reminds me of my grandpa, who had the same ability. He could recall the smallest details of any story and could talk for hours. He passed recently, and I sometimes wish I could go back and take notes and study the way to tell a good story.

When I meet with Sister Michael Ellen, though the time seems to fly by, I find myself slowing down. I listen and inquire as I appreciate her ability to recall her life with such ease. She has so many stories and memories to share, and I feel lucky to have the chance to listen.

About Isabella Buck

Isabella Buck is a senior studying English, journalism and communication at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She enjoys coffee shops, meeting new people and playing tennis for Aquinas. Isabella is excited to capture her sister's story and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of faith. During the Spring of 2019 she was paired with Sister Michael Ellen Carling, OP; a Grand Rapids Dominican Sister.