Contemplative nuns are not usually on the train — and certainly not six of them at once, in full black habits and white veils, plus one American nun in beige habit and black veil. We were off to Wallonia, the French section of Belgium. For those who do not know, Belgium has two distinct sectors, one French speaking and one Flanders Flemish speaking (a dialect of Dutch).
It was early and dark as we trekked through the back gardens with our flashlights lighting the brick walk out the large door and on to the station. Nuns, like all others in the world, have very different temperaments. Four of us were exactly on time in the kitchen for a bit of breakfast and arrived at the platform 10 minutes ahead of the departing train. Two other sisters arrived gaily with 2 minutes to spare, relieving the very nervous others. Personally my stomach could not sustain arriving at the platform directly up from the moving escalator and on to the nearly pulling out train! So as you can imagine, I was one of the four early birds BUT…. the others having arrived there were in fact six nuns on the train!
Our first train change was relatively uneventful, and we were all eager and chipper. The second train was old and we had an antiquated sleeping compartment converted into six seats but it provided us privacy and a chance to be together. A lively explanation and repartee of WIFI and cellular internet connection ensued, how it was used, what and who each knew who used what and the advantages of each. The return trip, after a very strenuous day, all 6 sisters being over 60 and two over eighty, had a totally different character. Sisters dozed off, eyelids closed, and fluttered open, sweaters fell to the floor and had to be retrieved. One sister inadvertently ripped up her ticket after the control on the first train; the conductor on the second train arrived, looked at the four jagged pieces of ticket that the sister in desperation was showing him. He shook his head and walked on. Then lo and behold the ticket was needed for reconciliation of convent finances. It had to be taped together and submitted! When time came to board the last train for home, the oldest sister simply did not have enough ‘gas in the tank’ to make it. Several of us behind gave strong pushes and she tumbled into the train. She was a good sport! Praise the Lord.
At last the train halted in Brugge. It was raining and we hiked ever so slowly across the station platz and around the streets to the back gate and into the monastery garden. We had made it. We were home!