Life on the Other Side of the Fence

The Buckeye Tree

Few activities excited me more when I was ten years old than biking with my friend to “the convent” on Heading Avenue.  A big, grassy yard and a tall, chain link fence (presumably designed to keep “outsiders” like me out), surrounded the brown brick building.  I did not understand the life of those who lived within the convent’s fortressed walls; I only knew that sisters religious lived within, and to my young eyes, their life appeared pale and unmercifully boring. 

 No matter.  The only reason my friend and I visited the convent was to gather buckeyes.  Buckeye trees, planted along the inner perimeter of the fence, dropped their shiny, brown nuts along the outer perimeter of the fence, where my friend and I parked our bikes and started our fervent hunt.

 A plethora of buckeyes spread themselves across the ground like shiny, copper pennies.  Equipped with a brown paper bag, we gathered our treasured coins and greedily stuffed them into our sack.   I adored each one’s uniqueness.   

Some were perfectly round; others less spherical, even distorted, though none the less beautiful.  I loved their radiant shine, and if any lacked the brilliance I thought they deserved, I took a soft cloth and buffed them to a glossy finish.  Each one was my prized possession.

Yet while I focused on these precious jewels, another awareness hung in my consciousness.   I was mindful of the convent, looming in the background.  I felt awed but ambivalent by its presence.  I dared not get too near. 

One day, I saw a nun in her long, flowing habit, standing on the other side of the fence.  She saw me gathering buckeyes, and when I looked her direction, she glared at me.  I dropped my eyes and squirmed with guilt and shame.   Maybe I shouldn’t be having so much fun, I thought!  Oh well.  No way she could get me.  I was on the other side of the fence, and to my child’s mind, on the other side of life.

Why did I venture so eagerly to the convent?  Was it the buckeyes and their shiny gloss?   Their unique individuality?  Their hard, solid touch?  I don’t know, but I kept returning, and I never tired of returning.  I was fascinated.  I was drawn.

Perhaps it wasn’t the buckeyes at all.  Perhaps I was not drawn to buckeyes but to the place where I collected buckeyes.   Though the convent was an enigma to me, and the sisters frightened me, I still kept coming.

Perhaps I liked being mischievous.  Perhaps I enjoyed pushing boundaries.  Perhaps I relished playing the rebel.  Or, perhaps I was simply responding to an inner, relentless desire to learn more about life’s Mystery that I perceived on the other side of the fence.  Perhaps.  

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