A life that goes with the flow

Sister Judith Sutera | January 25, 2018

As I was casting about for a subject for this week’s column, our prioress suggested that I visit Sister Judith Sutera2Cyprian, saying, “ She would be an inspiration for readers in how to respond to health issues or anything that happens in life.”

One of the wonderful things about living in an intergenerational community and having a nursing care facility is that there’s no shortage of inspiring elders to help us learn how to live. Sister Cyprian, at age 97, recently had to have an eye removed because of a cancerous growth in it. Within days, she was smiling and had returned to her beloved reading and crochet work. Sister Barbara Smith described her as “like the waves on the sea, just rolling along with everything as it comes.”

This easy relationship with all life’s ups and downs was what has touched everyone to whom I spoke about her. The caregivers in Dooley all describe her as a marvelous example of how a person can accept life and how such an attitude helps overcome fear. Sister Patricia Gamgort, director of pastoral care in Dooley, described her as having a spirit of “ whatever,” saying about her, “ When there is some change or complication, she can always express a sense that whatever is happening is OK. You feel the serenity and trust she has.”

The problem, of course, in trying to interview someone like this is that they don’t think there is anything extraordinary about themselves. It rarely does any good to ask them how they got this way or what they do to keep their positive attitude because it seems so natural to them. Sister Cyprian’s interview was no exception. She is very matter of fact in her assessment. “Things happen in life and you can’t do anything about them,” she observed.

When she found that the long-standing problem with her vision and with pain was caused by cancer, she was simply relieved that there was a possible solution. She explained that the cancer was a bad thing, but it was there, and the surgery got rid of it, so it ended in a good thing. Over the course of a lifetime, there will be many changes and some bad things will happen, but she is convinced that the bad things do not have to define us. “People keep telling me I’ve been brave through all of this, but I don’t know what they mean by that. I don’t feel like I’m being brave. When things happen, you can’t keep thinking about the bad. You just do what you have to do to get through it the best you can.”

She proudly showed me her large-print prayer book and the beautifully patterned afghan she’s making for the next Night of Dreams benefit auction. These things, she says, are her response to life’s troubles. “I don’t have a lot of time for gossiping or complaining. When someone complains to me about getting old, I just tell them to get a hobby and get their mind off of it.” She also advises people to keep their lives simple. “The more things you have, the harder it is. Excess makes you worry too much about what to do with it or what will happen to it.”

Most important of all is her faith and trust in God. “If you can’t accept what God sends,” she explains, “then you’re really in trouble because you’re going against what you have been given. All we can say to God is ‘Whatever you say.’ I pray with Jesus ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit.’ You don’t need a lot of formal prayer. Just thank God for everything. When you’re old, that might just be that you got up today, but it’s all God’s gift.”