After Stephanie Saldaña moved to an ancient monastery in Syria, she thought she'd found her calling. But when she met a novice monk there, she had to rethink everything. Linda Cardellini ("Bloodline") reads Stephanie's essay.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Modern love the pod cast, supported by produced by the island at W B. You are faster. oh, the from the New York Times and W B: U R Boston! This is modern, the stories of love loss and redemption. I'm your host magnetron puberty, the when she was twenty seven years old, and he saw Daniel thought. She'd found her calling, but at a monastery in the syrian desert. She discovered that calling was something very different than she'd imagined. Stephanie's essay is signs, wonders and Fay
Full filled? It read by Linda Card leaning, known for her work in bloodline, mad men and freaks and geeks. The first time I saw Frederick He was wearing a when asked to habit and carrying a battered teapot. Would you like some tea? He asked when I said. Yes, he smiled and lifted the teapot high shipping it slightly, so the tea poured in along steaming ark. The man clearly poured a lot of tea at twenty seven. I had just arrived in Syria on a year long fellowship to study the prophet Jesus in Islam. There was meaning of dilapidated room in the old city of Damascus, with a k wooden doors, a non flushing toilet and the sea a three year old, armenian neighbor. This was six years ago,
refugees from the war in Iraq were flooding the city. My arabic studies were progressing at a painfully slow pace. The cacophony of Damascus life exhausted me. not to mention the stream of admonitions from my neighbour. What are you wearing that outside people can see your legs? What you from Texas do you know, George Bush. By the end of the week I was ready to escape to the desert. The monastery of DARE mousses, perched, atop, a mountain, and it can reached only by climbing three hundred and fifty stairs the monastery been built into the cliff some fifteen hundred years before and the building occupies a space that appears to be nestled exactly between earth and sky.
Soon I was visiting the monastery almost every weekend, Whenever I arrived in the courtyard that young french novice monk would appear asking me if I would like some tea. I soon learned that Frederick was in his third and final year of novitiate having arrived on a journey through the Middle EAST. Several years before and more or less staying put in that time, he had come to look exactly as one might imagine. A desert monk look if, as estimate of wild curly, hair the requisite leather belt and sandals and hands, often Solon from beekeeping, beyond offering an excepting t, he and I didn't speak much. He seemed to other worldly for me when I had just had my heart, broken by a man in Boston. Leaving me suspicious.
men in general, even Nava smokes. We became friends only when I decided to become a nun. Two months after I arrived in Damascus, I left the city for the monastery I, the month long spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. I spent weeks in silence. I prayed.
My afternoons on top of the desert mountains, I wrestled with a difficult family, past past history, depression and the feeling of helplessness I experienced when confronting the chaos of a region I had come to love. Finally, I chose to offer up my life to God. In the words of my childhood religion teacher, I decided to help carry the cross. I never knew of God accepted my offer. My body didn't a few weeks after I decided to become a nun. I grew so sick that it hurt to breathe. I spent two weeks in my bed in Damascus waiting to die, allowing my seventy three year old neighbours applying seven up, which he insisted could cure any malady from flu to cancer.
Neighbors referred to my illness as the sickness of sadness. When I finally returned to the monastery Frederick found me sitting alone in the chapel weak and overwhelmed. He approached quietly, and sat near me for a long time. Finally, I began to speak about my month in the desert. About my confusion regarding my decision to become a nun, he listened getting up to leave. He said, I never really thought you should become a nun. Why? Because you don't believe in resurrection, he didn't say it cruelly. In fact he sounded sad. What do you mean.
It's simple Stephanie, you don't love your life and I didn't. Not the life I left behind in America and not the life I had in Syria, but I wanted to start that February in Damascus. I set out in search of beauty. I studied the Koran pausing to hear the music hidden in the verses. Children playing at my mask at dusk, the bodies glow Golden as the sun set on the marble tiles, I began to speak back delighting in the cadence of the syrian dialect. Then.
Thursday night, I travelled to the monastery where I prayed locked in the desert and talked to Frederick in the beginning. We spoke mostly about God, but we recognise some. Thing familiar in each other before long, he was telling me about his childhood in Brittany, but his travels in Canada, the Far EAST and throughout the arab world I told him about sailing the Nile and walking across Spain. One Saturday morning we sing every Beatles song that we could think of. While we washed the dishes, then we returned to the life of angels, the monastic day that is siphoned off by bells and prayers. That evening, after the meditation on Frederick picked up his guitar to play the him before mass.
Instead of all, he played the Beatles Blackbird, I knew he was telling me a secret. There is no graceful way to fall in love with a man already engaged to God by April, Frederick and I knew that our relationship had passed the border of friendship, I blame myself- was trying to compete with the divine was I temptation embodied like those evil. Women who seduce monks in the legends of the desert, fathers for his part, feathery, try to make sense of our relationship from the world in which he lived. Remember Stephanie. This is a spiritual love like the love between Saint Francis and Saint Clair, but Clare, never daydreamed of our retiring to a farm house in the French out
With Francis and having three children, it's clear: we're meant to be together, he insisted, but I've already been called to be a monk. Maybe this is God. Way of telling you that you should be a nun after all. But if there is anything that I was certain of now, it was that I was not meant to be a nun For months I had agonized over whether or not I had a calling. From the moment I fell in love with Frederick. I had never questioned the truth of my emotions. I knew for the first time in my life that are calling felt like this. So I tried to stay away from the monastery. I tried not influence feathery. His choice, bought him a new monastic belt, as if donating to his ascetic wardrobe would somehow render me guiltless. He called me most evenings and though he spoke of little
other than studies and prayers. We knew that we did not want a day to pass without hearing from each other. One afternoon. He asked me to teach him the Koran. That night I sat down and opened my Quran to the story of the prophet Joseph, a mystic, a stranger. He was so beautiful that women who saw him came distracted from the work and cut their hands. His life was suffused with the memory of a night, his childhood, when his brothers abandon him at the bottom of the well in the moment. He lost hope. He received a message. Tell the meaning of life. I could not tell Frederick, I thought he was beautiful, but could not tell him that sometimes the secrets of our lives tonight Belong to us, but instead are given in the moment we feel abandoned at the bottom of the well. Instead, I sent him the passages on prophet Joseph
added to note saying that it contained the story of a beautiful young man anxiety far from his family, who dreamed great dreams and through those dreams understood the world. It was the first love letter. I ever sent him for the next two months rhetoric and I called at each other through chronic love letters. I hoped he would learn about me through the stories that I loved her waited alighted candles. And then felt terrible about asking God for this favor. I tried to study. Most of all, I wrestled with the uncomfortable fact that Frederick was a novice monk who believed deeply in his vocation.
but he was also in love with me. It was ass, though he told me he had been given to callings and then asked to do the impossible choose between love and love. He decided to ask God send him assign lasting memory of that summer is of me crumbling room in the ancient city and Frederick in the desert, both looking out our windows for signs. For a few weeks, everything became miraculous ceramic tiles, on an old building children holding hands on one of my last days in Syria, Frederick passed me on the stairs of the monastery and handed me a note. Maybe God finally spoke. I met you.
I returned to America, as planned, and the next month, Frederick travelled to India to make a choice far from the influence of Abbott's monks and me, he wished me invisible, so He wore his ordinary clothes, in a crowded train station in Mumbai, he boarded a train to Kerala soon. Countryside was flying past. He wrote in his notebook. I can feel a miracle coming the train slowed at the next station
two elderly nuns boarded followed by a young indian girl. How strange to see them here. He thought they looked for the number on their ticket was next to his seat. The two nuns approached him. Are you going to Cochin? They asked? Yes, then. Can you please take care of her she's traveling alone. Frederick, nodded it was quiet for a long time when the train started moving the girl glanced at him. Where are you going? He asked her
I was a novice in a carmelite monastery for three years. She said, and now I've decided to leave and return to my family. He looked at her in disbelief for a moment and then smiled me too. He said, and now we Our family, yeah hmm. Linda Carter, Cardellini reading Stephanie Soul has peace, signs, wonders and fates fulfilled will hear more from Stephanie after the break
I love smelling my boyfriend and I often play stalling together if, by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in sorry. It may have happened again. I have one friend I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous. I sent it to my parents or something like that
me and my dad. We like to play fun together, and I wish other out. I forgot to see it. J, a c k, P, o t Jack, yeah yeah, I'm same as earth's sky, the digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try, spelling bee and all our games at N Y Times dot com, Slash games, Stephanie and Frederick have been married for eleven. Years, now, she's forty one and he's forty four and they live in Jerusalem with their three young children, but Stephanie says that in the beginning the transition away from the monastery wasn't entirely smooth. I had this unrealistic expectation that, Frederick after three years living in a monastery in the desert,
just going to come into the world and be like anyone else, but the fact is is that he was still a novice monk and we would always joke that. God was somehow like the other person in our relationship that the this things and other marriages that somebody might worry about. Another woman that I would find things that would show that he was thinking about God. So sometimes, if I was doing the laundry I would find prayer be in his pocket. He was always asking to go on retreats and I would always tease him and say if you're going to go at a retreat with God. You need to take me on a date as well, but in time he never really stopped being a novice monk just changed and brought that spiritual life
our marriage and when they had children, Stephanie says it showed them a different kind of holiness. Both of us were drawn to the monastic life and there can be a kind of perfection which can come with the monastic life to live. Like this, angels. They would say, then we came into the world and we had these kids in our life is just so beautifully messy and it's the most beautiful thing and to discover a different kind of sanctity. I would say in that messiness has been the greatest gift of of having.
I blame Stephanie and Frederick left the monastery of Deir MAR Musa in two thousand and five. Since then, they've watched the syrian civil war devastate the country where they first met her, where she could go back for an hour for a day drink. Another cup of coffee be next the people that we loved walking the streets. This country, which gave me the man that I love, gave me the arabic language that I speak every day,
Give me my faith: can that monastery and Stephanie says that, although her essay is about her and Frederick falling in love, there's a hidden character whose behind almost every sentence, Father Paolo De La Leo Father Paolo, was the man who felt that monastery again, he revived it in the desert. He is the man who sent Frederick off to make that choice in India. He's the man who married Frederick and eye when the war started. He spoke out against the government and was forced out of the country, but exile is very, very difficult for him
and in two thousand and thirteen he decided to sneak back into the country in order to meet with the man who is still relatively unknown at the time named outback daddy and to try to negotiate the release of hostages, and he never turned. Stephanie says that at First Father, Paolo wasn't eager for her and federal to leave the monastery, but he still travelled to France to marry them. And there are these pictures of me coming down the aisle and my father lifting of the veil and in the picture you can see Paolo there, my spiritual father and you can see my real father who passed away just the year before Palo.
peered and there's a sense that both of them are giving me away. Paolo would say this is the poverty of the monastic life is that you love people and that you let them go to live their lives, Stephanie says that the story of the girl, Frederick met on the train is something they've come back to again and again the early years. That was really his miracle, but
and in any marriage, there's challenges and difficulties, especially when you're a marriage of two different cultures living in a third culture. We we live in Jerusalem and there are many times when I was having difficulty and I would tell myself to wearing an angel appeared on a train and so over the years. It was as though that young girl, who appeared to him, also appeared to me and gave me courage. and so the importance of that moment has somehow only grown over the years, the Stephanie Saldana, more about her life in Syria is called the bread of angels more after
break. I love spelling bee my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in theory. They may have happened I have one friend. I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words. Then I was getting nervous. I sent it to my parents or something like that me and my dad. We like to play fun together and I wish color out. I forgot to see it. J, a c k, p, o t, Jack,
yeah yeah I'm same is risky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at an why times, dot com, flash games. Daniel Jones, editor of the modern love column for the New York Times says. This essay shows that people look for signs to help them make difficult choices. The things that help us make these profound choices can be so fleeting and so accidental, and they did really determine the course of our lives. but it needed a knowledge. He needed a nudge or needed thing to sort of hang his decision on, because how do you give up? One thing you love the thing you love, how do you make that choice? and here
Linda Cardellini beautiful. I think there are a lot of mysteries about life those being love and the being God, and I thought this was an interesting way to speak to both thanks again to Linda for reading this week's piece next week, Rachel Vice what once seemed like a bleak choice between losing my soul or losing my most cherished friend was in fact a lesson that true love is the only thing that could save me Modern love is the production of the New York Times and W B you are fosters. Npr station is produced, directed and edited by Jessica, Albert John Perotti, Caitlin O'Keefe and Anna Marie Sivertson, additional sound design by Paul Vegas, here for the modern love. Podcast was conceived by LISA Tobin Iris.
Learn our executive producer, Daniel Joan, does the editor of modern love for the New York Times an adviser to the show music for the pot cast courtesy of a p m. I magnet huckleberry, see enact weak. Hmm,.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-16.