I went to Catholic school from 6th grade until the end of high school. Sister Stephanie Ann was my 6th grade teacher. She was an old school nun: black wimple, blue knee length skirt with matching cardigan sweater, sensible rubber-soled shoes, Polish accent. To my sixth grade self, she seemed a million years old, though I suppose she was only in her early fifties or so.
There was nothing gentle or maternal about Sr. Stephanie Ann (I’ve never met a nun who embodied either of those qualities). She was sarcastic, she was cranky, and she was the master of the bon mot. My personal favorite: “Jesus commanded me to love you; he didn’t say anything about me having to like you.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but in retrospect, I like her a lot.
I thought of her today — of one specific moment of my time in her class. It was lunchtime, and it was raining. Sister happened to sit down at a table near my desk, with her lunch: an apple, and a boiled egg. She unwrapped her egg and took a bite, eyes closed. Upon finishing the bite, she opened her eyes. She looked at the egg, and then she looked at me, and said:
You can’t eat an egg and not believe in God.
Well, of course, you can. But I think even a non-believer can appreciate the beauty of that statement. The egg, that perfect little packet of protein, that chicken in the bubble of the subjunctive, that gold and white ellipsoid, the ordinary, everyday miracle that waits for us each time we walk into the supermarket, a dozen to the carton in the refrigerated section.
I remembered that incident as I ate lunch today, sitting out on the patio of my apartment on this beautiful San Francisco spring day. A hummingbird zipped into the yard, and hovered in the air above my husband and me, just staring. It must have decided we were no threat; it zipped away to the other corner of the yard, where the lemon tree blooms. It flitted from blossom to blossom to feed, never landing. It was no bigger than the young fruit already on the branches. Its blue-green wings made a buzzy-hummy sound as it flew; I could hear it faintly from where I sat. It sounded like bees. Blue-green, iridescent bees.
“They’re like feathered insects,” my husband said. It’s true.
You can’t watch a hummingbird and not believe in natural selection.
That really doesn’t have the same ring to it as Sr. Stephanie Ann’s words. But I think it’s just as beautiful.