She smiled as the elder woman walked into the room, tailed by a series of attendants carrying copies of the scarf and veil that would soon decorate her and the other women around her. Her eyes searched the room, as she rested her back on the oak backrest of the seat beneath her. Some of the girls drew themselves closer to one another, looking apprehensive. She couldn’t blame them. Most girls were conscripted after all.
Every village had to supply a girl or two to the state, so that they could pray on behalf of the state. She volunteered to join in hers. Age wasn’t a problem. There was only one simple requirement: inductees needed to be unwedded girls or women, untouched by both men and marriage. The tinge of regret, which everyone warned her of, never struck her. Instead, a sense of peace mixed with the ambition within her. Her resolution was firm.
She was tired of the constant reminders to find a man. Tired of the expectation that she devote herself – her body, her life, and her mind to a someone of another gender. Tired of men leering at her, as if expecting her to give something in return for their unsolicited ogles. So what if it was tradition? So what if it’s the norm? Why should she follow along simply because they said it was right? She was tired of the demands that she give up her freedoms, dreams, and independence. She was herself, and she wasn’t letting anyone take that from her. Why couldn’t she live without someone of the opposite sex?
It was almost her turn. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. Soon, she would have an official reason to follow her dreams. Soon, she could cast off the shackles of society. A society that continually bounded her, aiming to constrict her and shape her to their own definitions. A society that couldn’t respect what she wanted, simply because of her gender. Soon, she would be granted the right to walk away from it all, with dignity and grace.
The nun lit a candle before her name. Finally, she was next. She smiled, as she stood. Finally, she could abandon the world that kept reminding her of her age, her biological limitations, and society’s demands for marriage. She was only twenty-five, hardly an old woman, but friends, family, even strangers constantly looked at her as if she were expired goods. Finally, she could escape those watchful eyes that demanded conformity.
Perhaps, she never wanted to be a woman of society. Perhaps, all she wanted, this entire time, was to be a woman of learning. If being a woman of religion granted that, then she would gratefully choose that as an option. Why was the ability to live independently, without shame, granted only to men? Why couldn’t a woman of society have the ability to live by her own hands? Why did they demand that she depend on another for survival?
“Daughter of the Lord.” The nun called, holding the tablet with her name. She sucked in a breath. None of those problems were her concern any longer. Religion, the monastery, granted everything that she wanted, with a small price tag – to become a nun. Lowering her head, in modesty, she stepped forward. Kneeling before the head nun and before the statue of her Lord, she closed her eyes, in silent prayer. Internally following along with the nun, she repeated the words, of the entrance ceremony, in her head with prayer.
“Thank the lord for the opportunity that you have given us.” The nun recited from memory. “Thank you for allowing another to join the ranks of your loyal attendants. For giving us the opportunity to serve you. For granting us peace and resources required for us to grow. We are forever grateful for that you have shared with us, and together we shall dedicate ourselves as an entire unit to you and no other.”
Keeping her head lowered and eyes closed, she felt the elderly nun veil her face. A garment that would, from this day forth, become a part of her permanent wardrobe. A piece that would, forever onwards, hide her face from the world, from anyone other than her fellow nuns and the Lord above her. A dark scarf was draped over her hair. Pinning it under her chin, the other woman covered her blonde locks, tucking it away from the public as it would stay.
For, now she could finally say that she did not, and would not ever, belong to a mortal man. Opening her eyes and lifting her face, she accepted a copy of the Holy Scripture. A piece that she would study, in addition to the research and learning she sought to pursue. From this day forth, she would no longer need to bear the judgemental gazes of those in society. For, the duties of a woman would no longer be hers. Replaced, it would be, with duties to the state and to religion. Duties that she gladly shouldered.
She bowed at the stained glass before her. The pictorial representation of the Lord that she now served. Her action, giving silent thanks to the figure that was both her savior and protector. The figure that was, henceforth, both her protector and her savior. She felt light as she returned to her place at the pews, where other women waited for their own initiation. From this day forth, she shall belong to no one but her Lord.
At last, her mind was finally at peace. She closed her eyes, concentrating her in a meditative prayer. For the first time, since her adolescence, she felt free. Opening her eyes again, and looking at the copy of the Scripture in her arms, she suddenly felt a surge of happiness. After all these years, she could finally experience the unbridled joy of learning, of discovery and growth, in a place that both encouraged and fostered it. After all these years, she finally felt a sense of acceptance. A feeling that she was home.