By Brandon HENSLEY
Ten years ago, while on vacation at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado with her husband, Pat Jones did one of the most common, everyday actions someone can do; she went to rub her right eye. After removing her hand, though, she realized her vision wasn’t as it should have been.
“I was kind of rubbing my eye,” she said, “and I realized I can’t see.” It bothered her the rest of the trip, and when she and John came home they went to the doctor.
It turned out that Jones had age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a condition in older adults where bleeding behind the retina, leaving scar tissue, can affect a person’s central field of vision. As the right eye worsened, problems in the left eye formed a few years later.
Today, Jones is legally blind. She describes her vision as having black pennies right in the middle, only seeing peripherally on the outer layer.
But in other ways, she’s seeing more clearly than she ever.
Jones, 70, has been a member of St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada since the early 1980s, and on June 9 she will fly to Philadelphia where she will take vows to be officially inducted into the Anamchara Fellowship as Sister Patricia Angela.
Yes, it’s no Sister Act – Episcopalians can be nuns. Married ones, at that.
When she takes her vows, she will be given the habit of the order (green and white, instead of the usual black and white), and that will mark a point in Jones’ life that she never really thought could ever be.
Jones, who lives in Sunland, grew up in Eagle Rock, and was raised Catholic. After her parents fell away from
the Church, she took an interest in the Presbyterian denomination, introduced through a junior high friend who was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. After college, though, a boyfriend took her to an Episcopal service, and Jones was hooked.
“I had the best of both worlds, because the Episcopal liturgy is very similar to the Roman Catholic liturgy,” she said. “Since then, I’ve been Episcopalian.”
Being a nun had been in her heart, but so was being a wife. She married John in 1970, maybe at the only time she ever could have; she was on a religious sabbatical, and he was, and still is, agnostic.
John said that his wife’s return to religion was gradual. She wanted to go to services on Christmas at first, before coming full circle. Despite their differences, they’ve never become a spiritual odd couple.
“We don’t argue about it,” John said. “We have some very interesting discussions over dinner.”
Besides, Jones isn’t about butting heads. Anamchara is the Gaelic word for “soul friend.” Jones didn’t always know her religion had a place for monks and nuns. When she found out, she was excited, but still wrestled with the idea of joining. Then she heard a sermon on Celtic spirituality by St. George’s priest Amy Pringle.
OK, this is for you, she told herself. “It resonated.”
“The people in professed orders are the ones who have stood up publically and said, ‘Yes, I’m taking this so seriously that I’m going to commit to it forever,’” Pringle said. “But the things they commit to … are all part of what Christian life is to be for us anyway.”
To be accepted, Jones had to gather recommendations, give reports on the Celtic monastery, and interview with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
But really, what is that compared to living with what Jones has? She reads on her Closed Circuit Television, magnifying text and reading them out of the corner of her eye. The desktop icons on her computer are enlarged enough to see what she is clicking. All of her books are on tape, including the Bible, which she orders from Braille Institute. She has a talking watch, so she doesn’t tell time, but rather time tells her.
John helps her travel, but mostly, it’s all Pat. She rides the bus everywhere she goes, and does the shopping herself.
“She goes where she wants to go and does what she wants to do,” said John.
Occasionally, Jones will have to take a rain check on plans. Earlier this year, the women of her high school had a 53-year reunion, but Jones didn’t go because configuring the bus schedule would have been too confusing and too time consuming. Not so fun fact: To get to her eye appointments in North Hollywood, it took her three hours.
She said was angry and depressed when she found out about her condition, but, “Being a woman helps. I really think woman cope with these things better than men do,” she said.
It’s not as if she and John didn’t try medication, but
it’s not for the squeamish. A needle has to be inserted into the eye with medicine. Jones said it helped … a little. She developed a staph infection once from the treatment.
For this, though, Jones has leaned on her faith. “To feel that there was never going to be a time when I was in a situation when I really couldn’t handle it or be defeated, there was always that rock core,” she said.
Pringle is an admirer. Jones used to read biblical stories in church before her vision went. So afterward, she simply memorized Scripture instead, and still tells the stories.
“Always, there are people who are moved to tears,” Pringle said when it happens.
The only obstacle seemingly in her way now is the plane ride to Philadelphia next month. Air travel for someone who is legally blind is no picnic. But in her struggle, Jones has found strength.
“Obviously, she suffered at the hands of [her vision] for a while and then came out on the other side merely by deciding that she wouldn’t be deterred from the things that are important to her,” Pringle said.
To Jones, and those that know her, that much is crystal clear.