Just to recap, as a kid I really did want to be a hybrid of Claire Huxtable and her real life sister, Debbie Allen. In my mind I was. Between selecting a jury of stuffed animals to hear cases in my bedroom and choosing just the right beat on my Casio keyboard to showcase my high, leg warm accessorized kicks, I was doing at least 3 shows a week — that no one saw —by the age of 9.
Another wonderful character was introduced to me when I was in the hospital. My cousin showed up with VHS tape, a new release. It was called Sister Act, and it starred Whoopie Goldberg. I knew her from Ghost but more from Comic Relief with Billy Krystal and Robin Williams. I had watched hours of different comedians acts while going through chemo and dialysis. That saying, laughter is the best medicine? It is a thing. Anyway, the premise of this film is that Whoopie’s character, a lounge singer in Vegas, has to be hidden in a convent because her mobster boyfriend puts a hit out on her. Her name, before she goes into hiding, is Dolores Van Cartier, once inside the convent, Sr. Mary Clarence. Fantastic.
About halfway into the film, I had a severe seizure that landed me back in ICU temporarily. My right leg spun around at the hip and I could see my toes facing the ground. The next time I viewed the movie was several years later. My miraculous recovery had been explained to me then, even though it would be years before I figured out how to live with it.
Watching Sister Act through my lens as Miracle Girl, who had sleep overs at the convent and drank wine and talked freely with her nun friends definitely made me feel more connected to story and character than an average consumer of comedy flicks with happy endings.
Once the credits rolled, I thought to myself, was I all wrong about Fame and the Cosby Show? Am I Dolores Van Cartier? I wasn’t a lounge singer, but I did sing and dance along to any dive bar juke box anytime. I definitely fell in love with guys who turned out to be not so great to me and on occasion hunkered down at my girlfriends’ for support. Furthermore I absolutely challenged religious rules time and time again for the sake of relationships and giving a voice to the voiceless while still maintaining open dialog with church leaders. Wow, I no longer needed to answer the question of who would play me in the movie. I spent a lot of time joking that I was the outcast in my own life juxtaposed to this film. Life does imitate art and vice versa. So much so that when I rescued a dog last fall, naming this spunky little pup who’d dodged a bullet, or at least heavy traffic and life on the street it was a no brainer.
She was jumpy, playful, skittish all at the same time. Covered in fleas, wearing a collar intended for a much larger breed. I took her to the vet and they surmised that she was part pit bull, part sharpee, part miniature pincher, part boxer, maybe part greyhound and a little terrier. My father would have said she was put together by a committee. I put posters up, called vets, shelters, did whatever I could think of to help this little pup find her home. Weeks went by. Weeks became months. She had clearly been abandoned. She was also abused so she didn’t trust easy. The thought of giving up on her was too much. Being given up on or falsely labeled resonated deeply with me. It’s that misfit miracle thing again. I believe we are both. I believe we can all fit in, we just have to be welcomed. When I think of everything I loved as a kid, everything I aspired to be and what it took to shape all of that, I couldn’t let down this little lady. I took her in. She responded to the name Dolly, which is really just Dolores Van Cartier 2.0.
At the end of Sister Act the walls come down. Each woman has a changed world view because of the relationship that’s developed amidst crisis and screwball comedy. That’s pretty much me and the nuns today. Plus in both the movie and my story there’s a concert for the Pope! I can’t wait to tell Dolly all about it.
Who do you share your stories and dreams with?
PS. My ebook comes out December 18th
Kate D. Mahoney is a professional storyteller, actorvist and author who travels the country to share anecdotes from life as patient and caregiver- it’s crisis, but with jazz hands. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a speaking engagement.