Each step, whether in happiness or in sadness, is a gift. What we do with
those gifts is what makes all the difference. – Sister Augustine
Even though Sundays are usually devoted to purrs of wisdom from our feline friends via our Conscious Cat Sunday column, Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions is the kind of book that fits right in with our Sunday theme. This memoir by Harvard-trained educator, artist and award winning writer John Schlimm chronicles the five year friendship between the author and 87-year-old Sister Augustine, a Benedictine nun at St. Joseph’s Monastery in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania. And while this is not a cat book, Sister’s relationship with her beloved cat Blitzen does play an important role in the book.
At age 31, John faced multiple challenges in his life. Disenchanted with his career as high profile publicist (Schlimm worked with former Second Lady Tipper Gore and such country music luminaries as Naomi Judd), he returned to his hometown. Even though he had a Harvard degree in education, he was working as a substitute teacher at his hometown high school. Multiple rejections of the manuscript for what he hoped would be his first national cookbook added to other disappointments. He was confused, lost and at a crossroads. He couldn’t have known how his life would change when his best friend introduced him to Sister Augustine, the wise and humble artist at the convent’s ceramic shop.
Over the next five years, the ceramic shop became refuge and classroom. John and Sister Augustine discussed love, success, creativity, sin, forgiveness and death. While Sister’s reflections and advice are obviously grounded in her Catholic faith, I found the spiritual lessons “generic” rather than religious. The overarching message of the book for me was that life’s real lessons happen in the small moments. The book’s wisdom may appear simple at times, but that simplicity is deceptive – it carries a profound power.
The passages about Sister’s relationship with Blitzen, her gold and white cat, made my heart smile. The gentle love and understanding between the two, and Sister’s comments about the role animals play in our lives resonated deeply with me.
“… when we gaze into an animal’s eyes,
we see God’s handiwork, if we’re really looking.”
Later in the book, Blitzen is joined by a black stray named Tommy. The two cats become fast friends. In one passage, the author paints a lovely word image of Sister, with his dog, Blitzen and Tommy resting at Sister’s feet, while Sister is looking at some of his artwork with a huge smile on her face.
“‘That’s the power of true love,’ I thought, looking at her. ‘It’s just there.'”
In the veins of Tuesdays with Morrie, this inspiring memoir is, at the core, about the magic of friendship, and how it can be found in the most unlikely places. This enchanting and uplifting book needs to be read slowly and savored, and is sure to make you smile.
Special Bookplate for Conscious Cat Readers
John Schlimm created a special bookplate for you! Right click on the image to download the Blitzen Bookplate.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher. Receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. All reviews on this site will always reflect my honest and unbiased opinion.