A good memoir does more than simply retell someone’s personal story. It illuminates a larger world through an individual experience. In the case of Mary Johnson’s memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life, she offers her own tale of joining, and later leaving, Mother Teresa’s order.
Reading this book, I knew I was reading something important. It is a respectful and thoughtful meditation on one woman’s experiences. Considering the intense privacy of the Catholic Church, this book offers an inside view into the real joys, the possibilities for joy and the many abuses.
Johnson enters the order an intellectually curious and emotionally hungry young woman. She does nothing without considering its implications within the order and church, and its relationship to the outside world. Towards the end, Johnson writes in Chapter 31, “I was angry with the Church for demanding celibacy of her priests, and mad at God for giving me a vocation that demanded I sacrifice intimacy and intellect.” The demands on the women in the order are extreme and hard to imagine. Mary makes it possible to see why the nuns and the church made certain decisions while that very insight makes it clear that changes need to made.
I met Mary Johnson in 2009 at the A Room of her Own Retreat in New Mexico. I remember listening to her read a section from the memoir and not wanting to wait until it was published to hear the rest. After (or before) you read the book, be sure to check out her website. There are interviews, photos, readers guide and more. While you're waiting for your copy of the book to arrive, you can browse the beginning of the book.
In the epilogue, Johnson writes, “So much depends on the stories we tell ourselves, and on the questions we ask, or fail to ask.” Such a good lesson for life and writing.