By Nichole Bernier
A new priest was assigned to our church recently. Great priests aren’t a dime a dozen, and our previous pastor had remembered all the kids’ names and sung Sinatra from the lectern. I’d been sorry to see him go, and curious about the replacement.
After I met the new priest once or twice — he was 50ish and just out of seminary — someone told me he’d been in politics before joining the priesthood. So one Sunday morning after donuts in the parish hall, I asked him about it.
He’d been a lobbyist, he said. In the Boston State House. In healthcare.
So I asked him what he thought of Obamacare. He laughed — “okay, this is my political side talking, not my theological side” — and offered his opinion on building a broad base of support on an issue so large.
“For example, it’s important because….well, what’s your field?” And then he asked the same of my friend Jill, who’d been standing with me.
What’s your field. With that simple question he stopped me short.
He knew nothing about me, other than the fact that several chocolate-glazed children were calling me mom.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been asked that question in the past 10 years. The assumption, probably, is that I don’t have a field, or at least don’t anymore, or that it would be dicey to ask and infer that working at home wasn’t work.
In truth, being a writer is sort of a shape-shifter of a field, and an answer to “what’s your field,” because it can mean virtually anything. Published, unpublished, blogger. Journalism, fiction, poetry, narrative nonfiction in The New Yorker, celebrity interviews in Esquire, “How to Can Peaches” in Real Simple. But Father Rafferty wasn’t interested in those nuances; he just wanted to know my area of expertise, my point of reference. What floats my boat.
He didn’t ask what kind of writing I do, because he really just wanted to make a comparison vis a vis consensus-building (“Let’s say a committee of editors and readers had to convene to decide what went into every issue of a newspaper”). And he didn’t ask whether he’d “know” my novel, always an odd question, or how many copies it had sold, or offer that writing must be a good career to be able to maintain on the side of raising a large family. He just wanted to know my area of expertise.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it was, that normalcy of two professionals talking. And then how good to hear my friend Jill answer “finance,” even though her day job now is raising two boys. Because finance is her field. It’s what she has worked in, built a reputation in, and where her knowledge base lies. It’s her thing.
It made my day, hearing that assumption of a woman’s thing beyond momming. And it came from a Catholic priest.