Good Old Fashioned

Entry by: Freya

17th June 2016
Good old fashioned year of Sister Mary Joseph

It wasn’t until late December that Sister Mary Joseph could state with certainty what kind of a year this had been.

For most folks waiting till the end of the year before judging how they had fared would not be unusual. Not many like to tempt fate by boasting about a fantastic twelve-month in October, to be forced to change their mind in November because of a broken leg or an unexpected redundancy.

Sister Mary Joseph wasn’t like other people. First, she wasn’t superstitious. Second, she had a gift for spotting patterns. It was all to do with probability, and Sister Mary Joseph prided herself in her brains. She could predict risks and facilitators to any plan. By March she was by-and-large confident what the present year had in stock for her little flock. By August she was already advancing against the following year’s investments and spendings, no longer preoccupied with the predictable present time.

Not ever until 2015 had Sister Mary Joseph struggled with interpreting the patterns in front of her. This, incidentally, was the year she turned eighty. A thought that her difficulty spotting patterns was due to her declining mental faculty floated through her mind at some point but she quickly squeezed it into the darkest room of her consciousness.

In April, much disturbed by the reality not making sense to her any more, she consulted Mother Superior, Griselda. But Griselda’s brain proved less agile than Mary Joseph gave her credit for. More sisters were thus applied to but with little success. Sisters didn’t even grasp the concept of patterns and their combined advice was to trust in providence.

Sister Mary Joseph considered herself a devoted catholic but she also firmly believed that God gave her the brain for some purpose. Not using one’s gift was in her view an evil parallel to theft or poisoning one’s body with illegal substances. In the present volatile situation, she understood that only a miracle could ensure that the convent’s savings remain intact. In her pattern-spotting she could always find ways to safeguard against risks but 2015 presented too many unusual risks to allow her flock to go on as before. Though, to be fair, she wasn’t actually sure whether her investments would fail or whether they would result in surplus instead. For the first time in her life investing the convent’s meagre savings felt like gambling, and gambling was a sin.

Sister Mary Joseph decided letters would be her salvation. She penned half a dozen of them in her long hand, all addressed to the top financial advisors in the country. Three responded by posting the quotes for their consultation and the remaining ones left her communication unanswered.

By July Sister Mary Joseph shed ten kilograms and her grey hair thinned. But she refused to accept that she could no longer balance risks against facilitators. She spent hours calculating and recalculating until Mother Superior booked her a visit with a psychiatrist. Poor old lunatic, as Sister Mary Joseph began being called by the other sisters, accepted her fate with dignity. While she conceived of the problem as having more to do with the changeability of markets than her mental health, since she couldn’t afford the pricy financial advisors, she resigned herself to the state-funded psychotherapy.

Dr Stevens, a pretty, youthful woman with a soft spot for Prada suits agreed to see Sister Mary Joseph once a week. By November however the progress was not remarkable. Dr Stevens duly noted that while Sister Mary Joseph practiced relaxation, had a good grasp of the intricate connections between thoughts and behaviours, and spent thirty minutes a day noting the things she was grateful for, her weight still dropped and she turned completely bald. Dr Stevens rubbed her well sculpted brow trying to put her finger on what the underlying problem was. Sister Mary Joseph had a mental crispness of a thirty-year-old, excellent memory and psychomotor orientation. As she had to offer a diagnosis, Dr Stevens proclaimed that the elderly sister suffered generalised anxiety disorder, with the main symptom being a ceaseless worry about the lack of patterns in economic predictions.

In December, exhausting all therapeutic ideas, Dr Stevens attempted her final resource. She contacted an emeritus professor of economics at the nearby university requesting a consultation.

To Sister Mary Joseph, this bespectacled, snow-white-bearded man with kind wrinkled face personified a psychotherapist to a much greater degree than fashionable Dr Stevens. She instantly opened her heart to him, trusting her excel spreadsheets into his curious eyes. He was the first person to whom she didn’t have to explain her pattern spotting practices. A kindred spirit, he saw in the numbers what only a few people could notice.

‘There’s nothing wrong with your head, Sister,’ he explained. ‘2015 is simply a good old fashioned year. Over the previous years you had detected patterns as they existed. A good old fashioned year doesn’t happen often, contrary to its familiar name. Remember economics is not hard science? There’s always error and probability but ever so seldom a year comes when the laws of probability cease to work. It’s a year without patterns, just a noise of data. The economists named it a good old fashioned year for reassurance.’

‘What does it mean for me?’ Sister Mary Joseph inquired.

‘You will be able to say what year this has been on 31st December like the rest of the world.’ He smiled.

She pondered it, as her features relaxed.

‘I can live with it. As long as the next year I can see my patterns again.’

‘A good old fashioned year is a one in a life-time event. The patterns will return for sure.’ He nodded with certainty.

Dr Stevens could promise she observed Sister Mary Joseph’s hair growing back as soon as the professor finished tilting his head.