Saturday, December 12, 2009

Old Writings: St. Louis Abbey

I am out on my daily walk, and then suddenly there is an intrusion, a sound. The loud noise of death metal drifts over the wind. Incongruous with the surroundings. Two men have it blasting out of their truck as they work on constructing the fence around the baseball field. It is an intrusion of the real world, incongruous with the world I have inhabited the past few days. My days have been full of the routine of going to Divine Offices, celebrating Mass, and passing days mostly in silence. The radio reminds me that I will go home tomorrow, to a mass of things to be done; to the waiting to see whether I actually am buying a house; to all that goes with that- packing, planning, painting, moving; to greeting a whole new semester of students and working on improving this semester over last. It is a reminder however, that I leave behind. My second walk around the track, the music is off, and the faint sounds of their work doesn’t intrude as the radio did. The sounds of the geese and ducks from the pond drift on the wind instead, sounding like a cocktail party with its guests squabbling and talking about the issues of the day. The real world has retreated back beyond the borders of this place, and I am grateful to leave it behind for another day.

I imagine that there is great comfort in the routine here. Every day there is a plan for how the day is spent, time is bookended by the Divine Offices and days have meaning all on their own, without any input otherwise. The day is complete, from the moment you wake up because of what you will participate in. There is a comfort in just sitting in church and participating in this small part of their world. I can imagine that feeling if only intensified if this is your regular life. I am just an observer, a guest, a person flitting on the fringe. I am happy to be that. I am happy to just sit, and soak in and participate as I can. I fill my time in between this structured day by reading, and writing, and taking walks with my camera. Some of my reading is religious, as seems appropriate in this place. But I also read World War Z, on loan from my friend here, and Cobra Event, a book terrifying to someone who lived in New York before, during and after September 11th.
I felt, from the moment I sat in the airport at home, as though there were four million stories to be told, banging on my skull to get out. I have tried to write them down, parts, lines, character studies, as they come to me. I couldn’t possibly write them all now. I hope these scribbling in my book serve to remind me enough later to flesh them out and make them come to life. Some of it is the airport, there are so many people, who seem completely unconscious of how much they radiate their personalities as they stride down the gates or sit waiting for their flight. You can tell a lot from how people behave in places like this. Perhaps it’s how they react to large group of people, or situations that they have no control over, or just the fact that more people these days seem unable to sit and do nothing. To wait with patience for anything. During my stay here, there is a lot of quiet, and I relish it. No one asking questions, no one to talk to, no demands made of me. I know it bears no resemblance to the real world, but as this place exists outside of the mainstream of life, so I am able to hit pause and step outside of time’s stream for a bit and recharge in a place so far from home.

The monks here are very nice. Although my dad asked me what I thought they’d be- mean? They wouldn’t be monks then he said. While he’s joking (I didn’t expect them to be mean!) I am heartened and honored when they take time out of wherever they are going to stop and say a few words with me. After all, they are monks, and while they do have a guest house they do not run regular retreats. You are not entertained as you stay here. That actually, other than getting to visit my friend, is the appeal to me.
I do wonder what they think. These are men who live a cloistered life, run an all boys school. I wonder what they think of a woman coming to stay here. Is it an intrusion? A novelty? Not even something to take notice of? I, out of respect and my own selfish needs for a retreat, stay out of their way, which is surprisingly easy to do in the guest house of a monastery. But the conversations I do have are interesting. To date, I have been asked whether I like C.S Lewis and had a new book recommended about him, been asked if I have everything I need repeatedly, had a conversation about how closely essays and fantasy are related as styles of writing and had a long conversation about the abuse of the liturgy since Vatican II.
The writer in me sees a story in every single one of them. Some are retired military, and this twinning of careers makes perfect sense to me. Part of me would love to know why they are here, how that change happened and what stories are behind that. Part of me wants to know about the monk who is a convert, and whether that’s easier or harder. I want to know why some of them are brothers and some are fathers. I want to know why some of them put on their hoods and then shrug them off- does this motion have meaning? Is it simply a nervous habit they all have, like a woman playing with jewelry she constantly wears? Why was that monk wearing street clothes and dancing in the kitchen as I walked by yesterday? While the temptation of exploring these stories is, well, tempting, I do not dream of responding to it. I am content to answer their questions quietly, and respond to them simply. To do more would be an intrusion upon them, and while they are very friendly, and no one has said anything to me, I wish to make as small an impression as possible.
I so know this, somehow, this trip will be become a regular thing for me. Perhaps not in January next time, but these 5 days with the quiet, the break, the chance to simply be with no expectations is wonderful, and liberating in a way that my eight weeks of traveling in the summer never are. It is probably a good thing that this short break is so refreshing with everything that awaits me back home. But then again, my travel time in the airport tomorrow will give me plenty of time to acclimate back into the real world and take up my worries again.

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