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"Each of us knows there are certain people we just don't get along with at all. So—we avoid them. This is life. Now, there are certain people (not too many) who just can't get along with anybody, and these are called—'hermits'!" Now, it's unlikely you would hear anyone give so "bald" an expression of prejudice against monks. And yet if you listen to the way people use the words "hermit" or "monk", you might suppose the person they are talking about simply doesn't get on very well with people. This is intriguing to me.
I imagine a family spending a quiet evening together in a large house. Four or five of them are relaxing together in the living room in front of the television, and at a certain point, a cell phone rings. It belongs to the father of the family who is in the garage tinkering with his car. His daughter, answering the phone, goes to get him. On her way to the garage, she passes through the dining room and is surprised to find her brother there. She halts a moment to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She wants to make sure her eyes do not deceive her. They do not.
"So — what was it made you want to be a monk?" Occasionally I run into a young person in the guest house and, out of the blue, they'll pop that question. I'm caught off guard and they stand there looking at me, waiting for an answer. Fr. Severin had been a monk for sixty years when, in his eighties, he got the job of greeting school groups in front of the monastery.
I think I probably have the best cell in the monastery. I love my cell. New Melleray is a huge monastery — "T" all the way up on the top floor, over looking Quarry Field. It is a corner room with a large window facing East which provides me a view of the sunrise every morning and two large windows facing south. Situated where we are in northern Iowa, the arc of the sun is rather low and so, through my windows to the south, I can actually watch the sun set. Yup — I can watch the sun rise and set each day and never leave my cell.
The first time I met Duane, he was just an ornament added to a strikingly beautiful sunset on a serene summer evening. Across the street from New Melleray Abbey is Holy Family parish and behind it North Church Field. Running through the middle of this vast prairie is a ridge that appears sharp as a knife when the sun sets behind it. A path that runs along the ridge is a favorite among joggers, young people in love, and contemplatives like Duane.
Arriving at the carpenter shop at Trappist Caskets one morning recently, I learned that Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps, died on January 22 and was buried in one of our Trappist Caskets. On the bulletin board was pinned a picture of the Shriver / Kennedy clan seated and listening to the eulogy behind a really simple rectangular walnut box. I recognized the casket, boldly patterned with white walnut streaks. It had been in our shop just days before.