The layout of the monastery confuses me, as do all the archaic names. I’m looking for the building where guests take their meals. Finally, I see one of the reclusive monks a ways ahead on the gravel road. I jog, reverently as I can, till overtaking him.
“Excuse me Brother, which way to the confectionery?”
“The what?” He says bewildered. He is very old.
“The confectionery, Brother. For supper.”
His eyes dart from bottom left to bottom right. I think: how odd it is that when our minds are searching our eyes go this way and that as if pulling our thoughts by strings.
“Ah, the refectory. This way. Follow me.”
Refectory? My eyes begin darting. Then what in the world is a confectionery? I think it’s a real word. Then I remember. A confectionery is an old-time word for a candy store.
He’s hunched severely, his head only reaching my shoulders, though he might be as tall as me if he stood straight. I am pleased, always having wanted to walk alongside a monk who looks this way.
“How long have you lived here Brother?”
“Oh… since 1953. And before that, another monastery called Gethsemane.”
I start doing some math to ballpark his age, causing me to furrow my brow. I think: how odd it is that math problems hang like weights on the folds of my forehead.
“I am 93,” he volunteers. He has lived a monastic life for seventy years.
This is my first real interaction with a monk; something I’ve looked forward to for years. But already I feel disenchantment creeping in. Perhaps I was hoping that if one dedicated their life to meditating on the most elevated thoughts, that they’d at some point begin to float or glow. But he just shuffles along in his dusty sandals like a regular old man would.
The end of the road is nearing after which we will go our separate ways: me to the refectory, he to his cell. Quick! Ask now, before it’s too late!
“Brother, after all those years of contemplation, what still troubles you?”
I must know. Because I too may devote the rest of my life to God and contemplation. But I need to know what, after all that time, will remain unresolved in me. Or will I succeed in making all thoughts cohere, leaving me to live out my days basking in the tranquility of supreme understanding?
We step off the gravel and pause, and I brace myself for his mighty reply. I expect an answer so arcane that he will first need to deliver it in Latin before working out an imperfect translation for me.
He thinks for a moment before saying, with a hint of disappointment, “I can’t believe how little I think of others,” before turning and shuffling away.