There are many joys in life. For me, family, friends, and the community I live in are the greatest, for they last a lifetime. True, relationships can be difficult, but imagine life without them. Perhaps one of the greatest tests we all must face is the loss of those we love and cherish.
Living in a cloistered community has its challenges, but the process of spending years living with a certain group of men is something that I find myself very thankful for. Some of the men I have lived with were very wounded and were a challenge, yet in the end, we all love one another and seek to help each other the best way we can.
I first came here, to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA, when I was in the Navy. I just completed a year on Midway Island and came to Holy Spirit for a months stay. I celebrated my 20th birthday here. I loved the place as soon as I arrived. The monks were for the most part at that time veterans from the 2nd World War. They were mostly in their middle to late forties, a strong group of men, rough, down to earth and very accepting of me. It was a good month. There were 75 monks in residence then.
I returned in 1970 for two weeks and was saddened by two deaths. One was Fr. William Roderick, who was actually the Father who got me to enter Conyers. The other death was a novice who befriended me, but left soon after I went back to the Navy. He died a violent death in New York. It had a lasting effect on some of the monks.
When I entered in September of 1971, there were 70 monks here. I worked on the farm for a few years as a novice. I enjoyed the work, but being out under the sun was a problem for me. We had lots of vegetables at that time, and we also grew ferns, though they came a little later.
I was the youngest monk here for about ten years and now I am the eight from the top of the eldest. The population that was here when I entered is now mostly gone. They are buried outside of our church. Working in the Infirmary for 30 years allowed me to have the honor of accompanying them on their final journey. Fr. Matt, Fr. Gerard and Fr. Cyprian were also key men in the infirmary. I worked under Fr. Matt and Fr. Cyprian for quite a few years until around 1995 when I was made head of the infirmary.
Fr. Anthony died yesterday, peacefully, who was a young man when I entered, only 42 or 43. He was not always easy to get along with, but underneath his gruff exterior was a very kind and gentle soul. He was a poet and a writer and he had a powerful influence on many people. So as time goes on, the loss of another ‘senior’ can be daunting and fill me with sorrow and nostalgia….over a past that was never quite as nice as memories make them. Yet important none the less, for they give joy in remembering.
I have been here 44 years but it seems like a dream to me — it went by so fast. Each year I am moving into the place that Anthony and so many monks who have passed on held, being an elder of sorts. Yet I don’t feel like and elder, so it is kind of funny and sad at the same time.
Every generation goes through this. The slow passing of one generation to make room for the next, something necessary and good, yet also sorrowful and heart rending for all.
It is hard, or impossible to actually think or believe in one’s passing, for in seeking to think about it, we are an observer. Death is not something observed but experienced. Yet the passing of so many that were known from the past is a reminder that we are truly here for a short time. What are we to do with it?
Sometimes when I am praying, I see all the faces of those I have known who have died. Not just monks, but people who I have known and loved over the years. Many people who are friends of the Monastery have passed of course, family members, people we just know but don’t have any particular emotional connection. Yet everything moves on.
Things fall into perspective when I think about this, but it’s a perspective that is easy to lose. For I often bear the illusion that everything will stay as it is today, the same people, fiends and people who come to the Monastery. Yet in another 44 years, which will pass by as quickly as the last, or even quicker, how many of these people will be here, not many.
Faith gives hope, yet that hope can be without consolation in dark times, yet the hope matures and deepens with each “Yes” to life. To be rooted in God is no small thing, nor is it always easy. Yet the burdens of life take on a different texture for those who have faith, who love God and who believe that prayer is an important part of that equation.