I was talking to a good friend this morning. During the conversation continued I started to reminisce about a monk I cared for when I was the infirmirian here at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
He was a priest named Edmund, a very unusual man by any ones estimation. Many years ago, in the mid 70s, our abbot used to say he looked liked Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. Maybe, he did have a wizardly look about him. He was about 5’4” inches tall, if that. Gandalf seemed to me in my imagination to be 6’5” — so I did not agree. Yet there was something magical about this little, wise, man.
Edmund was a true man of prayer, as well as an artist in a Zen-like manner. He could take a rock, a leaf, and a stick and then arrange them in such a way that that arrested my eye. He also had a very dry sense of humor.
Forty years ago Edmund was the Master of Ceremonies for our yearly celebration at the Monasteru for those celebrating their 25th or 50th, or higher, anniversaries. He had us all laughing loudly and long as as told stories and shared memories of those we were honoring.
He spent his last years in our infirmary. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, along with some spinal issues he had to be kept in our medical wing. One of his great loves was Gershwin’s song “Summertime” sung by Billy Holiday. His eyes would beam and cry, all at once, when he heard this sung. Some poignant memories, perhaps? He played the violin when younger and no doubt frequented jazz bars where Gershwin was surely played.
Though he was small, he could eat for three large one. One day he rolled up in his wheelchair and complained he didn’t receive any lunch and was starving. He had had lunch just 30 minutes earlier, a big one, as a matter of fact. And I could not convince him otherwise.
So I asked Philip, another monk in our infirmary, to please let Edmund know that he had just ate. Philip looked at Edmund and then at me and said, “No,” they had not eaten lunch yet. So I had to make them another lunch. I’m no sure if it was a joke or not, but moments like that made my job easier: Humor is such a godsend.
Edmund also was very wise and his dementia did not lessen that. One day I was joking with him and asked,
“Edmund, you seem to be hanging on: you are in no rush to die are you?”
He looked up at me and responded with a very simple answer, much like one of his arrangement with a stone, leaf, and stick,
“Mark, we are each here for such a short time, we need to hang on as long as possible”.
That simple statement has stayed with me for the last ten years, I can’t forget it. I guess it was something I needed to hear at that time.
Edmund loved his life before he became ill, and he continued to love it after, even when things got rough for him. He did have his bad days, but his good ones far outnumbered them. When he died, it was like a ripe piece of fruit gently falling from a tree. His was a life well lived and he was greatly loved and I still miss him.
I have a lot of inner darkness, demons, that grace, my faith and love of God have kept at bay. That day, the seed that Edmund dropped into my heart, continues to grow and spread. For as I age, I know ever more deeply how precious each moment is, even the bad ones — “we are each here for such a short time.”