Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

13 June 2008

Tribute to Brother Pilgrim - The Friend

When I finished high school, the paths of Brother Pilgrim and I diverged for many years. It wasn't until about twenty years later, after I had been in the Order for about 15 years, that I began to get re-acquainted with him. I had been put in charge of one of our monasteries. He lived in a different monastery in the same city and, because he was semi-retired, he would come to our monastery twice a week to cook for us. And, oh, what a cook! But that's beside the point. It was during this time that our relationship changed from teacher-student to brother-brother. I can pinpoint the exact moment. A guy showed up at our door one day saying that he was thinking of joining our Order. He looked a little weird, but, hey, we have our share of weird-looking brothers so I invited him into the kitchenette and offered him a cup of coffee. I asked him a few questions, which he answered in long, run-on sentences. Soon, he stopped waiting for the questions and went into a non-stop monologue. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration—he did stop long enough to ask for another cup of coffee. I should also mention that at one point, he pulled a small, very frightened looking puppy from his inside coat pocket. You're getting the picture by now. The whole time, Brother Pilgrim had been in the kitchen, quietly working on the evening meal. About an hour into the monologue, Brother Pilgrim said to me in an urgent tone of voice, "Brother, did you forget your appointment?!" Instinctively, I stood up, looked at my watch and said, "Oh my God!". The young man apologized for making me late, and left immediately. As I was showing him out, I realized that I had no appointments that day and, even if I had, Brother Pilgrim would not have known about them!

As Brother Pilgrim got older, he began acquiring an impressive collection of illnesses: diabetes, hepatitis, heart disease and osteoporosis, among others. This latter was to cause him the most problems. He broke bones in his arms and legs at least seven times. At one point, doctors screwed a metal rod onto one of his femurs in an attempt to hold it together. It worked for a few years until his brittle bones could no longer hold the screws in place. The loose rod then became an additional source of pain and had to be surgically removed. [A sidebar: A co-worker and I went to the hospital after the surgery and asked the receptionist if he had come out yet. She called the surgical unit to see and, after she had hung up, announced, "She just came out of surgery." (His real name could be used by either gender.) I turned to my co-worker and exclaimed, "She?! I told him he should have marked his bad leg!"]

Once, after another fall and another broken leg, it was decided that he could no longer remain in the monastery where he had been staying because no one could take proper care of him. He was given the choice of going into a nursing home or choosing a different monastery. He chose to transfer to the monastery where I was living because one of the other brothers there was a friend of his. Although he had mobility problems, he had an active mind so I was happy that he was moving in with us rather than going into some depressing nursing home. It wasn't an easy move. For instance, all the bedrooms were on the second floor and we had no elevator so we would have to help him up and down the stairs. I can't say that the brothers never got annoyed with the interruptions, but somehow we knew that if the tables were turned, he would do the same for us. He also never took any of it for granted. As soon as his leg had healed, he started cooking our evening meals, and he kept that up as long as he could. Even when it became too much for him, he continued to do the meal planning and supervised the hired cooks.

Brother Pilgrim kept his love of theater throughout his life. A few times a year, I took him to see shows at the local theaters. He would try to take part of his annual vacation in New York, where friends would get tickets to Broadway shows for him. He would return a week later exhausted, but beaming. Sometimes while he worked, he would play (much too loudly) the CD's of musicals he had seen. He had an amazing knowledge of actors, directors and the workings of the theater.

Something I didn't know about him until he came to live with us was how many people he was in regular contact with. Daily, he received telephone calls from his former high school students, from nurses and staff of the hospitals where he had been a chaplain, and even from some of the former patients in those hospitals. This was the most amazing thing for me. One of those former patients would fly 1000 miles every year just to visit him for a few days. This simple, unassuming man had a profound effect on everyone he met. He rarely talked about religion, but I believe he brought more people to God than a busload of preachers.

One of the great things about Brother Pilgrim was his ability to listen. When I was having a bad day, I could always talk to him. There wasn't a damn thing he could do to help me, but somehow I felt better after talking to him. Maybe it was because seeing him in his wheelchair made me realize that the sum of my problems paled in comparison to what he must have gone through in just getting out of bed each morning. Then again, he wasn't just a passive listener. He often came out with an insightful response that would help me see a question or problem in a new light. He also had some wickedly snarky comments about people he didn't like. Oooh, I loved those! God knows, he probably made similar comments about me, but I'm okay with it coming from him.

The day before he died, I was told, Brother Pilgrim was in the kitchen helping prepare the brothers' dinner. He probably felt like hell, but no one knew it because he rarely complained. He talked to the cook excitely about his upcoming trip to New York and the shows he wanted to see. The next morning, he quietly started on his final voyage.

I'm going to miss you, brother. Rest in peace.


Blogger heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sometimes the most unassuming among us have the greatest impact.

Brother Pilgrim seems to have been a Messenger who brought others to God by example and caring, not by thunderous fears and damnation.

He tended his garden gently and well, and you are lucky to have been his friend. Thank you for sharing him here.

14 June, 2008 20:03  
Anonymous On a limb with Claudia said...

Just a wonderful person, BroLo. He as just a wonderful person.

Like you.

I am so sorry for your loss, for our loss.

16 June, 2008 20:17  
Blogger Pog said...

So sorry to hear of your loss of a friend - but what a lovely, lovely tribute.

17 June, 2008 11:41  
Blogger Moobs said...

You'll see him again and without his cares.

22 June, 2008 12:58  

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