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

22 August 2011

A trip down memory lane

Moving not only provides an opportunity to throw out a lot of junk, but also to discover old treasures. Last week I rescued from the attic the first computer used in the monastery, which I had stored up there over 11 years ago. I was lucky to find it since much of that section of the attic had already been cleared out.

Of course, I should not be attached to earthly things; instead I should be storing up treasures in heaven. Yadda yadda yadda. Despite that, I was really happy to see the old girl. Some forward-thinking brother convinced the authorities in 1984 or 1985 that they should have a computer so they bought an IBM PC 5150 with 640K RAM and a whopping 20MB hard disk. They then invited an American brother to install some useful programs on it—a database program called TIM and the Leading Edge word processing program. After installing the programs, said American brother returned to America. Only one of the brothers in Rome knew how to operate it so it sat idle most of the time. In the hope of getting something useful from their investment, the authorities went searching for a brother who knew something about computers and was willing to live in Rome, and they found me. So this computer, you see, is responsible for getting me out of a teaching job that I hated, for showing me the world outside the U.S., for my learning a second language, for meeting some of my best friends, for discovering good Italian food and even, in a round-about way, for the existence of this blog.

(As an aside, our Order was late to the game; in the early 80's, some larger, more organized Orders spent mega-bucks on DEC mini-computers—systems that were obsolete within a few years. Sometimes it pays to be slow.)

At the time, the higher-ups viewed the computer as an exotic piece of equipment that should be used only for VERY SPECIAL, EXTREMELY IMPORTANT MATTERS OF THE ORDER. I'm not sure what they had in mind; top secret missives to the Holy Father, maybe. I saw it as an expensive tool that was going to waste so I began to use it for ordinary tasks, such as writing letters. A few brothers accused me of being wasteful because I {gasp} used the computer almost daily. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of resistance to my suggestion that computers were meant to substitute typewriters, not complement them. Eventually, however, that is what happened. Our proto-computer was relegated to ever more menial tasks, in the end serving to store the card catalog for our small library.

After carefully bringing it from the attic to my room, I dusted it off, blew the cobwebs off its motherboard, hooked up the monitor and keyboard, then flipped its switch. Lights blinked and the hard disk whirred as it (I imagine) wondered where it was and what year it was. A minute or two later I was greeted with the old, familiar beep and "C:>". Welcome back, old friend!

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3 Comments:

Anonymous heather said...

hello - I do still keep up with your blog and I really enjoy reading your updates. If you ever cross the water to Greece then let me know.

23 August, 2011 05:48  
Blogger BroLo said...

Greece?! When did that happen?

25 August, 2011 15:35  
Anonymous heather said...

Nearly two years ago now - I even had a blog for a little while but I haven't updated it for some time. It think you and Belgian Waffle are the only two flying the flag anymore.

27 August, 2011 08:37  

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