This week I did the same thing that millions of Americans did: I shoveled snow.
Though we didn't have the amount of snow and ice here that many people had to cope with, we were still socked in pretty securely, and no one went anywhere for a while. Mike, our Groundsman, does quite a good job of plowing us out, but there was more to do than one person could take care of in one day. So I got out my Knicks parka and a shovel and went to work.
My appearing in that parka always elicits some comments when I put it on. I guess people don't experience me as the typical sports fan. And I will have to say, in all honesty, that I am not a Knicks fan. In fact, I know so little about them that I even had to look them up on the Internet to be certain of what sport they play. Nor are electric blue and orange my colors.
I can get excited about most sports, but not in the ordinary way. For me, watching basketball or football is a communal event. I'm really happy to join friends in Kansas in rapt adsorption of the Jayhawks when they're playing a game, and I can get pretty wound up about going along with my friend John to a game at Yankee Stadium, and I have a great time when I do. But when I get home I go in other directions. It just never occurs to me to watch baseball or any other sport when I'm by myself. That's what I do when I'm with friends who are really turned on to the sport.
So I'm not making a statement when I wear my parka. But someone either left this behind and forgot to claim it, or gave it to us when he was done with it. Whatever the case, there it was, and I needed something warm, so I adopted it and wear it when there's work to be done in the cold.
There were a couple of specific things to be done. I shoveled out the door on the river side of the building where the UPS man makes deliveries, so that I could get incense packages to the shipping area. I also take care of replenishing the salt in the water softener for our 3 buildings, and the plow had dumped snow right in front of the door to that shed, so I shoveled that out as well. That was a larger job. And I fooled around a while longer, cleaning up places on the monastery porch and in the parking lot.
I love the snow. In the days before my feet failed me so that I can't take long walks any more, I would get out my boots and take a long hike in the hills to our west every time there was a big snow. I love the beauty and the silence of the hillsides in the snow. When Br Bernard gave thanks at the Prayers of the People at Mass a couple of days ago for "our diamond studded hillside", I knew exactly the view he had from the upstairs windows, since I rejoice in the sparkle of the snow in the early mornings, too. Snow always raises up my impulse to praise. So getting out and shoveling is not drudgery for me. It is work that I love doing, and I am glad that at nearly 73 I am still up to doing it.
I had fun. I even had my picture taken.
So that was a pleasant moment for this week. And with that bit of joy, there was also a somber time, too. A couple of days ago we got the news that our friend Robert had died. His death was a surprise - he got pneumonia and wasn't able to throw it off and succumbed fairly rapidly, as his brother called to tell us.
Robert was probably our longest-standing guest. As I remember it, he was already visiting regularly when I arrived here in 1964. And even if my memory is wrong, it was certainly shortly after that that he began visiting here, and he has been a regular guest ever since. If you are one of the people who comes here fairly frequently, you may never have heard Robert's name, but it wouldn't surprise me if you recognized him immediately when you saw him.
Robert was a fairly short man, bald, very quiet. He kept very much to himself. He lived in Southern Vermont, I believe in a group home, though I'm hazy on the details. He had some disabilities, and his face wore the look of those for whom life has not been an easy place to be. I think he found some peace here that he had trouble finding elsewhere. He certainly loved to come.
Robert didn't communicate much, and never until he had been around you for some time and was sure of you. He always left the Refectory immediately after he finished eating and in good weather he could mostly be found on a chair on the south lawn, smoking and looking at the river. In recent years he would have some conversation with me - almost always about the weather and about his travel plans. He would let me know exactly when he would be departing and exactly how he would be traveling, usually on the bus. Several years ago, when Sister Mary Klock was living here, she struck up a friendship with Robert and he would talk with her. But Mary could charm people, animals and even plants. She has that gift, and Robert was the beneficiary of it.
As I mentioned, Robert's brother Bill called us to let us know what had happened and talked for a while, reflecting on his brother. He said that the two of them had been best friends since childhood, (and in recent years it had been Bill who made all the arrangements for Robert's visits.) He was obviously quite moved by Robert's attachment to Holy Cross, and he thanked us greatly for receiving him openly and being attentive to him, and for the kindness he found here. It was especially the kindness that he valued, and he mentioned that several times.
Our ministry here is to be a praying community, and to let our prayer open our hearts to God and then let that overflow in whatever ways it moves. Very often what happens in the course of our ministry remains a mystery to us. We know that people love coming here, and that they do it with enough enthusiasm and in large enough numbers to keep the place going (actually, "to keep the place flourishing" would be more descriptive of what's happening at the present time).
But sometimes the curtain lifts in one way or another and we see what has been happening. To know that we have given welcome and peace for nearly 50 years to someone who needed them is a great gift to us, and one for which I am really grateful. As I thought about Robert after hearing Bill's reflections, I was kind of surprised to find myself getting teary at the thought that Robert will not be coming here again. Except, of course, we may find him with us in our prayers.
May Robert rest in peace and rise in glory.
(If you get to this Blog through the Monastery web site, you also probably know that our Brother Cecil died recently. His funeral will be on Tuesday, and I'll probably have some reflections on that later). Meanwhile you can join us in prayer for him and for his family.