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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(July 1, 2005)

by Abbot John

I was a bastard child or was that a childish bastard? My memory is hazy on this point (a chicken and egg kind of thing). Unlike many of my acquaintances who seem to be flooded with childhood memories, I have frighteningly few. In those that do drift through the mists of time I am always behind big eyes looking at nothingness and feeling alone, picking up handfuls of dirt and letting it sift through my fingers. The template was fixed. I became the consummate "non-joiner."

I remember moving a lot and always being elected to things I was not running for, expressly because of the moving around aspect, I believe. Having spent the first four years of my life in public schools in Illinois, I found myself in a Catholic school in Indiana when, setting the precedent for this course, I was elected both as president of the St. Dominic Salvio Club of the fifth grade and as the main altar boy of the early 6 AM Mass.

The main job of the president was to make sure that on St. Dominic's holy day all fifth graders received Communion at the 8 AM Mass before school started. According to the nuns, if we all performed that duty, we would all be assured of reaching heaven.

The day arrived, and I served the early Mass, had Communion, went home, had breakfast, and came back for the 8 AM Mass. Lo and behold all the fifth graders took Communion that day at 8 AM save one, me, and the wrath of the black hooded goddess was heaped upon me. In the opening class of the day, the Sister made it clear that they all had come so close to heaven - but one kept them from the gates and he was their president.

In those days a Catholic was taught that you could receive Communion once a day and you could not have any food after the previous midnight. In my fifth grader mind I thought that to take Communion at 8 AM after having breakfast would have been a mortal sin. Another template was fixed. I became an anti-dogmatist.

So virulent did my rebellion become that by the eighth grade I was told by the nuns and the parish priest that I would be given honors at graduation if I promised not to attend school except to take the tests during the last two months of the school year. I therefore spent a great spring alternating in the town pool halls and as the priest's caddy for his twice a week golf game - for which he paid me a measly .65 cents per round.

On to public high school I went where my most significant event was falling in love with a lovely girl who was a cheerleader for our basketball team. We went to parties where we listened and danced to supremely sentimental music by Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams and then all of the sudden all hell broke loose. The sweet drifting in the arms of my beloved was over. The music changed, no more Twelfth of Never, no more moon, June, swoon. The World came knocking and not with a rapping, tapping on my chamber door, but with a sledgehammer straight to the knee. On the athletic fields, a bat slipped from my teammate's hand and slammed into my leg in the "on deck" circle, crushing the kneecap.

Two months in the hospital and one more month at home learning to bend the knee joint with a prosthetic was my Magic Mountain without the depth. My primary visitors during this convalescence were my uncle, who was a priest, and my girlfriend. Only some months later did the knee serve its purpose when I was summoned to the Draft Board for a mandatory physical. At the end of which the biggest guy I ever saw stared me in the eye and said, "You will not be allowed to enlist in the Army or serve in any of the armed forces of your nation. I'll bet that really tears you up, don't it boy."

"Yes sir, uh, am I free to go?"

"Getta outta here, punk."

And out I went slamming Vietnam behind me and landing four square on the concrete sidewalks of a dying small town in the middle of nowhere. Lost. Totally bewildered. Saved from what was to become the most debilitating and defining moments that most in my generation, at my social level, would have to face on two good legs.

And then a priestly call in my ear drowned out those sweet murmurings that came from by girlfriend's mouth and another template formed, this one more intriguing than before. This one shaped the difference between the world we know and the world we seek to know.

At that moment the shape of the world we seek took form; and when I told my girl I was going off to the Benedictine Seminary at St. Meinrad's she asked, "What did I do wrong?" As I told her then and would tell her again some 20 years later the question was not about her, it was a sense, in myself, of "missing something or seeking something that was beyond my ability to articulate."

But the non-joiner, anti-dogmatist, shape-seeker could not survive the Benedictines - especially as the world spiraled into the chaos of war and unemployment. A year in the seminary, followed by a term at Indiana University, followed by another year at the seminary, followed by a summer serving a parish in Elkhart, and I had had enough, or perhaps they had had enough, it doesn't matter much now.

And during all this time there came small visions, the consequence of intense prayer and even more intense confusion: Jesus came down from the Cross; Mary hovered over me putting her hands on my face; all exhilarating and all for naught.

The time now was for wandering, and that I did, as a vagabond from coast to coast to coast. While wandering and wondering, I got lost, and the needs of the world took precedence; and in my 34th year I married and soon started a business partnership and raised two sons. Success came and life was good.

Then the dreaded yearning reappeared, out of the blue and into the black. In quiet but total desperation I committed myself to the end of the things that were behind that yearning, that desperation. I wanted to be free of belief. I wanted to be free of this darkness without light. I wanted to be free. If there was a path to freedom I would try to follow it. If there was not, then I demanded an end to "belief" and an end to all that I could not experience in deference to some hope of blissful reward. An end please or a beginning.

That very night, by a strange coincidence, I was given a book on the Aryan Path of Lord Buddha and began an intense meditation regime that led to the great experience of Satori. And now here I am trying to move onward again in the strange land that is more real than reality and more dreamlike than dreams.

All in all not much of a life, nothing to get hysterical or historical about. I did what we all do - that which was necessary. Even to this very day it is that and only that. I awake to seek the needful thing so I may say, in the end, "What must be done has been done," as my ego waits in front of all the gates and whispers in my ear, "You have done enough." Until that voice is quieted there is no biography to write and once it is quieted there will be no one left to write about.

Humming Bird
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