Back to the ingredients of the film script. Living in this monastery in the middle of Newark provides lots of violence – sometimes even inside the cloister, unfortunately – so we’ve got that angle covered. As for excitement and drama, well we’ve got an over-supply of that, too: financial crises being miraculously resolved at the last moment, heart-rending decisions to be made, students being murdered (I swear, I’m not making it up).
But what about the seemingly inevitable “love” angle in the film? This poses an interesting question. We don’t want the monks to come across as neutered and asexual: Firstly because that would be inaccurate, and secondly because it could make for some pretty boring two-dimensional characters. "Do people think that our lives as monks are lacking in love?" I wondered. So I took a walk down to the Newark Museum the other day and sat in their lovely garden as I often do, and started making a list of how the idea of LOVE shows up in the story of the monks, our monastery and its school.
Here are some of the notes (slightly revised and expanded) that I wrote while sitting on the bench:
- The love for one another that the monks come to discover as they share pain, frustration, sorrows and joys is evident in the way they interact with eachother.
- The monks’ love for the kids they're teaching seems to be the main point of the movie: Effective education based on making a kid feel that he matters,
- “None of us lives alone” – the need to be in community, to belong, is a primary insight that the monastic community shared with the students when we re-opened our school in 1973. In the midst of a racially polarized Newark, students of various races were brought together in the monastery's school to learn to live together in love as brothers of a single family.
- Caritas: The monks’ charity toward the poor and needy in the food pantry, street folks, financing the school itself.
- Trusting, leaving yourself vulnerable (no locks on lockers), grieving and other signs of genuine loving.
- The love shown by parents/guardians in making financial sacrifices in order to send their kids to our school.
- Love of self – Monks try to teach our school kids to do this despite the students' previous negative experiences of violence, deprivation, racist discrimination, etc.
- Drop your mask – a prerequisite for real love, this is a central task of the monk in the monastery; monks as teachers have to model this for the kids.
- “I was happiest , most myself, freest and most contented in those brief moments when I was fortunate enough to be worrying not about my own needs but about those of someone else.” This quotation from a book I’ve been re-reading reflects a truth that we try to get across in the school with our motto “Whatever hurts my brother hurts me.”
HERE'S WHAT I THINK
“Falling in love” is a topic which tons of movies routinely cover very beautifully. Thornbirds and other films even cover the angle of priests falling in love. So, since our movie outline already has so much to say about the challenges and rewards of loving in dozens of other ways, I'd be quite content to leave the romantic subplots to those other films.
In any case, I left the museum garden that afternoon uplifted by the renewed awareness of all those different ways of loving that God has given to me and my brothers. It's a beautiful way to go through life.
And really, you couldn't make it up.