|Velazquez "Man on Swing"|
Friday, July 26, 2013
LIFE ON THE SWING
On July 11th I celebrated 50 years as a monk. The anniversary got me thinking, naturally, about the past fifty years of my life in vows. I think I’m a pretty observant monk, as are all of my brothers in the monastery, as far as the externals go. But the inner conversion piece, well, that’s another story – it’s the part that we work on until our dying day.
An image occurred to me last week, from a dream I had almost twenty years ago, and it seems more apt than ever. I recorded it in the introduction to my first book, A Saint on Every Corner,(1998), which was later reincarnated as Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent.
Here’s the dream as I wrote about it in 1998:
It’s 7:40 a.m. By some pleasant accident I have a whole twenty minutes before I have to leave my room in the monastery to teach my first-period class in our prep school next door. I sit down in my rocking chair by the window. The warm spring sun rising over downtown Newark shines though my venetian blinds in yellow slices. I start to pray quietly, but soon my eyelids get heavy... then heavier...
“Albert, just let go!”
I ignore this crazy advice and start straining even harder to touch the sky. Kick and stretch again. Then again. I hear the voice a second time, but more clearly now:
“It’s okay. Just let go and watch what happens!”
I grab the ropes more securely than ever and hang on with all my might...
Suddenly I’m in my rocking chair, with both hands clutched in panic around its solid wooden arms. My clock says 8:01, so I shake off my dream and stumble sleepily over to class, trying to smooth the wrinkles out of my black Benedictine habit as I walk. On the way down the stairs a terrible question strikes me: What would have happened if I had actually let go? Well, I’ll never know now. The more I think about it the angrier I get at myself for not letting go of that swing! “If I ever hear that voice again,” I grumble out loud, “I won’t make the same mistake a second time.” I arrive at class in a bad mood.
Well, that dream was in 1994 or so, and I’m still working on letting go of those darn ropes! Sometimes I manage to let go and start flying up through the fireworks. But life being what it is I always come back to earth and have to get on the swing all over again. Letting go is not only hard to do, but it’s also something that you have to keep doing over and over, every day.