Sitting In Cars, Talking—A Memory Made New
Published: October 5, 2006
Augustine flew in from Utah, where he spent a week on retreat at our monastery in Huntsville. His flight was right on time, and on the way to the car he said that he was hungry, so we stopped at a “Wendy’s” here in Conyers for a late-night snack. Only the drive-in service was available, so I placed the order on one side of the building, drove around and picked it up. I pulled up to the edge of the parking lot.
Highway 138 was just ahead. We chatted as we ate. I filled in Augustine on the happenings he had missed while away. He told me how much he loved Utah—the monks there, the “great outdoors,” the week of reflection. We talked about our need for the kind of life that a contemplative monastery offers. As we spoke, I watched the cars go by.
A man crossed the road, stood on the other side, and seemed to want to come back but just stood there. Maybe he was contemplating something, or someone.
It is hard to find words for why I chose this life. There are all kinds of versions of “calls” and all that. Simply put, I am here and have found something in myself or “of” myself that I do not think I could find anywhere else.
It felt so familiar sitting in the car that night, talking about things like our lives with Augustine. I later thought about it and knew the “why” of the familiarity.
When we were kids, me, my twin Jimmy, and our friends Walter and Greg sat in a car for hours on many an evening in the parking lot of Bond’s Ice Cream parlor in Montclair, New Jersey. On those nights we spoke of many things—ourselves, our hopes, our likes and dislikes. Life lay ahead, and all looked good. Jimmy and Walter would be dead, killed in a car accident not too long down the road. And then, in time, Greg and I would go our separate ways. We must have said that we would keep in touch. We have not been good at that.
But those nights were of a kind of magic, looking back. On many a night, the rain poured down the car windshield as we sat there, sharing something of ourselves as best we could.
The best way to get to know a monk is to work with him. Augustine and I have not yet shared a job together, so the time spent with him is good, even if it is sitting for a while talking in a car, watching life go by on Route 138.
We both have crossed a certain road in coming here to a monastery, and I must say it was something natural to me, like it may have been for that man crossing the road in front of Wendy’s.
Such a simple thing, chatting about life and who we are and where we are going. It is important to make room for that, be that room a cloister or a car. We are somehow made to share our lives with each other—it is something of God in us. It is how God “comes through” us. And it is why I remembered with fondness and gratitude for the God who came to me on many a summer night in my youth. Much I loved has gone home to him—and much is yet here.
It is good to be take time to pull off the road and chat with those you love. Maybe that is why there are monasteries in our later years and parking lots in our youth. It has taken me a while to connect the two.
Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at www.trappist.net.