Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Life...Then And Now

While I was visiting my father on Sunday he asked how long I would have been in the monastery if I had not left. If I was still there I would have been a monk for 35 years. I do not regret leaving the monastery because in many ways I have not left. The monastery and the monks are still a part of my life. Although I did not end up as a monk, much of who I am was formed by that experience. I have wondered from time to time what kind of monk I would have turned out to be if I had stayed. Would I be happy and well adjusted or could I have turned out to be a self absorbed narcissist? I probably wouldn't be exactly who I am today. Although the raw material of who I am as a person would be the same, how that would have been shaped by 30+ years of monastic life versus the same amount of time in marriage and family life would differ. Monastic life has its own set of challenges but most of them are the internal struggle of facing your own nothingness. My life in the world has also been filled with similar internal struggles but also coupled with the basic struggles of surviving in the world, being faithful to a marriage and trying to raise two sons to become good and decent human beings. Monastic life is a life lived in community and if lived well this community is a great support to the monk's personal journey. If lived badly an individual can get lost in the community and avoid many of the challenges of living with others. This can happen in family life, too, but I think it may be a little more difficult to get "lost" in a much smaller living environment when your spouse shares your bed and the children are right across the hall. Every life, whether you are a monk or a husband and father, requires dedication, discipline, and perseverance. No lifestyle is easy all the time and all are challenging much of the time. Spending time in a monastery taught me a different way of looking at life and afterwards I did see things differently. Elements of the monastic life followed me into my life as a husband and parent. When I was in the monastery, and still today, monks get up in the middle of the night to pray. They gather in church everyday at 3:15 AM. Believe it or not, it's not too bad once you get used to it. I still do it when I go there on visits. Of course, after leaving the monastery I thought my days of getting out of bed at 3:00 AM were over. I was wrong. I still remember an early experience of parenthood when my oldest son, Chloe's father, was an infant. I was awakened from a deep sleep by his cries. It was time for a feeding. I prepared the bottle and sat on the end of my bed holding him and feeding him. I looked at my clock. It was 3:15 AM! I was still doing night vigils. In those long ago days in the monastery I was Brother Dominic. Today I am Pa Paw. It's not a bad trade off.

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