To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 8: Devotion

 Last week it warmed up for a few days and then rained--mist rose from the ground and drifted across campus as the snow melted. 12 inches of accumulated snow became four to six inches of slush--then a cold front blew in and refroze everything, so for a few days you could walk across the frozen surface and not make any prints at all, a novel, magical-feeling thing.

Last night it snowed again and it kept snowing for hours on end.

I had to water the plants in the Green Room that afternoon, and when I went in there I found Charlie and Greg sitting in front of the big windows, wrapped up in blankets and watching the snow. When I was done I asked if I could join them and they grunted at me. I took that as a yes and pulled up a chair. Within a few minutes Rick and Eddie had joined us. I don't think I've mentioned Eddie before--he's in my dorm and arrived last year. We get along, but I don't know him very well. There was getting to be a crowd of us, and I made up my mind to leave if anyone else arrived, but fortunately no one did. For a long time, none of us spoke. We just watched the snow coming down.

It was relatively warm outside, but windy, so the flakes were huge, pale grey and swirling against the paler grey of the sky and the dark, almost black green of the arbor vitae hedge at the end of the Mansion garden. Looking off to either side there was just the varied browns and the greys of winter trees and the snow and ice-covered fields receding off into the kind of moving fog formed by the falling snow.

"It's like water," I said, remembering how Charlie had once said he wished there were running water on campus so he could sit and watch it. He heard me and tilted his head curiously for a moment, but did not turn away from the window.

"If it did this every day, I'd watch it all day long," he said.

Rick and I looked at each other over and behind Charlie's blanket-covered head. The thing is, Charlie does watch the campus all day every day. He keeps his finger on the pulse of it somehow.

Greg spoke, also not looking away from the window, and as he spoke his cat poked his small black and white face out from among the blankets and looked at me a moment before settling into invisibility again.

"Abba Moses, an early Christian Desert Father said 'go sit in your cell, your cell will teach you everything," Greg said. "But I think there is much to learn from sitting outside your cell, too."

"To me," began Rick, "the main advantage of a monk's cell would be that no one else was in it. I can't think clearly around other people."

"And yet you came to sit here with us," pointed out Greg, with a smile.

"I can't help where you were sitting," Rick replied, looking a little embarrassed. "And I did ask your permission."

Greg had to acknowledge the point.

"I can't think straight when I'm alone," said Eddie. The others looked at him. "I'm serious! It's like my thoughts turn inward when I'm all by myself for too long. I have to talk to other people or I don't even know what I'm thinking."

"You know what that sounds like?" asked Rick, with a hint of a grin.

"Shut up, I am not," Eddie replied.

(I need to explain that: Eddie is transgendered, although you can't guess by looking at him. Rick was implying that, in needing to talk, Eddie was betraying residual female characteristics. Rick is not misogynist, but he usually avoids them and I don't think he knows any women well. He refers to stereotypes about women a lot)

"I'm the same way," I pointed out. "I like to talk out my ideas."

"Is that what Moses meant, though?" Greg asked. "Was the cell important only because of what wasn't in the room? Or could the room itself teach something?"

"That snow could teach something," Charlie said. "As could the sea, a place in the forest, any place. Go and sit in the forest. I don't know about a room." And after a pause he gathered his blanket around him and stood up to go.

"Hey, Charlie, we can all shut up, if you want, if we're bothering you," I said. He looked at me with a hint of a smile, appreciating but rejecting my offer.

"If I wanted you all to shut up, Daniel, I'd tell you to shut up," he explained. "I have to go take a leak."

"What he said, it's like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or The Outermost House," I said, when he had gone. There were books he had introduced me to. "Anchorites to a specific place."

"It's not just places," Greg said. "Did Charlie ever tell you about his dog?"

Rick and I shook our heads.

"Perhaps I shouldn't." Greg stroked his cat and smiled, while he debated with himself. "Well, it's not like it's actually private," he decided, finally. "When we first opened the campus, we had a problem with rats in the barns. So we decided to get a terrier. Eventually better food and seed storage and the presence of the the cats took care of the problem. That's why we don't have any terriers now. But that dog, he and Charlie just clicked."

"I've seen a picture of that dog! On Charlie's desk! A little grey dog, right?"

"Right. Milo. Sit in your room, sit by the ocean, love a dog, do something wholly and it will teach you everything."

"Is your cat like that?" I asked. He was still petting him inside the blanket.

"No," Greg said. "I have not given myself wholly to him. It is a great thing, to be devoted to an animal, and I have not managed it. But he is devoted to me. Perhaps I am the occasion of his spiritual practice?" And he smiled at the cat in his lap.

"Devotion," said Eddie. "That's it, that's the word. I sit by a human being the way a person might sit by the ocean or in a cell. I don't mean that we're together--she's with someone else, and anyway if we were together I don't think it would work. She couldn't be my...occasion of spiritual growth...if I were her partner, I don't think that would be fair. But she teaches me everything."

He spoke in a low voice, full of emotion. It was all news to me. And yet what he was saying seemed familiar, somehow.

"Who is it?" I asked. "Not Joy?" Joy is his primary master. But I knew the answer almost before I asked it.

"No, not Joy," he confirmed. "It's Kit." My stomach did something odd when he said it, as illogical as that is. "She doesn't know," he added.

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