Tuesday 27 August
Pilates, pushups, foot exercises, stretches, out the door at 5:30-ish to an amazing half moon straight overhead, Orion low in the south-southwest, many other stars in the paling sky.
Father Guerric had said there’d be eggs for breakfast and I fantasized that they’d been scrambled soft and waiting warm for me at the dining room. (With bacon?) I humphed when I didn’t see any, but finally realized that they were there in a serving dish, hard-boiled–very nicely, I might add, not too well done and beautifully shelled. I had delicious pumpernickel toast with Trappist preserves, apple juice, coffee. I spent a couple of hours in the beautiful new retreatants library, drinking Father Guerric’s retreatant coffee made in a very high-end filter pot, continuing reading Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, a long section (which I eventually had to skim; more about that later) in which Stephen considers, then rejects, the idea of becoming a priest.
The morning was full of racket with volunteer groundskeepers running bulldozers and other equipment and checking out the dryness of the grounds. I considered throwing up my hands, checking out, going home, then realized part of the problem was one of this room’s major amenities–a screen window panel that can be opened to the outside, which I’d done. Close it, no noise.
The MMMD, or M cubed D, as Trisha and I call a Main Meal in the Middle of the Day, was a vegetarian delight that I ate along with the monks. Well, no, I served myself along with the monks, then went into the guest dining room next to the monks’ dining room. The door between the two rooms was kept open so that everyone could hear the usual noon reading, read by one of the monks, which today was from a very secular-sounding book by a woman named Mary Margaret something about her travels in Mexico or Central America. I had barley soup, salad with a piece of salmon, eggplant salsa, a slice of pumpernickel bread, water. I sneaked into my pocket a piece of the dessert, a delicious bran-like fruit cake, which I ate in mid-afternoon.
I did some calculus (differentiation, integration, infinite series, limit concept), then took a walk. Around the labyrinth (which amazingly is a mile in length roundtrip within a diameter of maybe 50 or 60 yards). Tons of bees and butterflies. Into the gardens and down to the Cooper River, getting stunned everywhere by the swooping live oaks and dripping Spanish moss. Convenient benches, quiet nooks, splendid views. Two graveyards, one for monks, one for the Luce family, including Henry and Claire Booth. (My mother always called her Claire Boots Loose, which I think is how come I’m familiar with her.) The Luces had a winter retreat home here through the 30s. (The land, in the 18th century, was originally a rice plantation.) After the death of a daughter in a car accident, they lost enthusiasm for the place and looked for a religious community to donate the estate to. A group of nuns in Charleston passed on the offer (too remote); Bishop Fulton Sheen, a family friend, helped the Luces contact the Abbey of Gesthemani in Trappist, Kentucky (Thomas Merton’s community), and Gesthemani, like a hive of bees, sent off a group of monks to populate Mepkin. That was 1949. The story I heard from a docent (I’m getting ahead of myself) is that the abbot at Gesthemani told all the monks there to prepare to leave, then on moving day identified the few who would go. His goal, I guess, was no jealousies, brief resentments.
I practiced knots for a while, improving my one-handed bowline, which Phillip Petit (in Why Knot, his wonderful new book) insists is the only way to tie one, especially if you need to get a loop around yourself in order to be rescued, although I would argue that the person throwing you the line could tie the bowline for you, which would be less stressful.
On the way to supper I ran into Father Guerric, who spoiled my silent streak by asking me about my day. My r-m was in the parking lot, talking on his cell, a computer case over his shoulder. His name, Father Guerric. reminded me, is Greg or Craig C_____. He came over and in his weird confessional way told Father M. that, as he’d predicted, he was having trouble getting into the spirit of the place. Hang up your phone, I wanted to say, although I have to admit I hadn’t know there was a wireless signal there and took advantage to send texts to Trisha and Lily. Thanks, Greg or Craig.
I read for a while after supper, sitting on a concrete wall outside the library, then in a chair in my room, then in bed. Asleep before 9.
Did I say that the monks get up at 3 am, begin the Great Silence at 8 pm?