The other day I told Nancy I thought I'd like to try out being a monk.
She gave me one of those looks of hers I have so much difficulty interpreting, where the eyebrows flex and straighten, one side of the mouth goes up, and one side goes down, like she's studying a very large, multi-segmented insect and can't decide whether she finds it comical or repulsive. "Yes," she said. "Become a monk. That's exactly what you ought to do."
She was in the process of cleaning out the silverware drawer. Somehow every fork, knife, and spoon, as well as the inside of the drawer itself had become coated with melted butter-pecan ice cream. I know it was butter-pecan because when she opened the drawer, she asked, "What is this?" I dipped a finger in the liquid and tasted.
"Butter-pecan," I told her. She had just returned from a business trip to Orlando and, as seems so frequently the case after coming home from such junkets, was not in the best of moods. She did not acknowledge my helpfulness in identifying the liquid, and in fact seemed more displeased than otherwise, so I steered clear of her.
My monkish fantasy strikes me whenever Nancy is away on business. There's a monastery somewhere nearby where laymen can check in for an extended stay to share the tranquil spirituality of the brothers. Wouldn't that be lovely? But then, why go to all the trouble of moving into a monastery when one can adopt the monkish lifestyle in one's own home?
Whenever Nancy's going to be gone for a week, I imagine myself falling into my role as Brother Man, a humble, godly monk, going about his daily routine with the humble godliness so characteristic of him. I would start with a simple breakfast of oatmeal (I would not call it porridge, that would be overdoing it.) after which I would wash the bowl and pot with simple prayerful mindfulness of all the Lord's gifts, as I watched my neighbors, the birds, go after the suet treats I have hanging from the eaves outside the window. Then, light exercise and tending my simple garden, until lunch, when I might have a leafy salad with berries, and on special occasions, chunks of wild-caught grilled chicken. Again, I would clean after my repast, then journaling, reading, and meditation for supper, for which I would enjoy maybe a nice lean piece of fish, snow peas, and that little pasta that looks like rice. Perhaps a single glass of picturesque red wine and one of those apples like Cezanne painted where you realize the apples in those days weren't as good as what we have now. I would clean up a final time, give the floor a good sweep, return the broom to the broom closet, and read until "lights out," when I would pull the chain on my beside lamp (my beside lamp does not have a chain except in this fantasy) and sleep until my routine began again.
Somehow it never works out this way. I get derailed. I think it begins when I wake up. I realize how foolish it is, and wasteful of time, to make the bed when I'm only going to unmake it by getting in a few hours from now, so I leave it as it is, as no doubt Jesus and Siddhartha once did themselves. Then for breakfast, it seems equally silly to go to the trouble of oatmeal, when we have perfectly nutritious single-serve containers of yogurt in the fridge. I eat a couple of these, fully intending to throw them away, but getting absorbed in Internet searches for important information and games of free cell, I somehow neglect this. Lunch comes and I'm famished. I don't have leafy greens, and actually don't care for that sort of thing, but it strikes me as almost as good to have a "walking salad," apple smeared with peanut butter and raisins. I've already gotten out the peanut butter and had a sample tablespoonful, when I realize we don't have any apples. Nor crackers. Nor white bread.
Only an atheist will eat peanut butter on whole wheat. So I eat the peanut butter straight from the jar along with handfuls of raisins. A half-eaten jar of peanut butter with a spoon in it, a bag of raisins - some spilled onto the floor, where my office chair steamrolls them into large black dots - join the yogurt cups beside my computer while I hone my potentially-vital minesweeper skills.
For supper, I'm craving a good juicy rib-eye. I've spent the last four hours watching reruns of the original Dark Shadows, from which I'm gathering additional research for an as yet unspecified future project.
I cook rib-eyes the way my mother did, thrown into the oven still frozen with the broiler set on high. Knowing that dinner will be a while, I get out the box of butter-pecan ice cream. Conscious that I still have not tidied my meager breakfast and lunch things, I decide to save dirtying a bowl by eating the ice cream straight from the box as my steak broils.
The fascinating thing about Dark Shadows, a show with many fascinating qualities, I have begun to realize, is just how many episodes there are. Although it ran for only a short time, there was a new episode each day, so there are hundreds of them. They had gotten past the part where Barnabas Collins attempts to cure his vampirism with blood transfusions, and into the episodes with the parallel universe when I notice a smokey haze filling the intervening distance between me and the TV screen. I leap from the chair, realizing the delicious aroma of cooking steak has become the delicious aroma of burning steak.
I turn off the oven and extinguish the flames, and enjoy my steak - carbonized on the outside with little bloody ice crystals at the core as I watch the further adventures of Colinwood. The thing is, that the episodes move with such arduous, excruciating slowness; it's like watching an old man climb a flight of stairs: the cane goes on the first step, a pause for reflection, then the left foot joins it, another pause, then the right foot, a pause, then the cane goes to the second step. Finally, I have to call it quits, as vital as this research is, because it's nearly midnight and we still haven't caught sight of the extraterrestrials the script writers have been hinting at and dancing around for the last three hours.
The next morning I arise, and knowing this is the day Nancy returns, make the bed.
I enter the living room, and then begins the tempest to my soul. I think it's seeing it through her eyes that makes it so terrible. Much of the wreckage I can account for, even if I don't remember it being quite as bad as it now appears, but some of it is frankly mysterious. For example, what possessed me to leave all these clothes lying on the floor of the shower? It's almost as if some evil and extremely messy vampire had visited and left his calling card.
The greasy steak plate, the yogurt containers, the raisins, and peanut butter are easily taken care of. The odor from scorched beef is harder to deal with, and expending an entire aerosol can of freshener - which upon studying the label more closely proves to be hairspray - does little to amend the problem. This however pales in comparison to the sight of the gallon bucket of butter-pecan ice cream which I neglected to put in the refrigerator and is still sitting on the counter.
Thank goodness, when I pick up the container, I discover it's empty. It looks as if the good Lord is watching over me after all.
All of which makes me think of how pleasant it would be to be a monk for a little while. I think I'd be good at it.
(Originally Posted 2012)