Don Edwards Literary Memorial

June 7, 2006


How often does something like this happen, LeRoy? I wrote something about 6/9/69 years ago, some purile notice of sexual pecularities on a date.

I’m not confessional by nature, but our dialogue, especially with our common early background, lends itself to it I guess. At first I was crushed by my treatment, but even that summer, as a lifeguard at the Alameda Naval Airbase, I figured the whole thing out. That just wasn’t what I wanted, needed, was meant to be. Then on with it. Brother Robert Smith helped, brokering a scholarship to St. Johns College in Annapolis, the perfect transition place for me, and then it was on with my life.

This was the story I wrote a couple of years ago.


He had come to a decision. While he waited for his friend and spiritual advisor in this cavernous room, he reviewed in his mind the turmoil of that day, the dreadful meeting with his superior, the Director of the community of student brothers at this small Roman Catholic liberal arts college.

The authorities had decided that he didn’t belong. “Your style has something wanting,” the Director explained matter of factly. It was a stark office with a plain desk, crucifix on the rear wall, a small bookcase and a potted plant very much in need of water. This statement was delivered to the young brother seated in the straight backed chair in front of the desk, conveyed without passion or expression. For this reddition, the face to face counseling session all brothers had with their immediate superior, both wore the traditional black robe with the rabat…a little white dickey worn around the neck in the manner of the centuries old French teaching order of the de la Salle Christian Brothers.

The Director continued. It seems that there were certain types that fit into this complicated life without physical love, owning nothing and requiring absolute obedience to a superior’s whims. He did not fit that profile, the Director said. He was frivolous at times showing, perhaps, a lack of dedication. He often broke the sacred time of silence that began after final prayer and lasted until after Mass and breakfast the next morning. Yes, he was an excellent student but seemed not to have the kind of piety looked for in the dedicated Christian pedagogue. Never mind that his practice teaching in schools showed that he might have superior aptitude for the fundamental objectives of this order….to teach the poor. He could do that as a secular person just as well, couldn’t he? The council had decided that he should leave, but there was no need for haste. He could collect his thoughts and belongings, meager as they were, and leave on the weekend.

“You can call your parents to pick you up. I shouldn’t tell anyone if I were you. It might unsettle some of the other Brothers in some way. You should leave on Sunday, I would say. I would suggest the afternoon while the others are at prayer, but you can decide as long as departure is inconspicuous. It is always easier for everyone concerned to go without any fuss.”

That meeting with the Brother Director was like a pronouncement of doom. This was his family, the only family he ever had really, this motley collection of young men thrown together presumably by a common need to pray, educate and achieve a level of sanctity over their lifetime. Noble causes, a mission, opportunities to make a difference. To shape children’s souls. To dedicate life to lofty ideals and to share with one’s brothers purity of spirit. He was crushed, bewildered. Am I such a bad person? He shuddered. This was completely unexpected. He had planned to finish college, take the final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, teach for the rest of his life, probably get a PhD in literature, write fiction, help young men reach their potential.

“Do you have any questions,” the Director asked?

He had been so stunned that he could think of none, could not imagine a life without these people. He began to feel panic. Now what? He had no plans. There had not been even a hint of this cold blooded dissection of his faults.

“Good, then. It’s decided. I wish you luck, Brother. You will be in my prayers.” And with that, the Director stood waiting for the young man to leave.

Completely unnerved he had gone straight away to his long time friend and spiritual advisor, a brother he had known since the second grade, a man he trusted. Was it possible to be dismissed in this trivial way? After listening to a torrent of questions for several minutes, Brother Edward had put a gentle hand on the young man’s shoulder. Unlikely, he was told sympathetically. The Director was not known for his diplomatic skills anyway. But what did he want to do? Was this life the right thing for him? After all, Thomas Merton had found a way to be secular and a monk at the same time and he was a member of a cloistered order. The student brother could do the same if he decided to remain a brother. Variations in the rule could always be worked out. How about the vows? Did they seem right for him? This was God’s business after all, but God’s business came in many flavors, Brother Ed had suggested. There was no pecking order to sanctity. You could be a husband, a soldier, a teacher or a prophet.

“George Forman or Cora ….who are we to judge the difference?” Brother Ed chuckled.

Over two years ago as a novice, he had learned about the mystic, a woman his mentor knew intimately but he had never met. The woman was said to have visions. He imagined at the time that she somehow walked with Jesus in her special inward eyes, was told about life and death, the beginnings and end of the world. The meanings of things kept secret. Her name was Cora. Is that any kind of a name for a genuine God seer he wondered at the time? Proper names for the chosen were Theresa, John, Francis. “Cora” seemed so….plain.

But Brother Ed had allowed him to read some of her writings. They seemed to him amazing, though not very well written. Actually talking with God, seeing Him, being given Godly secrets which she should share with the world like Fatima or Guadalupe. She was about God’s big business and she wasn’t even a nun, his advisor had said. Maybe there was a holiness pecking order after all, the young man thought absentmindedly.

He asked his advisor if he had seen Cora recently. Brother Ed shrugged as if to say that it was irrelevant, nodded affirmatively and changed the subject back to the problem at hand.

“Look, Brother, you decide. They can’t decide for you no matter what the Director told you. You have done nothing wrong and I think you will make a wonderful teacher. Your whole life is ahead of you. Take this opportunity to choose what is best for you. You will do well no matter your conclusion. I will back you in any case and you know that.”

They had spent hours wandering together in the hills of the East Bay, browned by the early summer sun talking, sitting quietly, taking in the rather bleak view of the village several miles away. He asked himself the important questions. Why? What is their thinking? What is wrong with me? If many are called but few are chosen why aren’t I chosen? As the day waned, lights blinking on in the distant town, they made their way back silently to the chapel. They had prayed together and he was left that night with his own unspoken thoughts. He wept himself to sleep, ashamed of his emotion. He did not pray. This was not right, not fair. He tried to calm himself, tried to be objective. It was impossible. He awoke the next morning exhausted and very angry.

Instead of going to classes…Latin, The English Novel, Calculus II, Ancient History and Moral Theology…he removed his robe, put on a jacket and walked to town. By the time he returned, hours later, he had decided.

Back in the greeting room, his reverie was interrupted by Brother Edward, stout, affable and energetic, striding through the door. They embraced and the elder brother sat down opposite him in a large, overstuffed chair. The room looked very formal, brocades everywhere, a large cupola surrounding the ceiling like a plaster of Paris crown molding. It was uncomfortable, stuffy, antiseptic.
Huge windows with ponderous, red draperies. Framed pictures of saints on the white walls. He couldn’t help notice the largest one in front, conspicuous with the wide gold leaf frame of the founder of this teaching order, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, a wealthy seventeenth century cleric who was determined to invent ways to teach the poor children of the teaming, industrial slums of France. The saint looked out at them, lips pursed, an almost comically pious demeanor, the obligatory halo behind his head. The young brother had often suspected that this man had to have been much tougher than the prissy image his pictures depicted.

“So, my brother. Have you come to any conclusions? I feel like a failed midwife,” Brother Ed said with a wry smile. “I brought you into this world of men and now………well tell me what’s on your mind.”

He began to explain what he planned to do. If he wasn’t wanted, he would leave. What was the point of staying even if it was possible to appeal? He would finish college elsewhere. Maybe he wasn’t religious or holy enough anyway. Sex would be nice, he said, in an attempt to be amusing.

Brother Edward listened attentively but at the exact instant the word “sex” was uttered, his friend took his eyes away and began to stare at the ceiling where the ornamental crown molding was. He looked distracted. It was as if he saw something no one else could see. The young brother turned to look where Brother Ed was looking. He saw nothing. The older monk continued to stare at the ceiling and opened his mouth as if in wonder. Then he began to stand and slowly turned his body around as if he could see something moving along the wall, over to the opposite corner of the room and then around to the front. He slowly lifted his arms as if in supplication, then fell like a stone to the floor landing heavily on his back, commencing to shake convulsively, his whole body rattling and jerking, his tongue out, eyes back in his sockets showing only white.

“Holy shit,” the young man said aloud. “He’s having a vision.” Hang out with mystics, you become one he wondered?

At last the seizures stopped. Gradually his breathing returned to normal, his eyes closed. After some minutes the young man, still shocked by what he had witnessed, picked his friend up with arms around his body and stretched him out on the uncomfortable straight-backed couch. He wondered if he should call someone, but who do you call for help with a vision? Did Padre Pio have a vision doctor, he wondered? Calling Doctor Apparition! STAT! Instead, he waited patiently. Finally, Brother Ed’s eyes opened. He looked at the young man and propped himself up on one elbow, then sat upright, stretched and said, “I’m sorry. I must have dozed off. I haven’t been feeling well lately.”

The young brother looked at him in disbelief, stammered “What did you see?”

The older man’s eyes narrowed` paused and said, “What are you talking about?”

“You had a vision, didn’t you? What did you see?”

Ed looked at the young man without expression. Then he stretched and stifled a yawn. “I just dozed for a moment. You’ve been reading too much Cora.”

“Wait a minute, Brother Ed. Listen to me.” He went into the details of the seizure, the length of time the man was unconscious. “Look at your watch. Your ‘nap’ took forty-five minutes.”

He looked at his watch, then at the young man. “I’ve been traveling and not getting enough sleep. Last year I had a blackout at the residence, fell down and had a mild concussion. The doctors didn’t find anything serious, but maybe I am feeling some after effects. Don’t worry about it. I’m having my physical next week. Now, tell me what you have decided.”

“I’m leaving. What’s the point? We’ll talk before I go.” Brother Edward started to stand up, seemed to lose his balance momentarily and sat down again. After he rested a few minutes, they both got up and strolled together across the expansive grass in front of the college, unspoken questions lingering, each deep within his own thoughts.

Of course the physical Brother Edward had the following week showed that this was the first of many grand mal seizures he would have most of the rest of his life. The young man would never quite look at religion the same way again, either because of how he perceived he had been treated or because he concluded that real visions didn’t happen. For the first time in his life, he felt that God might be capricious.

On Sunday afternoon, his mother drove up in front of the student brother residence. He took his small suitcase, closed his bedroom door for the last time, walked out the front entrance and viewed the campus, Brother no more.

In the car he turned around for one last look. He remembered the day he had first come to the order, a high school student, a new life to begin, apprehensive, uncertain, hopeful, all of these. Now he was leaving without any goodbyes and finally without regret. It was over.

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 3:23 am

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