Louisville Magazine

AUG 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.16 45 "Born next door. I own the country store just up the road." "Really? I love country stores." "Well, come see me tomorrow. I'll be there before noon." "Wendell," I said, "I'll do that." I couldn't sleep when I got back to the monastery. e mattress was as hard as the plank below it, and the pillow flattened under my head like a cardboard scrap. Finally, I rolled over and squinted at the clock on the bedside stand: 3 a.m. Somewhere within these walls, the monks were stirring for the day's first prayers. e next morning, I came downstairs at 11 a.m. Another monk, not the man I'd met last night, was talking to a woman in the kitchen as she prepared food for the guests. I stepped in and waited until the woman said, "Can we help you?" "I was just seeing where I could get some breakfast," I said. ey blinked at each other. en they looked at me. "Oh," the woman said. "Breakfast is served at seven o'clock. But dinner will be ready at noon." Supper, as they called it, would be later that evening. She pointed to a plastic container of cereal atop the cafeteria line. "You can have some Cheeri- os, if you'd like." e lights were off in the dining area. I sat at an empty table and ripped open two boxes of Cheerios and poured them into a bowl that I'd filled with milk out of a canister. Slurping up the mush, I thought of a joke my uncle Matt had told me: "If you're a monk in one of them real serious monasteries, there's one rule: e only time you can speak is Christmas Day, and then you can only say two words. So one guy, he joined the monas- tery, and after a year, he says, 'Bed. Hard.' e next year, here comes Christmas again, and the guy says, 'Food. Bad.' e third year, he says, 'I. Quit.' And the head monk goes, 'Well, good! 'Cause you ain't done nothing but bitch since you got here!'" I ate another bowl of Cheerios and two bananas, but I was still hungry, and I wanted to leave. I couldn't see how I was going to fill up the rest of the day. Fifteen minutes later, I had driven back to Culvertown. is time, I didn't go to the bar, but instead turned past it and parked in front of Wendell's store and went in. He was behind the counter. We shook hands. "I like the place," I said. "Got anything to eat?" "You want a sandwich?" he asked. "I make a mean sandwich." He made me a "city ham" sandwich, and I ate it at a table in the back. After a while, Wendell joined me. "What do you think of the abbey?" he said. "Man, I'm bored to death. I can't see how people stand it up there." "Yeah." He smiled. "ey don't get out much." I asked him what people around here thought of the abbey. "ey're really good people. ey help out the needy people. ey're really open-hearted," Wendell said. "I guess if somebody had a fire or something, they would probably give them a donation just to get them back on their feet." I nodded. "What's this town called again?" "Culvertown — they call it God's country," he said. "Yeah, it's a pretty nice little area. We get a lot of people from the abbey to come have a bite to eat or a cold beer before they get locked in for the week." e sandwich was so good that I or- dered another. Back at the abbey, I wasn't hungry, but with nothing else to do, I went to the dining area for lunch. So far, I had seen only the guestmas- ter, and the monk and the woman in the kitchen, and I nearly thought I had the monastery to myself. I was used to skipping down the stairs like a child, but now, as I turned down the last flight, I almost crashed into a guy on the landing. Beyond his head, I saw a stream of other people, all lined up to enter the kitchen. I'd assumed that the admonition on the tables ("Silence is the only sound spoken here") would be broken, the way people jabber in a public library. But the other retreatants said nothing, and we all glided into the kitchen without a word. I counted about 30 other people. I'd guess the median age was 50, but they ranged from students wearing backpacks who seemed like they were in high school to couples in their 70s. Nobody looked at each other. e monks were vegetarian, and they served us mushroom orzo and tomato soup and salad, which we scooped onto the plates on our trays. e only empty table was in the back, behind a mid- dle-aged woman praying over her meal. Here I was, in a room with 30 strangers, acting as if we were all invisible. is felt cultish. My eyes darted. I had the tingling sensation that I was in some Polanski film. I wanted to tiptoe outside, or lean close to the woman behind me and whis- per: "I'm watching you." But I did neither. I ate. e food was so unadorned with sugars and chemicals that it tasted bland, and, like everyone else, I scraped what was left off my plate and dropped my silverware into a bucket, the water splashing on my shirt. By now, I was livid with impatience, and even a stain was enough to make me mutter, "Goddammit." In a leaflet that had been left on my desk, I had read that the monks worked from 8 a.m. until noon, but their days were primarily structured around seven community prayers of the Psalms, which they repeat in a cycle every two weeks during the Liturgy of the Hours: Vigils (3:15 a.m.), Lauds (5:45), Terce (7:30), Sext (12:15 p.m.), None (2:15), Vespers (5:30), and Compline (7:30). Afterward, sleep — the Great Monastic Silence. (As Father James Conner, one of the monks at Gethsemani, later explained to me: "e Vigils is seen as a way of watching for the coming of the Son of Man, which will be at an hour not expected. Also, since the night hours are the hours of most sinning of whatever kind, it is the time to pray specially for the world.") "None" was two hours away — an eternity in this place. With None to do, I walked outside and down a flight of stone stairs into what looked like a shaggy lawn with a bunch of trees. Stone tablets were spaced alongside a path that I rounded a few times, kicking pebbles, passing some of the people from the cafeteria, who averted their heads when I smiled — then waved — at them. Cicadas droned through the noon heat, shimmering like the air above fresh blacktop. Sweating, I wandered back inside to the AC, then trudged up to my room and fell in bed. Jesus, was this dull. Staring at the ceiling, wondering how I was going to make it to Monday, I felt, flowing through the rooms of the hall, the vast presence of silence — so complete that my breath rasped in my ear, as if I had strapped on the mask of an oxygen tank. I wanted to start yelling — to shatter the tranquility that oppressed this building. I went to the window. And then it was as if I were watching myself, wondering what I was going to do. I knew that I wanted to go driving again, maybe to Bardstown. But I also felt an impulse to stay where I was. I hated that I was here. But, in a strange way, I was relieved to be here. en I was awake. I had taken a nap, apparently, because the bedside clock read 6:30 p.m. I had missed supper. But I wasn't hungry. My mind felt — cooled.

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