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.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/706605

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Page 46 of 140

44 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.16 e wall ended, and I turned into a parking lot, in the middle of which was a square of grass and trees and benches. I hadn't turned off my radio since I left Louisville, and when I got out, the silence of the land rushed down on me like a wave. e abbey seemed placed inside a crown of hills that I later learned were the Nelson County Knobs — furred with trees and ringing the horizon. A path led from the parking lot between a yard of tombstones and merged into a plaza that approached the main church, which glowed pale in the evening light. A sign on a wall read: Mo- nastic Grounds. Next to it, a cast-iron gate with letters built into the crest: GOD ALONE. Across from this gate was an alcove with a mural on the wall that seemed made of squares of brown clay. A face and two hands emerged from the mural, with these words carved into it: Let all guests that come be received like Christ. Taped on two wooden doors, a sheet invited retreatants to sign in with the guestmaster. I opened the doors and entered. A door in the glassed-in wall opposite me led onto a concrete patio overlooking the gardens I had seen from the road. To my right was another door, with a sign on it labeled "Telephone," inside which was a chair and a single corded phone hooked to the wall. Blinking at it, I switched off my iPhone, just as I realized that the guest- master — an older man wearing a Trap- pist habit — was looking at me from the desk in front of me. He smiled. "Checking in for the night?" I introduced myself, and he unfolded a sprawling spreadsheet. My name had been printed at the bottom, next to a blank space. "Ah," he said. "You're the last to arrive." He plucked keys from a hook and handed them to me. "We'll put you in the South Wing. Do you have your bags?" "Yes, sir." "Good," he said. "It's quite a hike." I followed the monk down a hallway that led past the telephone-room and into a cafeteria, empty now. Wooden tablets on the tables read: "Silence is the only sound spoken here." e monk led me up a maze of stairwells, our footsteps ringing between the close walls, and then across a landing to a door that was so heavy he had to tug twice before it opened. We stepped onto the balcony of a church. e interior soared. e silence stung my ears. Great wooden trestles were built into the ceiling of the nave, and the dying light outside pulsed blurs of amber and purple and silver through the stained- glass windows. Two rows of pews filled the balcony, and when we came to the aisle that ran between them, the man stopped. He turned and bowed toward the cross behind the altar at the far end of the church. On the next door was a sign that read: "For Re- treatants Only." When the monk opened it, a smell of mildew and close quarters hit me — a reek that I associated with the hall of my freshman dormitory. e passage was unlit, and wooden doors faced each other. I could barely see the shape of the monk, but the markings on the doors ("SW 10," "SW 20," "SW 30") were white, and seemed to float in the dimness. At the end of the hall, the monk turned and smiled. "Do you have your key?" I fit it into the lock and opened the door. Inside was a desk, a bench, a win- dow, two dressers in opposite corners, two crucifixes hanging on walls of white brick, and a bed that looked like a mattress placed on a plank with four stumps. Next to it, an electric clock on a stand, and a door that opened into a bathroom. I thanked the monk, and he said: "You are welcome. Vigils begin at 3:15, if you would like to attend." "3:15 — in the morning?" I said. He smiled. "Is there anything else?" I shook my head. He said goodnight and shut the door. 3:15 a.m. was seven hours away, and I assumed that, since I was the last guest, the monk was going to bed. is was Friday night, though — I wasn't used to turning in at 8 p.m. I opened the blinds, shoved up the window. e view was onto a garden, and beyond the wall that enclosed it, the lot where my car was parked. I unpacked my clothes and took out my laptop. But I realized that I hadn't asked the monk if there was a Wi-Fi code. Staring at my screen, without internet for the first time in as long as I could re- member, I had nothing to do. I should've asked if there was a billiards room or a Jacuzzi. By 9 p.m., I had taken a shower, done 50 push-ups, jotted a paragraph in my journal, read a chapter in the novel I had brought, texted my friends till they stopped texting back, and was sitting at the desk near the window, staring again out toward my car. I had come here, in part, to escape the roar of modern life. But now that I was here, in an enclave of silence, I was almost scared. Without Netflix or the gym or a restaurant, I felt naked, as if I were lonely company when I was finally, truly alone with myself. So I left. I got my keys and found my way down from the South Wing to the front entrance. Nobody manned the desk at this hour. I wandered across the park- ing lot and, like a student at a boarding school who had broken curfew and snuck out, jogged the last few paces to my car. But nobody had tried to stop me, and I realized that I hadn't gone through any interviews or background checks. True, the rooms were locked, but I could think of no other housing arrangement in which the proprietors accepted anyone who came to them, for free, and let you come and go as you pleased. I drove onto the road that led back to Culvertown and pulled into the bar that looked like a concrete bunker. Most of the cars that I had seen parked around it earlier were gone, and I walked across the starlit gravel toward the entrance. Plastic chairs had been pushed against the building, and a black dog lying in one of them raised its head and blinked at me, as if even he could tell I was a stranger. Everyone inside the bar seemed to know one another, and they all looked up when I entered. I ordered a chicken sandwich and a Budweiser and sat at a table that faced a TV screen, watching the Cleveland Cavaliers wallop the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. People, music, beer — this was better than the monastery. I'd thought it would be relaxing, but already I wondered how anyone could live at Gethsemani. All the monks did was work and pray. Pray and work. For years. When I went to the bar to pay, the man in the stool next to me said, "Staying at the abbey?" "Yes, sir," I said. "Just got here." He held out his hand. "Name of Wendell." "Nice to meet you, Wendell," I said. "You from around here?" For the first time since I'd arrived, I was calm. I wasn't thinking about what I was thinking about. I was just there.

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