I use a walker.
But first came the cane…..
Months ago, when my neurologist said that my body was tilting to the left, had bad balance and risked a fall, she told me that I had no choice. I had to use a cane.
But I waited three days before I decided to use it. Why?
It certainly was not an expression of some juvenile inner rebellion.
Or the sad condition of someone who insists that nobody can tell him what to do, even when what is asked for is for his benefit.
Did I wait three days because I sensed that the monks would begin to see me as an old man? Well, I am old. So it is not that.
I am eighty-two. I am feeling my age, which I welcome as much as I did my youth. At times I relate well to the experience depicted in a Wiesel novel: “Young Hananel suddenly feels old, as if he were weighted down by all the years lived by others … He finds it difficult to stand. Leaning on the beadle’s arm, he manages to get to his feet, then sits back down immediately…”
The ancient poet Kabir would say that this aging body is a clay jug.
But what a jug it is!
In it, he says, are canyons and pine mountains, and the maker of canyons and pine mountains.
All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars….!
Kabir speaks from inside the clay jug:
If you want the truth ….
Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.
Another monk, 89, uses a cane. He and I connect far more than when I walk on my own. In part thanks to the cane, we have bonded.
Some time back I shared a dream with him.
It is deep into the night. I am floating on the surface of an ocean. I keenly feel that I was going to drop into the depths of the immense waters. It feels so real….
So then I sink. A powerful feeling overwhelms me. I am going to die. But then suddenly it is as though a strong arm had reached into the water and brought me up to the surface.
I wake up. I am at peace.
The next day I tell my elder friend about the dream.
He smiles into my eyes and says: “Thank you. I appreciate hearing that you have had a strong, almost overwhelming sense of what it is like to die. So now when the angel of death comes to you in the heart of the night, you will be at ease. Miguel Angel will be calm, silent, still. Waiting to see what happens next.
At that point, my imagination takes over.
I welcome the angel and ask him if he would you like talk for a while before we go. He nods.
l ask: Would you like some tea? No? Then how about some fruitcake? I make it, you know. I do the weighing. So you don’t care for fruitcake either? Alright, then please answer a question. It has caused me anguish all my life. At times I have said that when I die I will put God on trial, for allowing so much madness and suffering to strangle the earth, century after century – while not a trace of suffering exists in the world I am about to enter.
The angel says that it is time to go.
He assures me that once we arrive in the world which knows no time, the answer will flow towards me as a friend, quietly and gently. And I will understand, and know, and be at peace.
MY elder friend and I share the same challenges — one of them being that time and again we forget where we left the cane.
The abbot stopped us the other day to ask if we were getting enough exercise.
Enough exercise? Look, we walk to the north corner of the monastery, or south, or east or west —- any number of times a day looking for the cane….
We go up four stories up to the tailor shop. But that makes no sense. We don’t have a tailor. He went back to China….
We go up and down the stairs of our 4-story building, up and down, up and down …Ah! the refectory —- surely the cane must be there, leaning against a wall …. But all we find is a balding monk, running away from unfinished business, wandering around looking for something to do — or, more accurately, something to eat. (Sorry, everything is locked up.)
Well, then how about the reading room, the scriptorium, the chapter room, the music room on the third floor, the church ….. ANYWHERE, FOR GOODNESS SAKE….
OK, then, where ARE you????
When no answer comes forth, we shrug and walk — where else? — up and down the stairs, up and down, up and down, up and down.…..
We are intrigued by some lines from the ancient poet Rumi:
All the day I think about it, and at nite I say it.
What am I supposed to be doing?
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary. The day is coming when I fly off, but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?…..
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Let whoever brought me here take me back.
The poem has eyes. It is gazing at us, or staring, or barely watching us, its eyes half closed. It is trying to transmit a message —- can you tell us what it is?
My cane has become more than a cane. It is my companion as I walk slowly toward the Light which awaits me on the other side of this world. I call the cane —- no – not it, but him —Miguel Angel – Spanish for Michael the Archangel. We converse: “Miguel Angel, why are you gazing so steadily at the poinsettia meadows? Or, later: What do you make of Juan Ramon Jimenez’ words about the rain being like weeping eyes, as if the eternal moment were going blind?
All this reminds me of when I was little and had an invisible friend. Did you have one?
Brother Elias Marechal is a Trappist monk who has been on a spiritual journey for over forty years at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia. His most recent book, Tears of An Innocent God (2015) was published by Paulist Press.
© Brother Elias Marechal