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Starting Point

Rain, skylines and life all right there


We have a new kid working here at the bonsai barn. His name is “JP,” which is short for John Paul. Soon to be 18 years old, he is lanky as they come. He looks like a living presence from a Norman Rockwell painting.

I have never seen him without a hat. His pants are the baggy kind that is so in vogue these days.

He is brimming with all sorts of ideas. He tells me he stays up late every night practicing his guitar. He wants to be a rock n’ roll star. He wants to bring his guitar here and play for me one of these days. He would probably blast the roof right off the barn.

When he chats, I think a lot about how I was when I was his age, the dreams I had, places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do.

My best friends were Greg and Walter. My twin, Jimmy, and I would get the car on weekend nights. It was a white 1965 Chevrolet Impala. We would pick up Greg and Walter and then drive around. We stopped at different hangouts.

On rainy nights we drove to Eagle Rock reservation, a place of high elevation, and parked where we could see the whole stretch of the New York skyline. It was beautiful. We sat there in the car, smoking and talking about all our plans and dreams. I remember the windshield and looking at the skyline through the prism of the drops and rivulets of rain as they spread on the windshield. Billions of lights in the city twinkled, twisted and slid through the lens of rain and glass. We turned the radio down low, and talked and laughed and watched the lights, the rain, the couples making out in cars to our right and left.

We never thought back then of finding clarity in life. We talked of things to “go for,” and in doing so were reaching for the lights of our dreams.

What was then hidden from me, as it always is and must be, was the fact that we had it all right there. Friendship, life ahead of us, seemingly stretching as far as the view ahead of us, and drops of rain blurring the view, distorting any clear grasp or view of what lay just ahead.

JP looks far ahead as he makes his music. I wish him well. I wish him skylines and rain, and I thank him for helping me remember who I was and why I still like the rain and cities that shine at night, promising something that was really always there, with the music low and the raindrops holding a billion lights like mysteries, mysteries that moved and inched down on the windshield, making me glad. The mysteries yet move across the glistening surfaces of every heart, every eye, bringing awe and power that works a slow enchantment as we live and move. And sometimes we stop and try to see through them, far ahead, for what we already are.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net

National Catholic Reporter, September 22, 2000