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Starting Point

God’s love like a screensaver


Yesterday I drove Fr. Augustine to the eye doctor. He had laser surgery a few weeks back. He is as kind a man as they come and was the abbot here for many years. He has aged so beautifully -- I very much admire his spirit. He takes what comes with genuine humor and an ever-ready smile.

His hearing is not very good, and he speaks very softly, so softly that he almost whispers. While driving down the highway he mentioned that he was having visitors come soon from New York. He knows how much I like Manhattan and was telling me that his friends love that city, too. I listened as he spoke, not wanting to interrupt him when there was a word or phrase that I could not quite get. He said something about the Hudson. I knew he was talking of a long-ago event and I turned to him and said that I remember Hudson cars. No, he said. Not cars. So I took the next thing that came to my mind. And so I mentioned that I liked the Hudson River and drove over it many times. He smiled and continued talking about the Hudson. He mentioned the street it was on and then I realized that he was talking about the Hudson Hotel, but I do not know of such a place. My mind was still on the waters of the Hudson, and his was on the hotel.

We finally found a common ground and laughed because we knew it had taken a while to cut through the thicket of the various meanings of Hudson. And so we continued on our way, talking about New York hotels and some other niceties of that great city.

We arrived at the eye clinic, and I helped him out of the car and into his wheelchair. We went to the doctor’s office, and everything was fine. The doctor assured Gus that his eyes are coming along and that soon he will be able to operate on the other eye. And that was that. After writing on a piece of paper a medication adjustment, the doctor wished us a good day, and off we went to the receptionist to make another appointment.

I wheeled Gus back to the receptionist and on the way there spotted through an open office door a computer screen with a fancy screensaver -- a sort of building block thing that constantly moved colored blocks into motion and then positioned them one on top of the other. I leaned down and mentioned it to Gus, and he said something about a few blocks away to the monastery. I said OK and continued wheeling him to the receptionist who gave me a card with the new appointment.

Going off to sleep that night, I thought about the day and that screensaver. It sort of mesmerized me. The slow motion of the blocks, moving and slipping with ease to the right place and then the emergence of more blocks and the whole screen shifting in color and shape as more blocks arrived and found places to fit.

How much like a day, and all the words and the hearing of them and speaking them, words that come from the depths of the mind and heart, looking for places to fit, and how constant they are, and how things do shift when they find where they belong.

Sometimes I do not get the words right. I do not say the right words nor do I hear just what is being said. But I think that is OK.

On the way back to the monastery, a song came on the radio -- “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones. I turned it up a bit. I told Gus who was singing it, and he smiled. His hands moved a bit to the beat.

“But it’s allll right, you know it’s all right -- in fact it’s a gas … Jumping Jack Flash is just a gaaaasssssss.”

Come to think of it, I do not know after all these years if I have those words right, either. But I think you know what I mean. They are, uh, close.

I like to think that love is God’s screensaver of life. Love moves us, moves through us. We look for words as the love builds and cannot always find them but speak as best we can. I love Gus and feel I do so little for him to show that. Men do not usually talk of such things.

How much God has moved through Gus over all these years! Living blocks upon blocks of words and love, tenderly moving, finding their place in his heart and in his days.

I laugh at the myriad meanings of yesterday’s Hudsons: rivers, cars, hotels. But Gus and I did OK. We got to where we were going and poked our way through words, giving some form to the love we needed to say as we rode and shifted words and gears.

It’s all right, yes, it is all right. In fact, it is a gas.

I think you know what I mean, what I am trying to say.

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

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2001