e-mail us

Starting Point

Obstacle ahead? Step on the gas!


One of the more important things in life is to learn how to get through it with verve, gusto, pleasure, humor and, perhaps most of all, the willingness to share these treasures with others. Is it not true that we spend most of our waking lives negotiating our ways through these rough and threatening seas of human living? So many obstacles to deal with, avoid, get around. We think. We read. We consult. We pray. We hope. We consult the gods, fortunetellers, Anne Landers, stargazers, our best friends and even at times our enemies to make it through and to feel good about it.

Every obstacle carries a lesson. How to learn about them?

Some days, the deities are kind enough to reveal such secrets of well-being and being well right in front of our noses or, in the following tale, right beneath a tree.

If you ever come here to the monastery, I hope you get to meet Damian. I so like him. I am sure you will, too. He is the kind of person who makes me feel good by just looking at him. He is a happy man and he radiates it.

He loves his work, and his work is what we call here “heavy equipment.” He is in charge of all the major (and minor) construction projects. On any given day -- and sometimes at night -- he can be found doing road work, working on plumbing, heating and air conditioning, laying pipes, fixing the water works, and on and on. Recently he has been working in the large field right outside the window here where I work wrapping bonsai pots. Today I saw him riding this huge earth digger, digging a long, deep trench for a new pipe. He rides that machine like a kid on a roller coaster. I see him laughing to himself about something or other as he works. When he comes up from the field for the midday office and meal, he looks like he emerged from a mud pit and is thrilled about it. It shows in his smile. He can make mud look attractive.

Every now and then we sit and chat, and he is willing to share something from his long monastic experience. But I am learning that what he shares so well with words he shares equally well with how he lives. All I do is watch.

Not long ago I was walking back to the main building. It was early in the morning, and I saw him come out of the building and walk to his truck. He has a slight limp and uses a cane, and he struggled to get up the hill to where he parked his big silver truck. He waved to me, and I waved back. He got into the truck and started it with a roar. I then noticed that he had parked it right beneath a low-lying limb of an enormous tree and that there was no way that the truck was going to clear that limb. I could not warn him since he was too far from me. He put his foot on the gas and backed up just a bit. He looked at me and smiled, then waved, and I knew then that he had seen the limb. He floored the pedal, and the truck lurched forward, hit the limb with a bang and kept right on going.

As I watched Damian drive into the horizon of the rising sun and his new day, I knew that he had left me with something more than the exhaust from the tail of his truck. He had given me a little tale from the inexhaustible movement of wisdom as it drives through our lives every day, leaving telltale wisps of grace.

Later I saw that there was a dent in the roof of the truck. But then there are a lot of dents in it. The limb was no worse for wear, for I looked at that, too.

Damian has lived as he drives -- weighing the risks and then stepping on the gas.

There are indeed obstacles in any road of life. Some we may be able to avoid. But for many obstacles the key is to trust the moving vehicle that is life and to step on the gas and keep going. We still get around with our dents.

I do not know if I will show this piece to him. He may want to talk about wisdom and what it means and where it is going and how it works and do I understand him?

Yes, yes, I do, Damian. But I want to watch you, watch you laugh and drive. It is all in the moving ahead, isn’t it, toward the sun that rises, with our dents and laughter and with all that you do so well as my words try to catch up with you.

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

National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2001