Here is a lesson in monastic stability, transposed to a domestic key: I am invited to give a talk to a general chapter of Benedictine monastic communities, meeting at a historic abbey in Italy. Such occasions, which take place only once every eight years, normally are private affairs involving intramural matters like the election of an abbot president and revision of monastic statutes.
Although it would be easier at age 48 to take up the violin or pole-vaulting, I am tiptoeing into a long-postponed project of learning how to love my enemies. Not that I haven’t talked a good game or done admirable work up to now. I appeared on TV arm in arm with a Muslim imam to calm public ire the evening of 9-11. I met often to reconcile with a man who sued my church.
Mom and Dad, you won’t believe what they put on the official T-shirt we bought. I won’t ever wear it!” Our 17-year-old son was calling from Governor’s School, a six-week summer program for which he had been nominated by his high school. He was appalled because the “official T-shirt,” which he had ordered as a remembrance of his experience, had two phrases that he found appalling.
Everyone needs someone to tell her she has spinach in her teeth, preferably before she has spent 15 minutes wondering why her table companions are so taken with her smile. One friend recently crossed a gender boundary to help me with a similar problem lower down.
“XYZ,” he said, when we rose from eating lunch together.
Summer is sailing past and we are trying to catch up to it in our 1988 Volvo with its worn upholstery, carpet of crushed Ritz crackers and Freon-guzzling air conditioner. We are on the road, not as carefree summer bohemians, but as the sober, hopeful parents of a high school senior searching for a good liberal arts college.
Josephine Finda Sellu, a nurse supervisor, is on the front line of the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. She lost 15 of her nurses in rapid succession. As other workers left the hospital, her family begged her to quit her job. Some of her colleagues have been abandoned by their families due to fear of the disease. Usually a tower of strength, Sellu cries when she talks about the nurses she’s lost to the disease. She sometimes wishes she had become a secretary instead, but she sees her job as a healer as a calling from God (New York Times, August 23).