Karin and I took our toddler grandson, Asher, with us to Holy Wisdom Monastery. One might ask at this point: “Why would you do that?”
Well, we didn’t necessarily do it for Asher’s benefit. The fact is that my wife and I had been watching Asher 24/7 every day, and we hadn’t gone on a trip for well over a year. We just wanted to get away from home. In the past, we had made a habit of staying at religious retreat centers on our journeys. In fact, we did just that with Asher last summer when we stopped at Subiaco Monastery in Arkansas. That visit worked out quite well. Asher was cooperative, and Karin and I took turns caring for the boy while the other spent some time soaking up the peace and quiet. We were hoping that this particular stay would be the same.
I had also thought that perhaps I could arrange to have somebody give me spiritual direction during our short stay at the monastery. Maybe a priest or a religious sister could talk with me, or at least listen to me bitch. I was hoping for something like that.
A year in the life of a little boy makes a huge difference. Asher is almost three years old, and he is much more active and headstrong than he was when we sojourned at Subiaco last summer. He wants to be on the move, and he wants our full and undivided attention. Before we made reservations at Holy Wisdom, I asked specifically about the whereabouts of the nearest playground. This was crucial information. Fortunately, there was a fancy playground/splashpad only a couple of miles away. The playground was a lifesaver. We spent hours there with the lad. Actually, my best memories from this trip are from the playground.
Alas, the time at the playground was not sufficient to get rid of Asher’s restlessness and seemingly boundless energy. At the retreat house, he was in an unfamiliar environment that he wanted to explore. Also, because he felt out of his natural habitat, he wanted both of us to be with him. The end result was that Asher was both clingy and hyper, and neither Karin nor I got a break.
Asher makes his own schedule. Toddlers do that. Sometimes his schedule does not match those of the adults. We were set up to have supper at the monastery at 5:15 on our first evening there. Asher ran out of steam and fell asleep at 5:00. So, Asher did not have supper, nor did his hungry grandparents. This was a source of frustration for us.
Early the next morning, I walked over to the kitchen of the retreat house. The retreat center supplied a “continental breakfast” for the guests. What that actually meant was the guests had access to everything in the kitchen, and that included a fully stocked refrigerator. What the guest did with all that was up to him or her. So, I went on a scouting mission to see what was available to us.
I was in a foul mood as I walked to the kitchen. Another early riser was walking toward me. He smiled and gave me a cheery “good morning”. I growled something back at him. The man looked at me with concern and asked, “Are you doing okay?”
I replied wearily, “No, not at all.”
He paused momentarily, and asked, “Do you want some weed?”
For some reason, I have never in my life tried marijuana. The guy made the offer to me with the best of intentions. I am sure of that. I just couldn’t imagine trying to keep track of Asher while being high. That prospect seemed disastrous.
I told him, “No. That’s the last thing I need.”
The guest was a bit nonplussed. He was certain that he had offended me somehow. He quickly said, “I apologize for that! Sorry. It’s like I never said anything. Okay?”
I assume he wandered off to find someplace to smoke a blunt in peace. I shook my head and moved on.
Later, after Karin and Asher had gone to the kitchen to forage for food, I found this same guy in the room with them. He was offering Asher some berries and having a lively conversation with the boy. They were smiling and laughing together. Karin was listening to them banter while she made Asher some toast with honey and peanut butter.
Karin and Asher went into the dining room to eat and conversed with the guest. The discussion was wide-ranging. He told me some things about himself, and he asked me to talk about our situation. The guy was a good listener. He was happy and good-natured. He apparently was deeply involved with the religious community at the monastery, and he encouraged me to get to know the people. I declined to meet with the members of his group, mostly because it was unlikely that we would be coming back to this place any time soon.
That evening I ran into the man again. Karin had taken Asher for yet another session at the playground. We talked for about half an hour. He listened to my troubles. I listened to his. He was ebullient when he praised us for how we were raising Asher. He was impressed with the lad. It was good for me to hear that.
We left the retreat house the following morning. We hadn’t had the visit that we had hoped to have. Karin and I were probably more exhausted than we would have been if we had just stayed at home.
On the other hand, God sent me a most unexpected listener and guide. I met the person that I needed to meet.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
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