by Nicholas P. Snoek
17 December 1949 -- Brother Cyprios walks the compound...
Another year has come and gone and Jack
Will now be nine; tomorrow we will celebrate
His birthday, and then, in a week, the birthday of
Our Lord. How time has flown. How Jack has grown.
He has attained the stature of a man.
It seems so short a time since he arrived,
And I was all adither about his hairiness.
In such a state I was, that he did not
Look altogether normal. I was a wreck.
But time and God took care of that, and Jack
Has been a son to me, a son to us.
We watched him grow from hairy little babe
To a most engaging lad, an introspective
But polite and willing pupil. My pride,
The pupil of my eye.
But talk of pride...
Dear Jack, I see in you some signs of a growing
Intemperance, a hubris of your own. You do not
Openly dispute or question anyone, but while
Agreeing with your manner and your mouth,
You are rethinking and researching your
Already private views. At this young age
You show a worrisome mental reservation.
Sometimes when you receive, you do not quite
Accept an answer, but put it in a holding
Place; you file it for evaluation.
And Jack, you are too young to take this attitude.
Perhaps our dearest Jack has not received
The one thing that he badly needed, the one thing
That we could not give, some younger friends
From whose example he could learn a right
Humility. But how could we arrange this thing?
These sometime trips to town have given him
Some contact with the outside world, but they
Cannot do much for fostering the social skills
And customary deferential stance
Another child comes by unconsciously,
In imitation of compliant peers.
Our Jack not only has no peers, he does
Not recognize the concept. Our peerless Jack.
He feels himself too much himself and not
A part of us; he is as yet an alien:
By virtue of his youth he stands alone,
A crispy lettuce in a grove of oaks.
It is an early lesson in the ineluctable
Solitude of every human soul:
Man stands alone, so basically and tragically
Alone, that just to think of it strikes fear
Into the heart of every searching person.
And such is Jack.
The compensating virtue
Of losing self in God's encompassing
Ubiquity, the merging with the oversoul
Of God Supreme in mystic contemplation,
This cannot yet be real to Jack. And certainly
The dimmer version of that ecstasy
Vouchsafed to more pedestrian souls who find
A mortal love with other mortal beings
Will not be part of Jack's young life as yet.
He has so much to learn; so far
To go before he can begin to be a man.
But he has come tremendous distances.
And in the fullness of our time together
We hopefully can guide him step by step
Towards that greater life of full humanity.
It is a long, uneven, dusty road
That we must go together, Jack. May God
Go with us, travelling together. May God
Be with us yet. May God be with us yet.
May 1950, the Chinese have been occupying Tibet
"Brother Andre, Brother Andre, come quick! Come see!"
"Calm yourself, Brother Guillaume, calm yourself, and tell me what's the matter."
"There's soldiers at the gate, a troop of soldiers!"
"Soldiers? What kind of soldiers? Where did they come from. What do they want?"
"I don't know, but they want to talk to you. They look Chinese."
"They asked for me?"
"No, not like that. They want to talk to the boss man, that's what they said, the boss man."
"I do not like the sound of this. Go ring the bell for meeting, quick."
Brother Andre makes his way to the gate. Young Jack is there, with his dog, and several groups of monks are talking. The gate is closed. Brother Andre goes up the portal steps to see what waits outside. A ragged crew of about thirty soldiers are scattering about, some mounted, some at ease. Some very much at ease, in the bushes. They are Chinese cavalry, but they look very casual. Brother Andre goes down, and opens the gate.
"Good day, gentlemen. May I help you?"
Two men step forward to speak to him. One is apparently some sort of captain. He wears a sword, and has several symbols on his tunic. The other seems to be one of the rank and file. He replies with exaggerated self-importance.
"I talk English. Not other no talk English. Okay?"
"Parlez vous francais, monsieur?"
"I talk English. I talk Chinese, I talk English!"
"Sprechen sie Deutsch, bitte?"
Exasperated, "I TALK ENGLISH!"
"I'm sorry. Good. Very good. We will talk English. What can I do for you. Are you hungry? You need food?"
The spokesman turns to the officer. They talk with much gesturing. The meeting bell sounds in the background, but no one pays any heed. The interpreter resumes. "Food later. We want fort. This fort. Fort for soldiers. This China country."
"Oh, I see. You think we're in Tibet here. No, no, no! We're in Bhutan, close to Sikkim. This is Bhutan country."
Yelling, "THIS CHINA, THIS CHINA!"
Borg comes jumping forward, growling angrily. He stops between the monk and the soldiers, and paces back and forth stiff legged, nape hair ruffed and raised, snarling at the strangers.
Frowning, the officer glances at the dog, draws his sidearm with one smooth motion and shoots him, right through the head!
Brother Boniface, hissing "Verruckt und zugeneht!"
With a sharp yelp, Borg flattens to the ground. He seems frozen for a few moments, and then starts thrashing his death throes without a sound, his eyes open, a dark red trickle pushing through the blue lined spot on his head, his tongue lolling senselessly in the dust.
Everyone stares, motionless. Jack hears the sounds and comes running through the gate.
"What happened? What happened?"
He bends over the dog, scarcely believing his eyes. He starts to cry. The officer holsters his weapon and, wanting to resume the conversation, motions Brother Andre off to one side. The three men move away.
Brother Andre, in a strained voice: "That was not necessary. He does not bite."
The officer speaks rapidly and crisply to his cohort, and the latter translates:
"We take fort today. All you go. Now."
"No. We do not go. This is our fort. This is a monastery, a church. We live here. Our home. You understand? Our home."
The two soldiers talk for a minute.
"We come back one hour. One hour. All people go. Leave horses here. Mules too. Only people walk away."
Without waiting for a reply they turn and withdraw. The officer yells something to his men, who mount and ride back up the trail, around the bend and out of sight, leaving just two soldiers near the gate.
Brother Andre turns to speak to Jack, but sees only the dog lying there.
"Where is Jack?"
"He went into the woods."
The meeting bell still tolls. It is the only sound. Everyone goes to the refectory, whispering tersely as they walk. A lammergeier circles ominously overhead.
When all are present, Brother Andre addresses the group.
"Brothers, we're in serious trouble. These soldiers want to occupy the monastery to use it as a fort. They want us out in just one hour."
Several moments of silence. Brother Andre speaks again:
"We have no weapons. We cannot get help. The only thing to do if they insist, is leave. I will try my best, but I cannot think of any argument that might prevail upon them."
No one has a better plan.
"We must pray. Brother Oren, please lead the brothers in prayer. I will go to my cell to meditate."
The hour is passing. Borg's body lies in the dust, a small patch of color on a drab background. Jack hides in the bushes, weeping and watching.
The soldiers reappear and gather at the gate, weapons at the ready. They form a V, with the officer and the interpreter at the tip, close to the entrance. The time has come.
"COME OUT! COME OUT HANDS UP!"
The gate opens for a moment. Brother Andre steps through. Alone, arms folded, silent. In his right hand, a crucifix. His grizzled hair wisping in the breeze, he looks old, ineffectual, but yet in his bearing is an impressive dignity. He stops in front of the officer and waits in silence. He seems to be looking over the heads of those before him, as if he is watching something in the air above them. Behind him the lammergeier has come down, and rides the resined air above the narrow cedared cleft forming the outer boundary of the barley field.
The soldiers, caught somewhat off guard by this strange manoeuver, also wait. A half minute passes. Some red-billed choughs sit on the palisade as if waiting patiently.
The officer gives a directive to the interpreter.
"What you want!"
Brother Andre, without shifting his gaze, replies:
"You must leave here. We cannot give you this place."
"We take this place. What you do? You stop us?"
"I am a man of God. I am a priest. I stand here alone and I will not move. To take this place you must kill a man of God. If you kill a man of God you will go to Hell."
With some difficulty the harassed interpreter conveys that strange message to his officer. The officer is astonished to hear it but, quickly regaining his composure he turns and speaks loudly and clearly to the men, apparently summing up the conversation for their benefit. Then he speaks to the interpreter once more, who appeals to the priest.
"You be sure? You stay, you die. You go, you live. You be sure?"
"May God have mercy on you all! I stay."
The officer grimly draws his revolver and points it at the priest's chest. He waits. No one speaks. No one moves.
Jack watches in horror. The shot echoes from the center of his world in widening rings of slow motion outrage, violating the virgin peace of the pristine mountain air.
Brother Andre, his beloved confessor! the pillar guide and comfort of all his younger days, here shot before his eyes!
The priest drops to his knees, and for one ridiculous obscene moment he seems to pray to his assailant. Then he topples, falling backwards. His head hits hard. The crucifix tumbles away. He does not move. One knee still bent, the bottom of his cassock catches in the wind and flips up, exposing one thin and inappropriate thigh.
The officer holsters his gun and bending down, quietly covers the naked leg. He turns, and barks out some orders.
The soldiers approach the gate, expecting to find it locked. It is not. It opens to a push, and there, standing in a rough circle, are all the monks, all looking down in front of them, praying softly. There is no further resistance.
Some of the soldiers stay with the monks. Others run around looking for spoil, for women, for food.
They find little more than food.
They bring some rope into the courtyard and begin tying up the monks, securing each with one hand to the opposite hand of another, and both hands to one long rope down the middle of the group.
About an hour later this is what Jack sees, leaving the monastery. All his friends rag-tagging down the road in chain gang formation, watched over like slaves by seven Chinese soldiers. They pass the dog, and skirt the priest with covert glances. Two pikas duck into their burrows.
A sad day. A wretched day for poor young Jack.
He draws back, farther in the woods. He cries, and thinks, and thinks and prays. What can he do, where can he go? The soldiers have the monastery. Borg is dead. Brother Andre too. All the brothers have gone. Where can he go? What should he do?
Little by little a plan forms in his mind. He must go to Paro. He will find Jim, and talk things over with him. Jim will have some ideas. It would take forever to walk, so he must have a horse. But the soldiers will see him if he tries to take one. He must do it after dark. Carefully and silently.
The soldiers are not worried about the young boy who ran into the woods. They are busy, eating drinking and sleeping, indulging themselves in the sudden sheltering comforts of this home away from home. Long absent from headquarters, they have lost the habit of discipline, and do not post a guard. Who would disturb them?
Under cover of darkness Jack approaches the gate. He stumbles on Borg. He reaches down to hold his faithful friend. And he recoils in shock! The body is hard and cold, as cold as ice! This is not his soft warm cuddly playmate!
He crouches there a while, then carefully moves over to where he can just make out the form of the priest. Now he does not touch; it would be too much. He cries softly several minutes. Should he try to bury them?
No, it would not be safe. He prays for forgiveness, and moves away.
When Jack enters the corral he talks to the horses quietly. They know him, and do not fuss. He is tempted to lead them all away but realizes the soldiers would come after him. So he takes the one he likes the best and, with a little grass in one hand, leads it gently off into the night.