by Nicholas P. Snoek
We're going to Paro! Good good good. I get to go with Brother Boniface on the back of the motorcycle. That'll be fun. I can watch all the people, and maybe some children will talk to me or even play with me. Let's go! Let's go!
Oh, not till after morning prayer. Oh well.
Brother Andre might give a good talk. And he might say something to me, or about me. That's always nice. Probably tell me to behave, on the trip. I mostly do. Usually the only time I get into trouble is when adults don't behave, 'cause then I get mad. They think they can do what they like just because they're grown up. But I must show respect. Right, I should.
And they should deserve it.
I wish I could have my own pony. Brother Andre said I'm too young to be riding around on a big horse. I don't know what he thinks might happen. I take turns riding when we go to Sombe, sometimes. If I could ride my own pony I could explore a lot more. I wonder what I can do to make that happen.
Can't think of anything right now.
I do have Borg, and he's the only dog in the monastery. He's lots of fun when I go hiking in the woods. He sniffs out pikas and yellow-throat martens and stuff. Scares up the pheasants, monals. Never catches anything, though. Can't run fast enough. His legs are too short.
That's pretty good. My very own dog. Most of the monks don't have anything of their own at all. That must be horrible. I'm glad I don't have to do the vow of poverty. I won't be no monk, for sure. Maybe a priest, though. But not here. Far, far away. In a city. In Europe, maybe France.
When Brother Cyprios teaches geography, it's so interesting, all those towns, all the different customs. All that business, and trade from all over the world. Wow! Maybe I'll be a trader, a travelling merchant. Or some sort of diplomat, so I can see everything. Are there any travelling priests? I must ask about that. The priests from France, do they often travel?
Brother Andre is the only priest I know. Those priests from France who came to see him, they weren't here very long. They kept looking at me. I wonder why. And they seemed to be talking about me. I didn't like that.
If they wanted something with me, why didn't they talk to me? I can tell them what they want to know. But they mostly talked in French, so that might have been hard. My French isn't too good yet. Brother Guillaume doesn't make me stick to a schedule like most of the other monks do. I should read more French by myself. If I'm going to be a priest in France I'll have to know more French.
Oh well. Lots of time. Who knows, I might be off in Germany, or even Italy. Haven't started any Italian yet. Wonder if we will. Something like Latin, Brother Andre says.
Well, off to prayers.
Jack marches to the chapel. Most of the monks are already there, quietly kneeling and praying their private prayers.
I wonder what they pray for. Some of them probably ask God for big things, like peace in the world, or the conversion of Russia and China. And they must think and ask about their own problems. Like how to be a better person, not to get angry so quick, to accept what happens without complaining. Stuff like that.
That way they don't have to go to Confession when they want to take Holy Communion.
I often have to go to Confession first.
That doesn't seem fair. Brother Andre is the one who hears Confession, and he's also the one I sometimes have to confess about. I sass him, and then I confess to him. That gets kind of confusing. I wonder if he thinks it's funny. I hope not. It's not fair.
And I hope he doesn't think it's funny when I confess that I peed my bed again. I just don't understand it. I have to go so bad, and I aim my little thing down into the opening, right into it, making absolutely sure I won't miss, and then when I let go, I can feel the warm wet on my legs. And then it's too late! So I just let it all go. How can I know. How can I not know. It doesn't make sense.
Jack kneels and waits. Brother Andre enters, welcomes everyone, and gives the benediction. The customary litany is recited by a small monk with a very deep voice, Brother Oren. All the brothers respond in unison. Then they all join in for the choir part, well practised and faultless, without any instrumental accompaniment.
Brother Andre concludes his homily.
"Dear Brothers in the Lord. We hear through the King's messengers from our missionary friends in East Asia that there is much political turmoil there. We must pray that the missions and their converts will be kept safe from harm, and that God will inspire the political and community leaders to adopt a more Christian approach to their difficulties.
There's a small group leaving for Paro today to do some trading. We wish them godspeed and hope their journey will be uneventful.
Brothers, keep an eye on young Jack; he grows more venturesome each day.
Jack, listen to Brother Boniface, do not wander, and be careful with strangers. And leave Borg here.
Brothers, go in peace, to love and serve the Lord."
Okay, here we go. First we'll get something to eat on the way, from Brother Rudolph. That'll be fun, to picnic in that same spot, high up on the hill, with that little valley way down below. Maybe we'll see a musk deer or even a blue bharal. Maybe we'll see a Yeti!
Why can't we take Borg? He wouldn't cause any trouble. Rules, rules.
There's the monks getting ready. Two will go on horseback, leading the mule, and me and Brother Boniface on the motorcycle. Poor Brother Boniface gets a sore bum from sitting on the bike so long. By the time we get to the cabin to spend the night he'll have to walk around for a long time to get the kinks out, and he'll be complaining about his lumbago, in German.
In Sombe we'll split up to do different things. Brother Boniface will stop at the dzong, and will go to some homes to minister, and collect donations. That's when I get a chance to look around. The others will be trading the dried herbs from the storehouse, for dry goods and supplies. Tea and flour, and rice, stuff like that.
I wonder if they look forward to this like I do. I bet they do. Not too much happens around here. They don't even have new lessons all the time, like me. And most of them don't have projects like Brother Cyprios does. I have projects too. They don't even know some of the things I do. I bet nobody has seen my secret fort hideout behind the tool place. They wouldn't have any reason to look back there. I can hide in that spot and read for hours, and no one knows where I am. That's neat!
So what would they think about all day? They must get awful bored. Do they just pray and pray? Does God talk back to them? I should ask Brother Andre about that. Maybe God just talks to some of them.
Oho, we're ready! Wave! 'Bye, Goodbye! Goodbye!
The party leaves through the gate and starts on the long mountain trail, the horses in the lead.
I will have a motorcycle someday. What a great feeling! You can see everything, and the wind blows all over you. It's fun! Gets pretty bumpy though. It would be better if we could go really fast. But the trail is awful rough, and we can't pass the horses. They get skittish, from the noise and the smell.
I suppose old Brother Boniface doesn't enjoy it so much, he gets cold pretty easy. He's all wrapped up like it's winter. He says his blood is thin. That's kind of strange. If his blood is thin it should move through his body faster, and heat up all the parts quicker. And that should keep him warmer. Right? I'll have to ask about that.
The trip is as uneventful as Brother Andre could have wished. They get to Sombe about noon of the second day, and get on quickly with their business. One of the King's stipulations, when Brother Andre first approached him with the plan to take over the old abandoned monastery with his lay brothers, was that the operation would have to be self sustaining; there would be no support from the court or from any of the farms around. So the monks do their own farming and gardening, and have learned to cultivate and prepare specialty items like herbs, the sale of which nicely supplements the donations from the home diocese in the States.
Brother Boniface warns Jack not to stray too far, and leaves him with the motorbike.
Oh, look over there. A couple of girls playing with a rope. Skipping. Four of them. What are girls like. What do they do? Besides skip with a rope.
Most boys live in families, with a father and a mother, and other boys and girls. Brothers and sisters. That's a different kind of brother. Would I like that? I guess I'll never know.
Brother Cyprios says I'm a foundling. I was left at the gate of the monastery when I was a tiny baby. He says I'm lucky. I don't have just two parents; I have a whole bunch. But I'd like to know who my real parents were. My real father and my real mother. And I would sure like to know why they didn't keep me. Why they just gave me away. Do other people do that?
Maybe I have a sister.
What would that be like, to have a sister. What are girls for? What can they do, that a boy can't. Boys are bigger, stronger. There aren't any girls at the monastery. But then, there aren't any boys either. Just me. I could be a monk, or a priest. If there was a girl at the monastery what could she do? These girls look kind of nice. Pretty. Maybe that's what they're good for. Till they get to be grown up.
They get bigger, and then they're women. And then they be the mother in a new family. With girls and boys again. And it goes on and on. Increase and multiply and fill the earth.
Why is that? Why does God want the earth filled?
To make more souls, right. To praise Him. What does that do for Him? What difference is it to Him if there is another Suzie or another Jack. My praise can't do a lot. It's kind of bumbly and fuzzy, anyway. I think of this and that and ramble round. That can't do much for Him.
Lord, please help me pray better.
Uh oh, one of them is coming over here. She's the biggest. With long blond straight hair almost to her waist. One of the other ones is starting to come too. The remaining two just stand and watch. What's going to happen now? Should I say something? I'll just wait and see what she does. I wonder if she speaks English. She's a blonde!
Here she comes right up to the bike. She looks nice. Her eyes are blue! She puts one hand on the handlebar, looking at me, then: "What religion are you?"
What religion am I? What kind of question is that? What's wrong with hello, or who are you.
"Roman Catholic, I guess."
She turns and walks away, over to the other girls, and they all go back to skipping rope.
Well, I'll be... What religion are you. What religion are you! Here I am, seven years old, come to Paro on a motorbike, and the only thing this girl can think of to say to me is `What religion are you?'
Why did she ask that? This is something she has to know? What for? To decide what? If she should talk to me? I guess she doesn't want to, now.
This is confusing. If I belong to the wrong religion, and I guess I do, she won't have anything to do with me? Is my religion contagious? She's going to catch something from me? Whew! Rude! What religion are you...
What kind of life does she live? What's it like in her home? Do they sit around and talk about other people's religion? I wonder what religion they are. Don't much care, though. I sure don't want any part of her!
Jack jumps off the bike and walks away, fast. He goes up one path and down another, not watching where he's going. Suddenly someone steps in front of him.
"Whoa, hold it! What's your hurry?"
A boy. Not Bhutanese. Not blond either.
"I'm in no hurry. I'm just walking around."
"What's your name?"
"Jack. What's yours?"
"I'm Jim. And I bet I'm the only Jim in Paro."
"I suppose so. I'm probably the only Jack, too. I don't know of another Jack anywhere."
"Oh, I know another Jack. An old Englishman, he used to fish with my Dad."
"Your dad is a fisherman?"
"No, silly. They fished for sport. For fun, see? They went on fishing trips. And they usually drank quite a bit then, too. Sometimes they took me along, on the shorter trips. Do you ever fish with your dad?"
"Uhh, no. I live in a monastery. A Christian monastery."
"You live in a monastery? Where? So, what is it. You're a mini monk? An apprentice priest?"
"No, no. I live there. But I am going to be a priest, a Catholic priest."
"No kidding. The worst. Well, you might change your mind when you get older. I always wanted to be a fireman. But my uncle is a fireman, and he got burnt pretty bad. You should see his face. It's scary, all scarred up."
"Where do you live?"
"We've been in Paro for two and a half months now, up that way, a lightbrown house with a black roof. My Dad's teaching here for a year. He's learning Dzongkha now, and I am too. We're from Maryland."
"In the States, dumbo. Don't you know anything?"
"Not a lot, I guess. Well, I have to go. See you."
Jack finds his way back to the motorcycle, and waits. He waits for several hours, thinking about the differences between a Jack and a Jim.
Jim is older and seems very sure of himself. That must come from the travelling life his father has adopted. Jim can fit quickly into any situation.
Jack is a bit put off with Jim's directness, but he likes him anyway.
Jack and his monastery monitors are sleeping in a room at the dzong, kept clear for visitors.
/// He is floating free, above the monastery.
Looking down, he can see the whole courtyard, the gate, and all the area cleared around the outside walls, and there is the trail, curling off into the trees. It's so peaceful, and so quiet.
What fun, to just be floating here...
He thinks of looking at the roof of the toolshed, and something takes him over there. Scarcely wondering at this unique way of moving around, he wafts his way inside the door and hovers over his hideaway, reviewing all the scattered bits and pieces of junk in his secluded sanctuary. Strange, it seems brighter now.
And he goes out to glide around the yard. Suddenly he notices all the monks standing in a circle, looking at the ground. Why are they doing that? And what are those strange men doing with that rope?
He hears a loud bang outside the gate, and goes right over there.
Several more of those men are out here, and Brother Andre seems to be talking to two of them. What's that on the ground? Oh, NO! It's Borg, kicking like crazy! What the heck! Jack goes closer. He can see a tiny hole in the poor dog's head, with dark blood welling out of it. What's happening here? How can this be happening.
A voice is saying "Get into the woods, Jack. Now!" \\\
Jack wakes up, feeling sore and uncomfortable.
The trip back to the monastery is long and bumpy. Jack feels lonely and dejected, and has little to say to his older friends. They suddenly seem remote to him, part of a separate world; his concerns are not theirs, theirs not his.
When they arrive, he disappears to his hiding place in the back of the tool shed, Borg at his heels. He usually thinks of it as a fort, but today it seems more like a dark dungeon. Sometimes he reads here but today he just sits. He sits and thinks, not moving. Borg wanders off.
Brother Andre is just catching up to Jack's mentor, "Brother Cyprios, I just had a conversation with Brother Boniface. He tells me Jack seems upset. Can you suggest any reason? I haven't noticed myself, but has he been acting different lately? Is he alright?"
"I think he will be. He had been sort of sleepwalking a couple of times but that's some time ago, and it's not uncommon with young children. I remember two of mine used to do that every once in a while."
"Tell me about that. How many times did it happen? Did he actually get up and walk around? Did he go outside?"
"Four or five times, I think. I found him outside once, he was just standing there, looking at the sky. I can't be sure if he was actually sleepwalking. He just quietly went back to bed when I suggested it, but he didn't say anything. And then a couple of times he came to my doorway and just stood there. Once he asked where his sandals were, that it was time for his lessons."
"Hmmn. Interesting. I wonder what causes that."
"I really don't know. I wouldn't doubt it's the result of some stress, some tension."
"I suppose so. Please let me know if anything like that happens again."
The monastery was built over two hundred years ago, but has been intermittently renewed and repaired. One of the modern features is a terrace of concrete flagstones. The stones are about two inches thick, and fourteen square, with a smooth upper surface. Jack often plays here with Borg.
He comes to the edge of this terrace, and sits there, looking at the stones. He wonders where Borg is. Must be out chasing squirrels.
How dull and uninteresting, all these square stones. Every one of them is exactly like every other one. Each one is a perfect square, each one is absolutely level, and they're not even staggered, just side by side. Boring and square and even. Forever, in all directions.
No, not quite! Over there. It's one with a broken corner. It's different. It stands out from the others. It is more real. It can never be the way it was before it broke. It has been liberated, rescued from the curse of eternal sameness. It has a uniqueness now, like a personality.
I should rescue some of the others from the boring sameness. I know, in the tool shed is a big sledge hammer. A huge rough wooden handle pushed into a big block of hard wood held together with two bands of steel. That should work.
Jack gets the sledge hammer, and taps a corner.
Yes. That works nicely. Now those two stones will have separateness, distinctness. Two of them are liberated. I wonder how it would look if I hit one right in the middle.
The wooden block just bounces off, with a dull thump. Harder! With a big swing!
Oh, look. The flagstone shatters from the center out in a crystal frost pattern like a snow flake. A star is born! This stone will be different from any stone that was ever made! Wow.
And Jack hits the next one. And the next one. He spends a good half hour, exploding stars inside the squares.
He is tired, and can no longer see the patterns. He puts the sledge hammer back in the shed, and wanders off to the kitchen for a snack.
Brother Rudolph helps him to a bowl of stew.
"I don't know how you can eat so much, Jack. You eat more than most of the Brothers, and you're only a boy."
"I just get hungry, Brother Rudolph. I get really hungry."
"Where were you? Brother Cyprios was looking for you. He said you seemed very quiet. Is anything wrong?"
"No, not a thing. I'm fine. What could be wrong? I was just looking at some stars."