by Nicholas P. Snoek
Near Yatung, December 1940
"Brother Andre, Brother Andre, come quick! Come see!"
"Calm yourself, Brother Guillaume, calm yourself, and tell me what is the matter."
"Someone left a baby at the gate. A little newborn baby! And it's all fuzzy and hairy. And it's crying! Come! Quick! It's crying!"
"May the Lord have mercy on us, what's happening now. Well, let's go and see this marvel. A crying, fuzzy baby. Was anyone there? Was there no one with the baby?"
"No one at all, Brother Andre. There was nobody in sight. They never even knocked or anything. The wood hauling party was just going out for the day, and when they opened the gate, there it was. It wasn't crying then. It started crying after they picked it up. And it hasn't stopped."
"Alright, alright. Go to the kitchen and tell Brother Rudolph to prepare a drink of goatmilk with dripping of soaked oatmeal and a little honey. Do you understand?"
"Oatmeal? And honey? Brother Andre, are these things to give to a baby? Should we not find a nurse for it?"
"Brother Guillaume, do you think the baby should continue to cry? Now this is not the way to the kitchen. Go speak to Brother Rudolph. Go directly to Brother Rudolph and deliver your message."
The good monk scurries away.
Brother Andre is an older man, of medium height, with thin gray hair radiating from his head as if absentmindedly scattered there by afterthought. He has a talent for being forceful and kind at the same time. Accustomed to being heard and heeded, he bears the concomitant responsibility with quiet confidence.
Seventeen years ago, when he first approached his bishop in New Jersey about his ambition to set up a lay Christian monastery in remote Bhutan, he encountered a stone wall of resistance. But he quietly and firmly persisted, meeting each objection with just the right blend of thorough preparation, having things already in place, so that eventually, like a dam giving way before the relentless waters of a spring thaw, he prevailed. And aside from a monthly letter to the bishop, consisting mostly of chatty news, he has been running this outpost of Christianity without let or hindrance from anyone, for almost eighteen years now.
Two members of the wood party are at the gate. One of them is wandering back and forth, talking to and shaking a blanket bundle. He sounds a little desperate.
"The Lord be with you, good Brother. And what have you got there. Is it as Brother Guillaume said? A fuzzy baby in your husky arms? What a sight is this! Yes, yes. A restless, oh my, a very hairy baby. Well, give it to me, and be on your way. You may yet catch the others if you hurry."
Brother Andre takes the bundle to the kitchen. A portly monk, classic caricature, with a dark head-band of hair accentuating an otherwise bald head, is standing by the counter, frowning at a bowl.
"Well Brother Rudolph, how fare you this morning? Do you have the baby's breakfast ready? You do. Good. So let me see you feed the baby. Now don't fuss. Just feed the baby."
"But Brother Andre, we have no nipple! How can the baby eat without a nipple to suck on?"
"Mmm, yes, let me see. Ah. We have some nipples, we certainly do. There's some rubber gloves in the storage room. Cut the little finger off a glove, turn it inside out, make a little hole in the end, and stretch it onto a bottle of this wonderful baby breakfast. That should work just fine, alright?
I must go to chapel now to lead mid-morning prayer. When the baby is fed, find some suitable cloths and see if a change of habit is in order. Diapers, yes, replace the baby's diaper with a clean cloth. Then come to prayer. We will understand if you're a bit late."
In the chapel some fifty lay brothers are at prayer. They finish with a sonorous chant. `Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum....'
Brother Andre addresses the group.
"Brothers in the Lord. This morning we were blessed with a special visit; a newborn baby was brought to us. It was left at the gate, as if by an angel. And so far, we have no way of knowing who brought it here.
We must consider this a trial. A test of our worthiness as Lay Brothers of Jesus.
We instructed Brother Rudolph to care for the baby before joining us here. I do not see him among us; we must presume he has had some difficulty. In any case, you are to know we have a new young life in our midst.
Unless and until we find who brought it here, we must adopt this little one. If any of you are asked to take part in this task you will do so with your customary diligence and care, and without question.
Now, if there is one among you who may be more suited than the others, either by experience or interest, to care for this little creature personally, please come and speak to me before our evening meal. In the meantime, Brother Boniface, will you choose a companion to go to Sombe with you to acquire the necessary supplies. Come and see me when you're ready to leave.
Brothers one and all, may God be with you."
Brother Andre goes back to the kitchen.
"Well Brother Rudolph, it seems your babycare duties have entirely replaced mid-morning prayer. Tell me how this has come about. What is the problem?"
"Brother Andre, please forgive me. I tried everything, but my clumsy old fool hands... this tiny baby. I can't get it to stop crying. I fed it and changed it and still he cries and cries. He won't stop!"
"It's a boy, then. Good. Now, if he's changed and fed... Let's see. Have you burped him?"
"Yes, burped him. You pick him up, put his head over your shoulder, and pat his back gently like this, to encourage him to burp. A baby does not have the control or the strength to relieve stomach gases by himself. So you help him along a little. There! You see? He should be okay now. He will likely want a nap."
"Brother Andre, I'm worried about the baby's... skin."
"The baby's skin, Brother? Is there a problem with the baby's skin?"
"Well, the hair all over, almost like down. Or fur."
"Don't upset yourself, Brother Rudolph. What you see is called lanugo. Every now and then a baby is born with this woolliness. It goes away after a few days.
See, he's dozing off. I'll go speak to Brother Joseph about making a cradle for this little fellow. God be with you, Brother. I trust you'll be saying some private prayers."
Brother Andre makes his way to the carpentry shop, where a monk is intently measuring some boards.
"Brother Joseph, it would be good if our little baby had a cradle, so he could sleep in a small and secure place without fear of falling."
"Yes Brother Andre, I thought you might come for this, so I've already selected some good cedar boards. A cradle will be ready very shortly. A good sturdy cedar bed. I made this drawing of a cradle or crib that will rock or stand solid... just put in or take out two little spacers, right here."
"Brother, you're a model of industry. Carry on, carry on."
Brother Andre retires to his study. He is in deep meditation when a tall gaunt monk knocks at the door. The petitioner resembles Abraham Lincoln, with rough hewn features, deep set eyes and tight unruly dark hair, but happily a somewhat smaller nose.
"Brother Andre. I should like to care for this baby."
"Ah, yes. Brother Cyprios. I'm so pleased you came forward. You are the one here who best combines the qualities this little one will need in a mentor. You're a teacher, and you have been a wise and caring father. We haven't forgotten how you lost your family. Nor have we failed to note your diligence in the library. Your beloved Shakespeare, no doubt. Brother Cyprios, I understand you're writing a book? Another Elizabethan study?"
"Yes Brother Andre, I am."
"And are you certain your new duties and your book will not be a conflict for you, so you would not be serving two masters?"
"Yes Brother Andre, I am."
"Good, good. Alright, you will go to Brother Joseph and ask him to give you the cradle when it's ready. I will instruct Brother Boniface to bring the baby supplies to your room. When you have prepared these things and your quarters are ready, you may go to Brother Rudolph for the baby. After some months we will see about moving you to adjoining cells, so the little one will sleep in his own room, accessible to yours.
Now, it's Friday today. Try to think of a name, so we may baptize him on Sunday."
"Yes Brother Andre, I will do so."
"One more thing, Brother Cyprios. The baby may not be what you expect. He is covered with an unusual amount of hair. This does happen with some babies and will normally clear up in a few days. But this one has more of a furriness. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
Just be forewarned that we may not have a normal child here, and that could be why it was brought to us. We'll be anxious to hear your observations as the baby gets a little older. And I trust you will be quietly discreet about this."
"Yes, Brother Andre."
"Good. You will assume he is a normal human child. I think the best approach would be to treat this little foundling as if he were your son."
"Yes Brother Andre, that would be best."
"Very well. Now, one more thing. It's conceivable that someday his parents or other relatives may come forward and claim this baby. We must therefor keep a record of any and all events in which such persons would have any interest, partly for their better knowing the child, and partly for us to demonstrate that we are doing our best for him.
So, as today is the 20th of December, and we have no better information, we suggest your first entry should place his birthdate as 18 December 1940. Then make a record as best you see fit, of all current and future events that you think might be of interest to his parents."
"Yes Brother Andre, I will.