Friday, April 22, 2011
It was here we used to walk, Brother Isaac and me. He was the only one who ‘got me’. He had a slow, laborious way about him, not only of walking, but of talking and of eating, and of carrying out tasks. Methodical, he was. Sometimes I wanted to hurry him up, impatient for an answer, or rushing to go somewhere else. But I could not rush him anymore than I could rush the leaves to grow on the trees, the daffodils to come up. And just like the leaves and the daffodils, it was always worth the wait. There must have been something about his slowness that made him wise. I yearned for that wisdom, but Brother Isaac would just smile and say ‘Ah, you are young. Wisdom will come later. And then you will wish you were young’.
‘What should I do, Brother Isaac? I’m confused’.
It was a February day and we were sitting on a bench. Brother Isaac pulled his greatcoat tighter around him to banish the cold. I didn’t feel the cold. I waited and heard the dead autumn leaves rustling in the breeze: a pile that had been swept against the edge of the path where we sat. A little sparrow flew down on the ground just in front of us, hopping along, its head fretfully jerking in different directions in response to sounds that I couldn’t hear. I gazed at it, amused by its ‘dance’, willing it to stay. A nearby dog’s bark startled it and away it flew to safety. I looked at Brother Isaac. Still there was silence. He looked so peaceful as always, his folded arms moving up and down with each breath.
‘My child, listen.’
I listened, willing him to go on. But he let me listen for longer. My foot scraped the dusty path as I tried to get comfortable, as comfortable as Brother Isaac looked. I noticed the far-off sound of a tractor ploughing and the whispering of the leaves in the trees. This was all life, I realised. All of this movement is caused by something living, some spirit. I’m not alone here.
‘Be still and listen to all of the sounds around you and the silence in-between. It is in this silence that you discover your self. Silence brings you in touch with your heart. Practice this and you will find answers.’
He heaved himself up, leaning against the back of the bench to steady himself. I remained seated as he did so, trying to take in all he said. It seemed a lot. I was not sure I would remember it.
I caught up with him easily along the path. The bell was now ringing in the chapel, calling four o’clock. This was when Brother Isaac retreated to his room for afternoon prayers. Every day. Day after day. And prayers in the morning and in the evening. I didn’t know how he did it.
As he shuffled along the path, using the stone walls at the sides to pull himself up the narrow steps, I followed slowly behind. At the tree he stopped, leaning up against the coarse bark of the trunk to catch his breath.
‘This tree was here when I came here forty years ago, just the same as it was before. In all likelihood, it was there forty years before that. And in forty years to come, it will probably still be here. Think of all the changes that this tree has witnessed. Wars have been fought, babies have been born. There has been joy and sorrow. And people have worried, and made themselves ill from worrying. But life goes on. This tree doesn’t worry. It just lives.’
His expression was one of wonder. His eyes twinkled as his spoke.
‘But we’re not trees, Brother Isaac’.
I was stuck for something to say, not knowing how to respond to his thoughts. So I tried to say something funny.
‘No, that is true. We are not trees. But we can learn from trees. Just as we can learn from Nature. Always keep that in mind, my child. Trust’.
With that, he took his hand from the trunk of the tree, and placed it on my shoulder. I met his gaze, and felt that look of someone who cares; who properly cares and understands and doesn’t just say so to make himself feel better. The world is full of people who say things but don't mean them; who talk and talk and talk because it makes them feel good. But Brother Isaac says nothing. And yet his look, his touch, his presence says everything.