Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston (part 4)

In the latter half of the 1990's I began sharing my stories on my website at Several years earlier I'd been told that no matter how good a writer you are, the publishing houses will not seriously consider you unless you have written a novel. Up until the internet age a short story writer would spend his or her time sending manuscripts to literary magazines in the hopes of finding an audience. Overnight, the world wide web became a game changer. Writers could now connect with readers around the globe.

In 2011, when I decided to assemble my stories into eBooks, I pulled them from off my website. Recently, I returned them to the Short Stories page there, more interested in having readers than selling eBooks. This is an excerpt from a longer story that became a centerpiece in my eBook Newmanesque. It's a story about writers, a favorite theme for many a writer of one sort or another. (eg. Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham.)

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In an effort to learn more about Richard Allen Garston, our hero Joe Urban has learned that one of the two people familiar with Garston's stories has passed away. The second has taken up residence in a Trappist monastery. Joe sets about on a quest to locate the now reclusive Gary Spencer.

The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston (part 4)

Princeton Seminary Library is one of the most comprehensive in North America, if not the world. It seemed probable to me, therefore, that I would not come up empty handed were I to begin my search here and, in point of fact, this presumption was correct. With the able assistance of Linda Gallagher in their reference department, I located the names and addresses of a dozen Trappist monasteries in the United States. I learned that worldwide there are as many as ninety communities of Trappist monks and nearly sixty of Trappistine nuns.

Many of the monasteries are affiliated so that one of the original houses will assume responsibility for the monasteries that are spin-offs. Since Trappists are famed chiefly for their Vows of Silence, I was surprised to learn that while this is a spiritual discipline that is practiced, it is not a mandatory absolute for all of life. Hence they participate in councils and other rather ordinary affairs and interactions, including the conduct of business enterprises to fund their work.

If Gary Spencer had removed himself to Trappist life, he had not necessarily placed himself in permanent incommunicado. In other words, if I could find him, perhaps he could speak with me and shed further light on the mystery of Richard Allen Garston.

I wrote letters to the nearest monasteries first-- St Joseph's Abbey in New England, Genesee Abbey in New York, and Holy Cross Abbey in Virginia. Genesee Abbey replied within the week and said there was no Gary Spencer in their ranks. More than a month passed before I received answers from the other two communities. This displeased me. I wondered if my inquiries had not provided enough detail.

I followed up with letters to New Melleray Abbey, Abbey of Gethsemani, Abbey of the Holy Spirit, Mepkin Abbey, and the many other Trappist monasteries scattered across North America. Abbey of Gethsemani was the only one from which I received no reply. The other Abbeys likewise asserted that they had no knowledge of a Gary Spencer in residence.

The following spring Lynn had booked a business trip to Lousiville, Kentucky, not far from the Abbey of Gethsemani mentioned above. Being of a curious frame of mind I decided to tag along and visit the monastery while she took care of her business. It seemed a good way to get a feel for Trappist life. The trip was not likely to interfere with my work since my writing was now at a near standstill.

While preparing for the journey I discovered that Gethsemani was the community of monks to which Thomas Merton had belonged. I recalled the name only vaguely from some references made by a high school social studies teacher I respected. I immediately borrowed several books from the library and tried to get a feel for Merton and for Trappist life. The whole idea of it, turning from the world, embracing solitude, somehow began to resonate with me. I've not been particularly religious after so many years in the world of commerce, and there began to be a stirring of old memories, recognitions, recollections from my childhood when it seemed that God and nature and harmony and natural beauty all pointed to something higher and better and purer to aspire to. I have always respected people who had a strong faith, whose lives demonstrated an adherence to their convictions.

LYNN AND I FLEW INTO LOUISVILLE on Saturday evening. She had a trade show to attend from Monday through Wednesday which gave us Sunday to drive down to Bardstown to find the Abbey. I had made arrangements to stay at a retreat center there through midweek and we would fly home on Thursday.

Our rented Ford Taurus explored many a winding road as we pursued Gethsemani. The remote splendor of rolling hills provided a picturesque preface for my visit. At last we drew near, entering by the south parking lot.

Once away from the car I became immediately aware of the silence. Not the silence of the place, but the silent sublimity of the setting. In this setting, so removed from the bustle of the world, no truck or train rumbled in the distance, no dogs barked their fool heads off, no man-made sound intruded the peace and poignancy that was present there. My senses savored it.

The main building is large, and even more imposing as one draws near. We walked past a small assembly of gravestones.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Lynn asked. The way she said it helped me realize she didn't care for the place. I, on the other hand, found myself drawn to it.

The retreats are unstructured, though monks are available for consultation and a conference in the evenings. Seven times a day the monks assemble in choir, celebrating the salvation of God in prayer and worship. In retrospect I must tell you that my initial emotion was one of being part of a grand tradition, swallowed up in a river of history.

In making our initial entrance to the grounds I didn't know what would greet me there. Suddenly the bells rang, announcing vespers. Supper would be in half an hour.

In retrospect it seems strange that I should come to this monastery to seek another, to find Richard Garston. Thomas Merton wrote that Gethsemani was a place set apart for our own discovery, to find ourselves. "In Your light we see light," wrote the Psalmist. In the silence of the heart we listen for the voice of God.

I hugged Lynn goodbye and watched her drive cautiously from the grounds. As I carried my bags to a registration room in the guesthouse I thought of Sean Connery arriving at the monastery in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. Murders and intrigue followed.

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If interested in reading the whole of this story, you can find it here at my original website where you may begin properly at the beginning

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