By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published July 22, 2010
I once went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina to spend a week with my family. We do not get together that often, since we live many miles apart from each other. So it was good to see them, good to catch up on many things.
In the mornings I would sit on the balcony with a cup of coffee and that was a very peaceful time for me. On the first morning there, I watched a man, who seemed to be in his early 30s, make his way to the beach. He was disabled—his feet were slightly turned in wrong directions and his legs were very thin, out of proportion to the rest of his body. He used a cane as he took each step, making progress with an obvious and great expenditure of energy. It was a real labor for him to walk, to do what comes to most of us unthinkingly and effortlessly. He would make it to the beach and then turn around and head back, only to turn around again and head back to the beach. He made at least four trips like that every morning. He kept his eyes straight ahead and never looked up, or, as far as I could see, to his right or left.
Perhaps, now that I am thinking about it, it may have been a way of keeping his balance and determination to get where he had to go. No distractions.
We see people walk all the time. Well, you have to walk to get from one place to another. Most of us would not say that walking with ease is a gift—unless you are like that man, for whom getting from here to there takes a lot of sweat, determination and effort. Maybe he has thought how it is that others are so gifted, as if the whole world glides by on sure roads, with straight feet and legs, and no canes. But then again he may not have the space in his mind to think about such things, for he has to get to where he needs to go and each step absorbs his full attention.
I was riding with Mark, one of our monks, on the way back to the monastery from the airport. I noticed that he was taking a different way back, like going out of his way. He approached an intersection and there was a man there, with his hat in his hand. Mark pulled over and gave the guy a few dollars.
“Someone is always here,” he said. “It is just hard for some people to get going to a better place in life. They get kind of stuck.”
I never forgot what he said.
And I can still see that man’s face, on a road in the Outer Banks, struggling so to walk in the morning but getting to where he needed to go. He walked with great care and a kind of grace.
The morning is beautiful in the Outer Banks. Mornings are beautiful everywhere and shared by everyone in the whole world. Life is a gift.
The effort to rise to it and to move to that place where the sun rises and shines is the meaning of life. We learn about it at different times and ways in our lives. Mark goes out of his way to help others in need.
And that man walking on the road gives me pause to think about his family and friends—and how he is a gift to them. They have had to slow down to help him move through life.
Grace is a gift, and it comes through the taking of detours. A man with wounded legs finds the road and the sun every morning and moves toward the light. All who know and love him help his steps become more bearable. Mark takes a different way home, leaving a more familiar path. In a way, it is the best way home and to each other.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery online store at www.abbeystore.com