By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 7, 2016
I took a long walk in my hometown of Montclair, New Jersey. It was a route I had not walked in many years. Jimmy, my twin, and I used to walk that way home from the bus stop in high school. I was by myself and had my camera with me.
A friend of mine told me many years ago that it takes a while to organically root oneself in a place. He told me that when I had moved to a new parish, and it was only by going through some years there that I understood what he meant. People gradually become a part of you. It is why we feel an ache when it is time to move to a new place and new people.
I found as I walked along that memories long asleep within me slowly began to wake up. I had my camera and took a lot of pictures as I walked from the bus stop at Watchung Plaza, down several streets, on to our street—Christopher Street—and down to Columbus Avenue.
I realize that these names are just that for you, but perhaps you can reflect on those places in your life that settled deep within you, awaiting a walk through them again so that they might awaken.
All the stores that I knew in Watchung Plaza are long gone. New stores have taken their place. I remembered what those old stores were like, and I could see in my mind’s eye the people who worked in them, as well as the kids who hung out in the Plaza. The old delicatessen, the Chinese laundry, a pet store that was run by a blind man. Walt, who worked in a soda shop and lived above in a small apartment. He was found dead one day, on the floor of the apartment. I do not think he ever married and his fingers were stained yellow from the many Pall Malls he smoked.
The kids—Sue, Pauline, David, Brad, Jonathan, Linda, Beth, John. Details of each of them came back. And I wondered where they are these days.
I walked past a playground where Tom ran right into a chain link fence. He was running away from the police who were called by a woman who was suspicious of all the noise we were making. I remember the jarring clang of the fence when Tom ran into it. He managed to evade the police and the next day his forehead was adorned with a row of small X’s.
Turned out he was quite proud of them.
I headed on to Christopher Street and took my time, gazing at the houses. I do not think there is anyone left on our block—everyone we knew has moved away. A woman was talking with a friend of hers outside her house, and as I walked past she asked me if I would not mind telling her why I was taking pictures of the houses. I told her I used to live there many years ago. She seemed satisfied with that, and I wonder if she thought that there was reason to worry about me. I mentioned to her that everyone on the block that I once knew was gone and that we are all getting old. I quickly corrected myself and said that I was getting old. Then I continued on my way.
I stopped in front of our old house and felt a deep stirring within me.
It is of course impossible to go back and savor what it was all like when it happened, when it was for real. But it was enough for me to ponder the memories that I had. Yet those were tinged with sadness because of Jimmy and others who lived there, who became a part of me, and who are long gone.
Well. It is a New Year. My walk through life continues—a walk that has taken me to many places: a new home in Greenwich, the seminary, several parishes, and lastly, the monastery in Conyers, Georgia. So many people I came to know and love in all those places have become a part of me. And I will enter a New Year, where there will surely be more.
We all walk this life with God, a God who encourages us to walk into a New Year in faith and in hope. All that once was in the past has given way to so much that is new. It had to go. For such is the movement of life. But those in the past are still within me, even though we all had to follow paths into the future, where I have found that all that was takes a new hold on me, with love, and remembrance. I remembered them. And tried to capture on film where they lived and walked and loved.
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 web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.