I had already spent 3 years in high school at St. Peter’s where my English teachers expected far more than simple summarization of what we had read. As set out by contributor, Dennis Gruending, Father James continued the process in university challenging us to delve into the novels, short stories, poetry and plays we read during the year. As with the best teachers, he wanted us to think about what we were reading and be not afraid to express those thoughts.
Until that class I had thought of Huck Finn as an entertaining Disney movie. That winter I came to appreciate the richness of the relationship between Huck and Jim.
Gulliver’s Travels had been a comic book fantasy. It shifted to a sophisticated satire upon the society of its time.
Reading Lord of the Flies pushed me to look into my adolescent heart and consider whether savagery lurked there merely waiting opportunity.
I did not maintain a personal relationship with Father James after that year. We would occasionally see and greet each other at College events. He became a bush dweller after I left St. Peter’s.
It was during those years from 1972 to 2002 while he was living his solitary life that he formed relationships with most of the contributors to the book.
It was striking to read in so many essays how the relationships concluded in the last days of his life. A majority of the essayists wrote of special memories from his closing days when all, especially Father James, knew the end was near.
Many reached out for a final connection. All knew he did not dread death. He had told writer Anne Strachan:
I asked if he was afraid. He responded that for him, death held no fear. “Strange, in monasteries,” he wrote, “death seems more ‘comforting’ than ‘sorrowing’ …. Knowing God’s loving forgiveness, why should we fear death? Dying itself may be less than pleasant, but how else is one to ‘make the crossing over’ to a better condition of life?!”
How many people have such a group of friends seeking to ease final days and to share a few more moments of conversation? Father James, a contemplative monk, was a remarkable man to bring forth such love.
Two years ago a slender volume, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, had a profound impact upon me as I dealt with cancer treatment. This winter Bush Dweller has equally moved me. It is a book to savour and a life to reflect upon as I rush into another day.
This summer when I sit upon my deck I will think of Father James. I resolve to become a little closer to the birds of my yard. (Feb. 9/12)http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2012/02/bush-dweller-essays-in-memory-of-father_22.html