The ingenious and sometimes complex adaptations that have been made over the years to our beloved structures on this beloved spot of land have sometimes confounded even the most seasoned of craftsmen. Yesterday I saw two workmen peering at some Annunciata Hall plumbing as if they were looking into an abyss. One of them said in wonderment: “I’ve been to two World’s Fairs and I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Indeed.
I’ve enjoyed overhearing comments of workmen as the construction has unfolded, and this comment was one of the best. It is testimony to the complexity of a 110 year old original structure, with adjacent structures subsequently added, and many of these structures adapted to various uses over the years – all of it done on a shoestring budget but with good materials and , if not done by professionals, then by very resourceful employees.
The various creative adaptations are sometimes ingenious, sometimes simply clever, and sometimes head-scratchingly perplexing. I think the workman yesterday encountered all three in one fell swoop.
The expressions of the men, not to mention the quote, reminded me of the mystery that each of us is to one another. Here in the monastery, we live in close proximity and see each other at close range day in and day out. Even though we live a life in common, we each approach this life with a unique personality and a distinctive manner of being. This variety can be beautiful, but there are times when another’s approach to something can be head-scratchingly perplexing and we ponder the mystery of their actions or ideas as if staring blankly into an abyss. We’ve “never seen anything like this before,” and it can be confounding, perhaps even frustrating.
The encounter with the mystery of the other is part of what is at times lovely and at times challenging about monastic life. We each bring to this common life our whole complex self – gifts, weaknesses, temperaments, unique ways of being, adaptations we’ve made over the years – and yes, our brokenness. Our challenge is to gaze at the mystery of the other not with judgment but with compassion and wonder, knowing that we, too, are a mystery that others may find perplexing, and perhaps even frustrating.
There is a kind of “World’s Fair” quality to community life – all of us gathered together from different places and with various backgrounds and each of us a unique, wondrous sight to behold. For each one of my Sisters it is true that “I’ve never seen anyone like this before.” I pray that I can see them with eyes open to the wonder of their being, ingeniously created, formed, and cherished by God.
Postscript: Some of the interesting non-construction-related items uncovered in the course of renovation were classroom chalk boards that had been covered over by subsequent walls. We’ve seen the remains of old Latin lessons, directions to a rerouted Algebra class, and other such finds. Above is a chalk board drawing of more recent vintage but which nevertheless had been relegated to an unseen corner of the basement – that is, until we cleaned the basement out. It was drawn by Sr. Therese for a retreat group about ten or so years ago.
For a previous blog post about the creative genius of some of our employees, see the September 2, 2012 “Wonderland” entry in the archives above left.