First Love

Monastic Monday

Br. Monday is beginning to wonder if that’s how the porter house burned down…

In today’s retreat conference, Br. Monday is about to learn two valuable lessons…

When I was five years old, my brother and I burned our garage down. It was a big accident.

In the small town where I grew up, in north Idaho, the fire department was volunteer. This meant that a loud siren had to sound in the town to call the volunteers from their scattered posts so they could go rushing to the firehouse and then to the fire. The local radio would announce without delay where the fire was. This was so that, hearing the news, some volunteers could go directly to it. But the announcement was also made to satisfy the immediate curiosity of all in the town; for, of course, we all cared about and were interested in a fire.

My brother and my sister and I were having lunch with the babysitter when the siren began to blow. My brother jumped up and ran into the kitchen to turn on the radio and learn where the fire was. From the kitchen he could see the garage, which was a separate building from the house. He cried out, “It’s our house!” Panic immediately entered into me. Running to the window with my sister and the babysitter, we saw huge flames leaping out of the roof of the two-story building. yes, it was on fire.

A crowd gathered on the lawn to watch the drama unfold. It was a stunning scene for a five-year-old boy under any circumstances, but the effect was ten times the stronger for it being “our house.” This effect would be further intensified later when in my young mind I finally put two and two together and realized that what my brother and I had been up to in the garage earlier in the morning was likely cause of this blaze. But in the first phase, that awareness had not yet dawned.

During this same period of my life, there was a girl in my kindergarten group whom I liked, and she liked me. I noticed I felt about her something different from what I felt about the other girls whom I also liked. I suppose it was a sort of first love, though I didn’t know to call it such at the time. But the fire provided evidence of my unique feelings for her. I saw her in the crowd gathering to watch the spectacle, and I remembered  thinking, “Oh no! Oh no!” Just then she saw me and came running over excitedly. She grabbed my hand and held it as we both gazed toward the blaze. She was thrilled and asked in solemn wonder, “Whose house is it?” I realized in the midst of my panic that she didn’t realize it was mine. So, trying to match in the tone of my voice her own pleasure at the flames, I said, “I don’t know.” But I could bear the pressure of this lie only momentarily. I snatched my hand from hers and went running off in a panic down the street to the house of my aunt and uncle. It was never the same again between us after that. Our love could not survive a lie. It was a good lesson. I learned also another classic lesson at this moment of my life: not to play with matches.

Source: A Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll

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