Not long ago a new tv show came out and I was immediate captivated. And, so was the rest of the world. I’m talking about 1883, the western set back in the pioneer days, following the Dutton family, the ancestors of John Dutton, the character on another great tv show, Yellowstone. But, sadly, it appears as if television people aren’t really all that bright when it comes to what projects to work on. While Hollywood consistent pumps out crap show after crap show, after this show wrapped its first season, it was announce that there would be no second season, but more episodes, then a second season but with different characters, then a different show entirely, to Taylor claiming he never intended on going beyond the first season to begin with.
At this point, I really would like to just give up on the future of television altogether. When they find something that actually works and has an interesting story and fascinating characters, they just cancel it, or live it in indefinite limbo (like Mindhunters). When it is crap on a shovel, mind you, they pump out hundreds of episodes.
So, as I finish up my second viewing of 1883, I’m left with mixed feelings. They did actually close the story out, sort of. Elsa died in the end. We find out why the ended up in Montana instead of Oregon. We discover that Shea killed himself once he reached the beach, and that Thomas and Noema found land and a life and hope and love in the Willamette Valley.
But that’s it. We can’t expect now to ever know what became of James Dutton, his wife, or Thomas and his family, or the two camp hands that rode off toward the end of the season.
But, as I watched this time around, I took some notes on the show that I thought I would share, regardless of the writer or producers’ poor judgment and inability to read a room….
Great Quotes from the Show
So, to start off with, I collected all the quotes that I dearly loved from the show for one reason or another. I’ll list those here and comment on each one.
James meets his family at the train station after having arrived in town. He greets each one of them and then as they are walking off the platform, he greets his sister, Claire, who has accompanied his family from Tennessee after the death of not only her husband but also six of their seven children. She is accompanied by her youngest and last living child, Mary Abel. As they depart the platform, James offers her condolences on the death of her husband, stating that he was a very patient man while he was alive. Her response, “There is nothing to be sorry about. It is the Lord’s will. You can’t believe in heaven and then be sad when people go there.”
I really like the sentiment behind this quote, and I’ve thought this for a very long time, having been exposed for many years in my early 20s to the modern evangelical folk theologies that seem to swirl around them. There does seem to be a rather bizarre disconnect between many modern Christians and death. Too often it is seen as a sadness, as a loss, as if death is something terrible that should be avoided altogether.
But, doesn’t death equal peace and bliss in heaven? After all, Paul concluded, “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Co 5:8). Doesn’t this mean that death is ultimately good, since the prevailing theology is that once we die we are immediately transported to heaven where we wait to return with Christ at the second coming (only to be boomeranged back to the sky, then to Jerusalem, then back to heaven).
The reality is, most people are afraid of death. If someone isn’t, it’s typically because this life has been so abysmal that death is seen as a positive, as at least a release from suffering if nothing else. the Bible, though, is pretty clear on what happens to us after we die, though most modern theologies simply can’t handle it. The Bible depicts an intermediate state, between life and death, where humans are held captive by death in a place called “hades.” Is it a misnomer that people who die go to hell. In fact, it is inaccurate to say there is a hell at all. There are actually two destinations for the condemned. First there is a temporary deposit in Hades, where the lost suffer torment. Hades is the prison created at the fall when death was introduced to all men. It is unclear who’s idea Hades was. Maybe Satan knew God would create it if he could get the two humans to disobey. Maybe it was his idea and Satan created Hades (nothing indicates that – or that created beings can really create anything ex nihilo). Regardless of its origin, Hades is a Greek word that is often translated as Hell in English Bibles, though I’m not certain I understand why (other than to support the simplified doctrine of “hell” in modern evangelicalism and to suppress the doctrine of the intermediate state altogether).
What most pastors or preachers or Bible teachers are too uncomfortable to discuss is that the situation is not much better for the saved. And this would include all types of saved people: OT saints, NT saints, and even those who die believing in the end times. They all are carried away to Hades by angels who deposit them (imprison them) in what we can only assume is a segment of Hades known as Paradise, in the presence and under the care of Abraham (the father of all who live by Faith). The word παραδείσῳ is often given the definition of “a park,” the “garden of Eden,” or a “pleasure-ground.” But Louw-Nida seems to come closest in, “a dwelling place of the righteous dead,” though even they conclude that this is a “state of blessedness.” My issue with this conclusion is a single word in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, particularly in the term Abraham uses for Lazarus, that “now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Lu 16:25). It is παρακαλεῖται and indicates that someone is in need of encouragement, or is in need of aid. We don’t actually see or hear from Lazarus himself in this account. But I think in this one remark by Abraham, we can glean a great deal. Or, at least, pose some important questions. Why is Lazarus in need of some kind of encouragement or aid if he is in a state of blessedness? Why is he in a place within communicative proximity to Hades and the interm place of torment? Isn’t he supposed to be in heaven? There is an argument that the intermediate state for saints existed until Jesus died, that during his 3 days in death he “set the captives free” and they left with him. But we do not see any description of this at all in the text. We don’t see anyone else with him at his resurrection sightings. This kind of argument is assumption in an attempt to make the intermediate state more palatable. Personally, I am convinced that death is a terrific ordeal, one that wreaks havoc on the soul when it is rent from the body and the spirit is released and returns to the Father – the living being is destroyed and all that remains is the disembodied soul – battered, beaten, broken, and now imprisoned in an unnatural cell. This must have been Satan’s ultimate solution to the human problem (or whatever issue he had with the Father), to trap us for all eternity as neither fully Sons of God nor as mortal but still living beings. It would, over the course of time, effectively free the earth of any living human (as soon as man makes the ultimate fatal mistake and kills himself off).
It is odd, though, how little trust people put in death. How few societies or peoples or families actually celebrate the passing of a loved one, as if they were actually leaving this world and joining with Christ. Most often, people act as if the dead are precipitately condemned to a fate that is altogether worse than living, when, according to the prevailing theologies, it should be the opposite.
Another great quote I found in episode two, when James is talking to his wife he tells her he’s taking their oldest daughter on a ride to gather wild cows. Her response was, “How am I supposed to make her a lady when you keep treating her like a man?” His response, “There are plenty of ladies in this world. But we’re pretty short on decent men.”
This is very similar to the situation we have today in modern society. A shortage of quality. It is the same issue in modern churches. Same issue in public schools. Same issue in the workplace. It is a shortage, but not just of decent men, but of quality people of any gender. There is a shortage of honesty, a shortage of dependability, of a sense of honor. It is a shame and a sadness for those who have to exist during this period of social and moral decay, of societal atrophy. Privileges that were afforded almost as a right to previous generations are simply no longer available for many in this world today. There are really no solutions for it either.
At the end of episode three there is a monologue that Elsa gives that I think is by far the best in the entire “movie.” She states, as the wagon train moves out, “Looking back there were two journeys. One was filled with danger and death and despair. The other, adventure and wonder. I was on the latter, and I loved it. I didn’t know enough to know they would collide. I didn’t know enough to know how cruel and uncaring this world could be. The world doesn’t care if you die. It won’t listen to your screams. If you bleed on the ground, the ground will drink it. It doesn’t care that you’re cut. I told myself, when I meet God, it will be the first thing I ask him: why make a world with such wonder and then fill it with monsters? Why make flowers and then snakes to hide beneath them. What purpose does the tornado serve? Then it hit me. He didn’t make this world for us.”
I find it fascinating that she prophesies here concerning her own future death, as if she were looking back on it from the other side, or maybe in that time when she was wounded and knew she would at some point die of her wounds. Now that I’ve finished watching 1883 and have started binging Yellowstone, I half expected to see Beth pull out or mention reading her great-aunt Elsa’s diary and read some of the same things that we hear on the 1883 show.
The truth is, we have no idea what the future holds. At the beginning of the series, Elsa believed she was on the first second path of adventure and wonder. If she was, they both led to the same place. Her death. Her death instigated the founding of the Dutton Ranch in Montana instead of in Oregon. If she had lived, they would never have settled where they did. They might have gone on to Oregon, lived their lives, and never be heard from again. They might have all died from illness or an accident on the trail. The counterfactuals are endless and spiderweb in all directions. But, instead, Elsa’s two journey’s collided and she both had adventure and discovery as well as death and dismay. That death put her entire family tree on another collision course with the future. Just like the actions of my great-great-great (7 or so back) grandfather, John, in Scotland, set his entire family tree on a collision course with the life I was born into. My parents and grandparents and all the way up the line were all quite penniless and low rung when it comes to social status. But, my ancestor, John, was a wealthy man who owned a castle. But his financial missteps bled him dry and forced the sell of the family estate. If not for that, it is entirely possible that I would be living in that castle today (or might have died in it). But then again, any change at all might have actually meant I was never born, since I would need both sides of the lineage to produce who I am, at least genetically. To produce the person I am today I need not only the genetics, but I also need the exact same environment in which to be raised in. Change much at all and I cease to be who I am currently. Never have God interactive supernaturally in my life at 17, and there is no telling what kind of person I would have become, or who I would be. This person I’ve been for the last 30+ years would no longer exist.
In episode 4, Elsa is telling her mother about how she doesn’t regret sleeping with the cowboy who is sweet on her. Her mother replies, “Just once I’d love to the see the world through your eyes. One day you’ll see through mine, though, and it breaks my heart.”
I had to come back and change my comment here because Elsa does, in fact, see through her mother’s eyes. In episode 5 she makes the comment after her boyfriend is shot to death, “I’d known death since I was a child, it’s everywhere. But it had never touched me. It had never placed it’s rotten finger on my heart. Until today. Today my eyes died. I see the world through my mother’s eyes now. Yes, freedom has fangs and it sunk them in me.” I have felt this way much of my life. Death has come close, but not really that close. My dog as a child. A friend in high school committed suicide. My grandparents, but I was never really close to them, or their death and my lack of emotional response indicates more about me than it does about them or death. My father is now near death. But I’m not particularly close to him either. I have not kept up with people from school or the military. I have no actual friends, save maybe one, and that one just barely. Death will not severely impact me until my own death, unless God sees to it to bring me a wife in the future, then all bets are off. I know of too many people who have found the love of their lives only to lose them in auto wrecks, or to illness. C.S. Lewis was married only 4 years before his wife died of cancer. A pastor was in the news not long ago having lost his wife only a few years after they were married in a car wreck. If it’s not to death, then to divorce, to infidelity, to lies, to something. But I don’t think this will actually occur – being presented with someone who would want to marry me. It is much different today than it was 18 years ago when I convinced my last wife to marry me. And even that, she turned out to be a liar and fundamentally based our entire marriage on dishonestly. If that was the best I could do back then, I have no chance now in attracting a quality mate (if there is such a thing to begin with). Personally, I don’t think death will touch me until it is my turn to die. I am not anxious about it. I don’t think I fear it. Maybe I even look forward to escaping this godawful planet. But I have come close to death. I’ve had the decision before me and yet I still chose to fight and to ultimately live. So there must be something in my life that I still find satisfying enough to make me want to fight to keep it.
In episode 7, Elsa describes her mother’s words by the fire after the gunfight the day before, “she said she killed a man over a horse, and now John (her youngest son) was the only hope our family has to reach heaven. I didn’t have the heart to tell her there is no heaven to go to, because we’re in it already. We’re in hell, too. They coexist, right beside each other. And God is the land.”
I’ve seen this kind of description several times in these types of shows: how God is represented by the Land itself. I’m not certain I understand it, other than the land is bigger than everyone and most of the people depicted are not really Christian or theologically sound, but are an amalgam of folk theologies and superstitions and a whole lot of sin. Death, murder, an eye for an eye, rage, vengeance, lust, satisfying the flesh, misery. It all seems to go hand in hand in Taylor’s version of the West.
The rest of the episodes really turned into personal narration that I found less than inspiring. At this point, Elsa was on her way to dying, and I felt a sense that the show had made an abrupt shift from it’s earlier ideas.
What Must it Have Been Like?
I find it fascinating that the people during this period ever really survived life at all. James Dutton moved his family from Tennessee to Texas and then took them in wagons from Texas and made it as far as Montana before he lost his oldest daughter, Elsa, and chose to remain there in Montana instead of going on to Oregon. What it must have took to be responsible for those women and children? When he tells his eldest daughter to not wander off that the town they were in was a “dangerous town” really struck me. They were nearly constantly in peril. Jeopardy was all around them, constantly being pushed away by their sweat and struggle. People today have no concept – I have no concept – of what the reality of life was like for them. Just the getting of the horse and carriage for his family ahead of time must have been quite the task. To have it ready for them at the station. To have procured hotel rooms. To have made the money necessary to afford all of that and all their provisions for the trip. There were no cozy jobs like the job I have today, where I drive a car to work, listening to a podcast or a music playlist on my phone, where I have a comfortable office (my chair is really not all that comfortable) with a ridiculous view, I work alone, in climate control, and when my 8 hours are done, I travel in that car the same way I came, pull into my driveway, get out and walk 10 paces to my front door, go inside and lay down in my hammock and spend the rest of the night watching tv or writing on my blog or studying the Bible. I have indoor plumbing, a really nice shower with hot water on demand. Any yard work is really just to stave off boredom and to get a little outside exercise (and because I’m cheap), because, lets me honest, I can afford to hire a local company to take care of my landscaping.
But their life, as imaginary as it is, was real for countless generations of people. The life I enjoy today is founded on the blood, sweat, tears, and unspeakable loss of countless of people that have gone before me. The person or people who built the house I live in. The people who built the roads I drive on. Who brought the train through at the turn of the century. This land I live in at one time, not very long ago, was wild and all but insurpassable.
Winter was another threat akin to death. It loomed large in the minds of the people who had been through a few of them. It was nothing like today, with winter being a nuisance that we begrudgingly accept, but really has little actual effect on our lives. For them, winter was a death march. Every year someone died. Many people died. In some places and at some times everyone did. Winter was etched into their subconscious like a ravenous wolf, clawing at them from beyond the grave, coaxing them into complacency so when the dark days would come, they were easy pickings. Just as Thomas says, “There ain’t no good options, Captain. Winter’s just the worst option.” For him, it didn’t matter if they went west or doubled backed east. Every direction they went, every choice they made would lead them inevitably closer to the cold months, when people would no longer be able to just comfortably lay out on the ground and night to sleep or light a fire just when they wanted to cook their meal. Soon the temperatures would drop and the rain would begin, so would the snow, and the tornados, and the sleet, and the hail, and the wind.
Life during those days were anything but romantic. I imagined things and people smelled a great deal worse than we could possibly even imagine today. Death, like Elsa said, was everywhere. I can’t imagine it was easy. I can’t imagine anything was easy. In my life I live in my tiny house alone, I come and goes as I please any time of year, I have a vehicle that just needs gas and the occasional stop off at the mechanic, and it drives anywhere I want to go. I live my life between my house (where I spent 95% of my time lounging in a hammock), my property (still in a hammock), and my job. I commute twice a week to work. There is no traffic. My job is behind a desk in a private office, in a deserted building, with a spectacular view of giant trees and sand dunes off in the distance. Nothing in life really taxes me all that much. A few house repairs here and there. I go to the grocery store once a week after shopping for my food online. When I arrive they bring my food out to me and put it in my car for me. I have internet 24/7 that goes wherever I go. I have a laptop, phone, ereader book for reading books. I eat whatever kind of food I want that is available all year long. It is nothing at all like what they must have went through in the late 1800s. But what I find even more fascinating, the Duttons set out on their journey 33 years after all the atrocities had already occurred in Oregon. The native Americans had already been decimated in the region by smallpox. They had already been rounded up and imprisoned on the reservation. Oregon was generationally now open. Cleared of it’s previous inhabitants.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone survived at all.
Now About the Cancelation
I have to say, as I watch this series – movie – whatever you want to call it – a second time, I LOVE this show. It has me laughing, philosophizing, reconsidering my life choices, and then the young John says, “You wanna hunt for grasshoppers?” I can’t get enough of it. And then they go and rip this show right out from under me. From under us all.
I’m not sure what the actual calculus was in deciding there wouldn’t be a season 2. Not sure if the writer’s popularity grew too quick, if he amassed too much money in too little time and now realizes he doesn’t have to work so hard anymore, or if the ratings were quite what they thought, or it was an ignorant miscommunication between him and Paramount. Regardless of the reason, why walk away without finishing the story? Yes, Elsa died. That part of the story came to an end. But James and his wife’s story is not over. Little John’s story is not done. We know that Thomas and Noemi settled in the Willamette Valley, but there are at least two or three seasons of them alone that we could be enriched by, entertained by, fall in love with. If they had stayed the course Elsa wouldn’t of had to die to begin with, and who knows what would have come about once she reached Oregon.
I recognize there had to be a catalyst for the Dutton family to stop their journey in Montana. And there was no way to kill of little John. It could have been Jame’s wife that died, though, which would have taken the motivation out of James.
Personally, I think the writer is too accustomed to writing for movies than for television. The idea of 4 more seasons could have weighed heavy on someone who likes to finish a story in 2-3 hours.
Death the Great Universal
After Jame’s sister, Claire, kills herself after her last child dies, we find him digging her grave. The Captain asks, “No way to stop her?” James relies, “For what?”
What amount of pain is required for someone to take their own life? What mental calculations does one go through before they come to the conclusion that there is no options, no path forward that can alleviate the pain, the emotional turmoil, the circumstance they find themselves in? What had transpired in Claire’s life up to that point where this was the final straw, where she would proceed no further in the cosmic joke that is existence?
Today we expend a lot of resources in the view that suicide for any reason is wrong. Yet this was not always the case. When the hardness of life, when the betrayal of become reached a certain point, people saw the justification in taking one’s own life. Saw actually the honor of it. As the commanded said, “I admire her courage.” James replied, “It wasn’t courage.” Captain, “Yes, it was.” And then proceeded to dig with a knife.
Is there bravery in suicide? In giving up? In calling it quits? I knew a student in the Martial Arts who killed himself. We received the news the same day I was presented with my Black Belt by my instructor. I didn’t know him well, and he was younger than I was. But his death stuck with me for a long time. I still think about him from time to time. Wondering if he is still conscious, still existing out there somewhere, in another dimension, trapped, imprisoned in Hades perhaps, or something worse, or something altogether better? Maybe not at all. Maybe he ceased to exist the moment he died in his bedroom all those years ago. Was he brave? Was he courageous?
I’ve come face to face with such a decision in the past. When I had my heart attack, I was in my kayak paddling back from a day of working at the hermitage. I had just put in the deck that would later become my temp shelter, and it was mid winter. Just before reaching the first point, I felt it come on me like a ton of bricks, and once it began it really never stopped until hours later when I was sitting on the operating table and they threaded that cable into my artery and took out the blockage.
When I realized what was happening, or at least, had a good idea what was going on, I remember considering my options. I could go back to my property. Find a comfortable spot and lay down, wait for God to take me. Or I could push on and try to get back to the public dock where my car was parked and call for the paramedics. I knew which one I wanted. I wanted to die. I wanted to just lay down and close my eyes and just forget, or just disappear, or wake up in the presence of the angels that would be escorting me to the underworld.
Yet. That’s not what I did. Instead, I pushed on through the pain and paddled for another hour until I got back to the public dock and managed to get myself out of my kayak and up the ramp and across the parking lot to my car, hoping that the pain would subside, not understanding why I made the choice that I did.
I did not want to keep living, but I also, strangely, did not want to die. It was like an instinct kicked in at that moment when I could choose, that ran against everything I intellectually believed.
Looking back on that experience, I’ve come away with two options 1. I really don’t want to die or 2. The body is designed to fight death, even against the will of its host.
I’ve come to believe it’s #2. And I think it takes a great deal of emotional and psychological suffering to override the natural instinct in the body (or possibly the soul) to fight death in life. And this makes sense, of course. After all, death is not a natural experience. It is not just simply the natural passage of time. It is not a natural process. It is a consequence of the curse of Adam, for by Adam sin entered the world and through sin death entered into all men.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to carry and give birth to 7 children, then have them each one taken from you through illness or accident or some other mechanism of death, and then to have your husband also ripped from you as well. Claire was left alone on the bank of that river, stripped bare, with nothing in her soul any longer to live for, nothing worth fighting for. God, at least in her mind, had essentially abandoned her, or at least he had given her more than she could bear.
In the opening of episode 3, Elsa makes the following comment, “Death is everywhere on the prairie, in every form you can imagine, and a few your worst nightmare couldn’t muster. Death hides in creek beds, possesses animals, it hides in tall grass, waiting….Death was it’s own disease, and carelessness was contagious.”
By the end of the “movie,” Elisa came to her end. But, there were created in that short life she lived two distinct counterfactuals that never actually came to pass.
1. She could have married and remained with the Native American.
2. She could have gone on to Oregon with her family.
In the end, Elsa changed her own world and the world of her family, setting them on a completely different course that would echo throughout time, through her father’s surviving children, through John Dutton, the patriarch of Yellowstone, and on through the end of that show and his descendants that come after him. If Elsa had made a different choice. If she had chosen to stay with her Native American husband, she would have most likely lived on and had children of her own, and would have become great in her own right, lived among the natives until they were no more. She would have possibly grown old and her parents would have gone on to Oregon and the Yellowstone Ranch would never have been created, or at least, it would have been created by someone else, and all the events that transpired in that series would have either been done by others or would not have happened at all. Her parents might have arrived in Oregon, or died on the way. Their son might have died form illness or from accidental gunfire.
There are so many branches to our counterfactuals that it quickly becomes incomprehensible to keep account of them all. But God does. I wager God know everything that ever could have happened for everyone at every point in their lives. I truly hope there is a book that covers all the counterfactuals of my life. What if I had never been saved at 17? What if I had been a better husband to my wife? What if we had never divorced? What if I had accepted by co-worker’s advances? What if I had said yes to the throuple invitation?
After all that, after all the pain, the loss, the brutality, the suffering, only 4 souls make it to Oregon. The Duttons, of course, find Paradise Valley and stake their claim to the land that will in 4 generations put them at odds to everyone else around them. It will corrupt them, and all but destroy them. Was it all worth it? All this striving? All this pursuit? Could not they have found happiness elsewhere? In contentment? I suppose not. It is the nature of man to seek that which he does not have, to explore that which with he is unfamiliar, and to learn that which he does not know.
I find it breathtaking that Noemi and Thomas actually find happiness in Oregon, and two boys to raise. Who knows where those lines led in the shaping of that State. It’s too bad it, like the other West coast states have since fallen to the tyranny of socialism and liberalism.
Elsa states at the end of the 10th episode, “There is a moment where your dreams and your memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven. And each heaven is unique. It is the world of you. The land is filled with all you hold dear. And the sky is your imagination.”
If that were true, I would do anything to finish with this life and move on to my own personal blue heaven in the sky. I will save it for a future post, but I have never really thought about what memories I would want my personal heaven to be made up of, who I would want to populate my own reality. Unfortunately, I do not think we live the afterlife in a reality of our own making. That reality is defined by God, and I think it will be much, much different than any of us can even begin to comprehend.
Until my next review….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
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