Author Jim Forest’s account of meeting Thomas Merton for the first time is one of my all-time favorite stories about meeting your hero.
Think of yours.
Think of how you’d expect them to act.
Then scramble that notion, and you might gain a whole new respect.
In Forest’s account, he and another Catholic Worker member have traveled from New York to Merton’s Trappist monastery in Kentucky.
They are tired. They’ve traveled what feels like forever to get there.
And despite his dogged stated, Forest goes to the monastery’s chapel to pray. He begins, and his prayer is loudly interrupted.
An unusual sound for what he thought would be a reserved, somber place.
The origin, I discovered was [my friend’s] room. As I opened the door the laughter was still going on, a kind of gale of joy. The major source was the red-faced man lying on the floor wearing [the Trappist habit], his knees in the air, hands clutching his belly…I realized instantly that the man on the floor laughing with such abandon must be Thomas Merton…And the inspiration for the laughter? It proved to be the intensely strong smell of feet that had been kept in shoes all the way from the Lower East Side to [the monastery] and were now out in the open air.
Merton was bent over double, laughing at the smell.
And that is why other novices (approximately 200) often couldn’t identify him when they first joined the monastery themselves.
Thomas Merton, while being the most well-known monk of his day, often went unnoticed.
One said, “If you had asked me which one he was, he would have been the second to last one I picked.”
The reason for this:
He adds, “He was always laughing! And I had an idea that a monk should be very serious.”
It causes me to think of that opening scene in the film Amadeus. Where Mozart is running around like a wild child, and the much older, Antonio Salieri, is looking for this divine musical prodigy.
When he’s told that the immature child is, in fact, Mozart, he’s appalled.
I love this barrier that is broken. It’s the shining moment when fact and fiction collide. The hero is right there.
Questions to consider:
What are our often preconceived notions of others?
How can we change them to see through a different lens?
And if we do, how will this free us to experience personal joy in brand new ways?