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March 29, 2012

From Fly Creek: A graceful crowd


— Make of this what you will, friends. I feel I’m really meant to share it with you. Despite good medication for my Parkinsonism, every  four or five weeks I can sensethe symptoms building up on me, giving me more than ordinary trouble. Lately it’s been falls, and last week brought a typical one. I’d gone out to get the paper, moving along with  penguin steps on the snowcoved ice patches, and usingmy spike-tipped cane the waya climber uses an ice axe. But circumstances overcame me. Parkinson’s wipes out the possibility of multi-tasking.

Whether I’m driving or reading or doing a crossword, I have to be totally singleminded or I’m in trouble. Oh, and add walking to that list. As I got to the mailbox that day, I heard a happy “Woof!” from down the roadside. It was Blue, who’d got outside without his leash and run into the wood, where he’s not supposed to be.

A born dissembler, he was now running toward me alongside the road, hoping that his tail-wagging and happy expression (flapping ears, lolling tongue, etc.) would distract me from his misdemeanor.

It did — and so did a car coming too fast from the opposite direction. My first thought was that the excited dog would veer and try to chase that car. That was my first thought. My second was, “Oh, Lord, I’m flat on the ground again!”

Blue ran up, all solicitude, and tried to wash my face. In spite of him, I rolled over on all fours and got onto my feet. Nothing broken, but a hip and a rib cage which are still sore.

Well, that convinced me that a visit was in order to Justin Deichman, L. Ac., down in Oneonta. Justin’s the one who has given me so much help through combined healing energy and acupuncture treatments. After questioning me closely, he got me on the table and painlessly inserted a dozen or more needles, asking each time, “Did you feel that engage?”

I’ve learned well that the engagement occurs when the needle has met just the right juncture of nerve connections; I’ve come to recognize the sensation and affirm it to Justin.

Then followed an hour or more of my lying still, eyes mostly closed, as Justin moved from my one side to the other, from above my head to beyond my feet. Palms extended, he was concentrating deeply, finding the spots of tension and inviting them to ease.

It works; and this time, toward the end, I felt the lightest  touches on the bottom andon the arches of both feet. Afterwards, I asked Justin if that had been his faint touch. He smiled. “Nope, though clients often mention that sensation.”

His smile broadened. “Maybe I had some helpers working with me. Did you sense any?” I told him I hadn’t but left feeling much more relaxed and balanced.

The helpers showed up that night, in a dream that seemed to continue across many hours. They were happily gathered in a banquet room about the size of our Templeton Hall. At least 200 were there, all men, seated at tables and milling around. I knew every one of them.

They were young men I had studied with as a Christian Brother, 200 of us sharing life in a huge Tudor mansion just north of Philadelphia and traveling daily in Volkswagen buses down to the campus of La Salle College.

We did our bachelor’s degrees there in three school  years and two summers, andthen a master’s in theology the fourth year. Over our time there, my class shared life with the three above us, and then with the three that followed us, with about 125 in residence in a given year.

When I got to Anselm Hall in 1958, the monastic tradition was still very alive in the life of the brothers — whence the nickname “monks.” We rose early for 90 minutes of vocal prayer, meditation and Mass; then we had breakfast in silence as one of our number read to us from a lectern.

Then into the VW buses for a day’s studies on campus. On return, we had a period of spiritual reading, then chapel  time for another half hour,then a silent supper with more reading. The evening was study time, followed by night prayer. We went to bed early.

We shared the cooking, serving and dishwashing the whole week, and on weekends we cleaned the house and maintained the grounds. But weekend brought recreation, too, with sports, hikes and time to enjoy one another’s company. What a time in my life that was! For these young men were all bright, idealistic, generous-hearted, and witty.

They included skilled woodworkers, gifted musicians, budding scholars who, in later life, would be well known in many fields.

Together, we sang magnificent chant and polyphony in the chapel services; and on our own, we formed a 40-member glee club and quartets that often performed  at hospitals and nursinghomes. It was, in many ways, the time of my life, and it has enriched every moment of it since.

And now, in this astounding dream, they were all reassembled, laughing, hugging, shaking hands, slapping backs. And as I stood there, I could name every one of them —Christopher and Timothy and Paul and Augustine and Aquinas and John and on and on. And as several would spot me, they would shout out my name as a monk.  “Hey, Andrew! Hey, oldbuddy!”

 As I stood open-mouthed, one stepped beside me and put an arm across my shoulders. I did the same to him and turn to see that it was William, two years my senior back in studies. As we walked through the happy throng, I thought, “Wait. Bill’s been dead 20 years. Should I mention that to him?”

We’d worked our way toward the front, and there stood Carl; when he’d left the monks had gone back to farm the family acres near York, Pa. He and his wife had lost a toddler; I remembered sharing his grief. Now he was shouting the crowd to silence.

“It’s time to toast Andrew, who’s back to being called Jim! He’s why we’re all here. Raise those glasses! Here’s to Jim, our brother still!” And with that, the dream ended.

Just a dream, especially vivid because of Parkinson’s and medications. But I wonder, friends.

I wonder if bonds that deep are ever broken. I wonder if, whether you and I know it or not, we’re gathered somehow to those we love when they need us.

It’s not hard for me to think so.