In Search of Fate
Chapter 1: The Monastery
How does one climb out of the dark well of an uncertain conscience? For Adam Questor he hoped to find a saving rope within the confines of a remote little chapel. Here, he would begin his search for answers to the questions that were holding his mind captive. Had his indecisiveness influenced a friend and colleague to a fatal recourse? And why had fate entrusted him with that friend’s perilous secret? The knowledge he now possessed could be a great boon or, in the wrong hands, a curse. It was a conundrum he alone seemed destined to solve, even if reluctantly. Not only could he find no relief from the turmoil brewing in his conscience; but his self-styled hermitage could not serve very long as a safe haven. For there was one man he knew would feel compelled to seek him out and call him to account.
Despondent, he lifted his gaze longingly at the chapel’s crucifix, its face staring down at him, lifeless and forlorn, frozen forever in both anguish and resignation. Could this pitiful image breathe fresh life into his empty soul? Certainly the abbot had the best of intentions when he offered this isolated chapel for his vigil. But Questor still could find no answers for those questions that burned within him. He was lost in an inner seascape of turbulence, a brigantine with all sails shorn and flailing helpless in a squall. He rose from his knees and began to survey the small chapel. His kneeler was the only semblance of furniture. An unornamented altar jutted out from the wall below the crucifix. Upon it rested a candle and an empty tabernacle, its door ajar.
He had come here to find the quiet and sanctuary he felt necessary to still his conscience and to redeem his future. But recent events were overwhelming his thought processes and only served to animate his anxieties. He began to pace nervously to and fro in the tiny chapel, creating a slight draft that wreaked havoc on the fluttering candlelight. Reflections on the bare walls shimmered crazily in harmony with the dancing flame. As he approached the candle, the shadow he cast on the opposing wall would grow into a grotesque giant, crawling along the ceiling above his head. Turning in the other direction, his shadow would shrink to the size of a fat midget, ridiculously bent and twisted by the square corners where walls and ceiling met. Somehow these recurring phantasms awakened in him portents of things to come and apparitions of what had gone before. Weary of pacing and courting his anxieties, he laid himself down on his sleeping bag. His shadow reclined as well, shrinking and collapsing into itself on the wall opposite the crucifix behind his head. It opposed the quieted flame, settling imperceptibly into a black cloud that hovered ominously above him. Although his eyes were fixed on the light of the candle beyond his feet, his mind seemed to be drawn into the darkness of that shadowy cloud, a beckoning void wherein roamed specters of his past. He began to recall the enormous promise of his youth through the veil of the receding years. He was drifting into a kind of dream state wherein he could recall the day when he first took up his life’s path . . .
Adam, it’s time to leave. If we’re going to get there for the opening talk, we’d better leave now. Oh my . . . where am I . . . that’s my mother’s voice. And I am . . . that boy . . . me. Is this a dream? God, he’s just like you. He won’t give himself enough time to get anywhere. Mom could not miss an invitation to recant one of her pet peeves. I feel his . . . my irritation.
I’m never late. That’s my father. Dad was always ready with his favorite defense.
You’re never early! My God, what’s he doing in there? Why does he keep his door shut? You go in there. He’ll scream bloody murder if mom invades his inner sanctum.
Of course, these words are meant for me to hear, even if the pretense is made that I may be outside of earshot. I see myself bristle at the sound of my father moving close to the bedroom door. Then, in his more commanding father tone, he booms, Adam, get a move on. Your mom and I are headed for the car. If you really want to be a priest, you’ll just have to run after us. Then, with a note of pleading finality, he adds, C’mon son, let’s go.
The trip to the seminary, I remember, was uneventful. But there I am once again in the back seat of our old Rambler, my mind racing back and forth as I very actively eavesdrop on my parents. Their voices form a too familiar backdrop that threatens to unravel my fantasies of life away from home. Mom and dad are debating the pros and cons of seminary life. Mom has many comments about those benefits that would suit her son’s needs, but really reflect her concerns.
He’ll have to do his own laundry. That’ll serve him right. They won’t let him go to bed whenever he feels like it. There’s a schedule he’ll have to follow. If he disobeys those priests, they won’t take any back talk. They’ve got discipline. It’ll be good for him. He may be only twelve, but he has to grow up some time.
Although mom is addressing her husband, her words were meant to prick the ears in the backseat. Anxiety about my new life was already peaked, and the drive to the seminary seems unbearably long. But, mercifully, we finally arrive. Dad once again timed it “perfectly,” as he is quick to tell us. We are 5 minutes early, he says. Although by the time the car is locked and the unfamiliar grounds are traversed, we find ourselves walking into the Great Hall just as the Rector approaches the podium. Mom, I can see now, is embarrassed and casts an angry eye at dad. He shrugs his shoulders and blurts out an aside, We’ll be seated before he starts. For her part mom looks like she just wants to disappear. She focuses on the floor at her feet and hurries towards the empty seats in the front row, undetectably dragging us in her draft. The Rector had paused at the podium while my family steers itself into a semi-soft landing in full view of many patient eyes.
The scene unfolds in my mind’s eye as vivid as it was once lived. Monsignor O’Neill intones his welcome and my father smiles sheepishly. Mom rakes him with a sidelong glance that could have withered a stone. His success was her humiliation. Meanwhile, I’m fidgeting with my tie, the first I had ever worn, and am shamefacedly aware of the familiar spousal dynamics that added tension and life to our household. At the time, it seemed to me that everybody in that hall must have been aware of my entrance and uneasiness. Oddly, my mother’s embarrassment, as I only now can recognize, does not register with me at all. I can only feel my discomfort as I sit stiffly on that wooden chair. The monsignor’s words finally begin to garner my attention. His booming voice succeeds in parting the clouds of my self-consciousness and takes hold of my mind. I can hear his words and remember how I felt, for they seemed to be addressed to me personally.
. . . You have sought meaning in your life and have found the risen savior beckoning. It is not by chance that you come to His table. You are here to find out whether you are worthy of the highest vocation. You have been called to the perfection of His Priesthood, to share in His sacrifice for all men, to represent the Catholic community at his altar, to bring His sacramental graces to His people, to become all things to all men. You are probably confused about your calling. Am I worthy? Is my vocation real or just a wishful fancy? Well, the fact that you are here is no accident. You are here because God wants you to try on the ‘habitus’ of his priest and celebrant. ‘Habitus,’ as you will soon learn, is a Latin word that you may think refers to the priest’s habit or cassock. But it actually connotes a disciplined way of life wherein your will, your appetites, your every action mirror the will of God. It is a life that places all your faculties at the service of your intellect and your intellect at the service of your Faith. In a sense every Christian is called to His service, but you have been singled out for a special service, one sanctified by priestly ordination, to stand as an intermediary between God the Father and mankind. You are here to explore your worthiness to replicate the Son’s role in redemption. The crucifix is your symbol of a new meaning in your life: the very image of redemption, the ultimate example of sacrifice, and both the source and end of all life. Christ, crucified, is your truth, your way and your life. . .
I am that boy in the pew. I feel what he feels. As the Monsignor pointed demonstrably to the crucifix on the wall behind him, my boy-self begins to shake uncontrollably. I am praying that no one will notice, but my body responds from a source outside of myself. I am lost in the moment and feel transfigured into someone else. I am no longer the boy sitting next to his parents, but a new “Adam” touched by Jesus to become like Him. “I” am no more, but a new Self is emerging, a perfection of grace that I would work hard to deserve.
Arrested in my personal ecstasy of thought, I am suddenly pulled back to my place in that hard-backed chair by my mother’s nudge. She was glaring at me in disbelief. The monsignor had finished his welcoming speech and people were rising to leave the hall. I feel bewildered and embarrassed under mom’s gaze. I also resent her intrusion into my new reality and her matter-of-fact way of reminding me that I had to act in her world too.
We have to find your room and move you in. Your father and I are supposed to leave by two, so we don’t have much time to do what we have to do. I have to make sure you’re situated here before I leave.
I didn’t know exactly what mom wanted to “situate,” but she busies herself for the rest of the time allotted us with unpacking and checking out every aspect of my new shared surroundings. Momentarily detached from my boyhood self, I can readily recognize her concern, though my double ganger is impatient, eagerly anticipating his freedom from all mothering. She declares the large hallway bathroom sanitary but not very private. My drawer space, she firmly attests, is “woefully” inadequate. Given the relative size of the desk area to the rest of my portion of the room I’ll share with three others, she is sure the priests did not expect me to do much in this room other than study. She says she could not understand how I would survive without the privacy I so demanded at home. My father, meanwhile, remains mostly speechless, although he has the look of one who had just lost his best friend. When we say our final goodbyes at the steps of the seminary entrance, my mother starts to cry. I know this must be a dream because I recognize the pain my younger self is incapable of appreciating.
Holding back tears, her voice has a plaintiff quality as she makes her closing argument. I just don’t understand why you’re leaving home like this. But I guess you have to find out if this life is what you really want. You realize you’re going to have to take care of yourself. Wash your clothes every week. Change your underwear every day. I won’t be here to remind you. You have three meals scheduled every day. Try to eat a balanced diet. I wish I had more time to check out their menus. Call me if you need anything. Be a good boy. I love you!
After a crushing hug, she abruptly turns and leaves Dad standing there. He seems to be studying the shine on his shoes. He raises his eyes slowly and fixes me with a strange, wistful look. Son, I want you to be happy. If this is the life you want for yourself, I’ll support you. I love you too and I’m going to miss you. Call me before Christmas and let me know what you would like to do for your break. It’s going to be hard for all of us to adjust to life without you around. Until then, take care.
He also hugs me and surprises me by kissing me on the forehead. I was not ready for such a show of emotion from him. As he walks away, I am ebullient. My feet never touch the ground on the way back to my new shared living quarters.
How strange is it that these memories feel so real, like I am reliving them? And yet I am now so estranged from that time.
“Mr. Questor! Mr. Questor! Are you awake?”
“Yes, just a minute,” Questor responded robotically, for he was not yet fully present. He needed a moment to assure he was indeed awake and in familiar surroundings. But his dream state had left him with feelings of guilt and shame that were foreign to his younger self. Perhaps the innocence of youth cannot be preserved, even in vivid memories. He picked himself off the floor and wiped the sweat from his forehead. As he opened the door, the brother gate-keeper looked quizzically at his face. At first, he seemed speechless. Then he said, “There is a Miss Wyman to see you.”