Wednesday, February 24, 2021

February 23: Season of New Beginnings, Latecomer to the Party, Insomnia

 Merton pursues his vocation . . . 

Once again, classes were beginning at the university.  The pleasant fall winds played in the yellowing leaves of the poplars in front of the college dormitories and many young men came out of the subways and walked earnestly and rapidly about the campus with little blue catalogues of courses under their arms, and their hearts warm with the desire to buy books. But now, in this season of new beginnings, I really had something new to begin. 

A year ago the conviction had developed in my mind that the one who was going to give me the best advice about where and how to become a priest was Dan Walsh. I had come to this conclusion before I had ever met him, or sat and listened to his happy and ingenuous lectures on St. Thomas. So on this September day, in 1939, the conviction was to bear its fruit. 

Dan was not on the Columbia campus that day. I went into one of the phone booths at Livingston Hall and called him up. 

He was a man with rich friends, and that night he had been invited to dinner with some people on Park Avenue, although there was certainly nothing of Park Avenue about him and his simplicity. But we arranged to meet downtown, and at about ten o’clock that evening I was standing in the lobby of one of those big, shiny, stuffy apartments, waiting for him to come down out of the elevator. 

As soon as we walked out into the cool night, Dan turned to me and said: “You know, the first time I met you I thought you had a vocation to the priesthood.” 

I was astonished and ashamed. Did I really give that impression? It made me feel like a whited sepulchre, considering what I knew was inside me. On the whole, perhaps it would have been more reassuring if he had been surprised. 

He was not surprised, he was very pleased. And he was glad to talk about my vocation, and about the priesthood and about religious Orders. They were things to which he had given a certain amount of thought, and on the whole, I think that my selection of an adviser was a very happy one. It was a good inspiration and, in fact, it was to turn out much better than I realized at first. 

As often is the case, Merton is the last person to realize his true calling.  Dan, the person Merton seeks out after deciding to pursue a religious life, had already discerned Merton's vocation on their first meeting.  It's sort of like finally you're admitting you're an alcoholic after years of drinking--everyone already knows it.  You're the only latecomer to the party.

Today was a long day after a long, fitful night.  Dealing with some issues in my personal life, and I just couldn't seem to fall asleep.  So I did what I normally do when I suffer insomnia:  I sat on the couch and read all night long.  Started with Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist, and then moved on to Maggie O'Farrell's novel Hamnet.  I finally was able to drift off around 3 a.m., and got up at 5:45 a.m. to start my day.  

And now I'm in the same boat--tired but unable to shut my eyes without my mind beginning to race.  I have been like this for most of my life.  Late nights and early mornings have been my thing since I was a teenager.  I'm not saying it's a healthy existence, but it's just how I'm wired.  Plus, my life these last three years has contributed to the problem.

I write these words knowing that anyone who knows me is already well aware that I'm a chronic insomniac.  Sort of like Merton walking around telling people he's going to be a priest.  It's not earth-shattering news in the least.  That doesn't make these long, dark hours any easier.  

People who've never suffered from insomnia have no idea how lonely a state it is.  It feels as if the entire planet is tucked under a warm blanket, soundly snoring, and you are stuck awake, washing dishes, folding laundry, reading The Brothers Karamazov, trying to make yourself tired enough to collapse.  You feel isolated with all of your worries.

It is now 1 a.m., and I'm going to try to go to sleep again.  I'll probably end up on the couch, watching Claire Danes in an episode of My So-Called Life, cuz, well, if I'm going to stay awake all night, I might as well do it with her.  Another non-revelation about myself--I love Claire Danes.  

So, my faithful disciples, I wish you all sweet dreams.

Saint Marty is going to go alphabetize his bookshelves now.

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