Tonight marks the 35th anniversary of the death of one of my most important teachers, Thomas Merton, before I was born. The eerie words at the end of his talk at the conference, right before he returned to his room to be accidentally electrocuted are almost like some strange Zen poem--a mystery, a koan of life:
"So I will disappear from view and we can all have a Coke or something. Thank you very much."
Spent some time reading in his private journals tonight to remember him and to pray.
December 13, 1958
Going in to town yesterday was a kind of "retreat" for my seventeenth anniversary in the monastery: impossible to think, without immense qualifications, the things I wrote the other day about being here for nothing. Really I am here for everything. Being out "in the world" would really be nothing and an awful waste of time. The "waste" of one's life in a monastery is the fruitful thing; or at least it is for me.
The overwhelming welter of meaningless objects, goods, activities -- The indiscriminate chaotic nest of "things" good, bad and indifferent, that pour over you at every moment -- books, magazines, food, drink, women, cigarettes, clothes, toys, cars, drugs. Add to this the anonymous, characterless "decoration" of the town for Christmas and the people running around buying things for no reason except that now is a time which everybody buys things.
And I myself bought things -- a pile of paper-backed books, the New Republic, Dissent and even, with shame, Time (because of a long cover article on Pasternak).
Met Clifford Shaw, a musician, who for some reason admires me and we had lunch in the Brown Hotel.
The rest of the time I was milling around in the library -- read part of a good article on Mount Athos in the Yale Review, listened to some piano music of A. Berg and Bartok. Looked up some books to take home. Then while waiting for George and the station wagon -- looked at marvelous bird-books (photos of Arctic loons, quails, bobwhites [my totem bird], warblers, woodpeckers, all kinds of ducks and grebes). (We saw a great blue heron on the way to work the other day, I looked it up to make sure and that is what it was) --at an old fashioned tree book and I was sinking to such depths that I had begun to look at jet planes when George arrived at 3:30.
The reason for going in was to see Terrell Dickey and get all the pictures for Art and Worship off to N.Y., for Farrar, Straus & Cudahy must do it. Too bag a job for us. I like the people in the library, smart and friendly and patient with my requests. Gave them a fruitcake which George had left over. One of them dragged out some drawings by Pasternak's father, which were in Life. Clever and lively fin de siecle stuff.
George had a load of cheese and fruitcake and said he got rid of $700 worth. That is a lot. We were stopping all the way in and all the way out and got home so late that I had supper at Bill Jones' place in Bardstown with a lot of kidding because the girl tried to give me pork instead of fish in a sandwich and it was Friday. (Delighted laughter of the Colored guys and girls back in the kitchen looking through the serving window.)
Walking up and down in Bardstown outside Krogers, in the cold, saluted by man, woman and child. I thought that never, never could I make sense of life outside the monastery. I am a solitary and that is that. I love people o.k., but I belong in solitude.
It was so good to get back and smell the sweet air of the woods and listen to the silence.
March 18, 1959
The old and the new.
For the "old man" -- everything is old -- he has seen everything or thinks he has. He has lost hope in anything new. What pleases him in the "old" he clings to, fearing to lose it, but certainly not happy with it. And so he keeps himself "old" and cannot change; he is not open to any newness. His life is stagnant and futile. And yet there may be much movement -- but change that leads to no change. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." ["The more things change, the more they remain the same."]
For the "new man" -- everything is new. Even the old is transfigured in the Holy Spirit and is always new. There is nothing to cling to, there is nothing to be hoped for in what is already past -- it is nothing.
The new man is he who can find reality where it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh -- where it is not yet -- where it comes into being the moment he sees it. And would not be (at least for him) if he did not see it.
The new man lives in a world that is always being created, and renewed. He lives in this realm of renewal and of creation. He lives in life.
The old man lives without life. He lives in Death, and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it. And yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death. His struggle is miserable, and cannot be a substitute for life.
Thought of these things after communion today, where I suddenly realized that I had, and for how long, deeply lost hope of "anything new." How foolish when in fact the newness is there all the time.
It is a year since I first found out about Pasternak in a chance reading of Encounter which I picked up in Louisville: the Gerd Ruge (?) interview. (The first thing P. taunted him with was being "so young and yet so decrepit.")