There are people who live in the house, who have been instructed not to talk to me. So, when I see them, I don’t have to go through the awkward dance of making eye contact and making small talk… it would ruin the silence. I have heard these people in the house, but I have yet to run into one of them and come face to face.
One afternoon, at 5:00 sharp, I was making my way downstairs for dinner, when there was a man, probably about 70 years old, short and round, with a kind face at the bottom of the stairs. I couldn’t avoid seeing him, and his eyes lit up when he saw me. I looked down at my feet, but he kept making his way toward me, and even reaching out to say, “Hello retreatant!”
“Doesn’t he know! I’m not supposed to talk,” I said to myself.
Believing that he just didn’t know better, and trying not to be rude, I simply looked up and said, “Hi,” and looked away to go to the dining room. But, he continued, “Sister Molly had to leave to take someone to the hospital, so I’m preparing your dinner for you tonight.”
Oh, so he was my surrogate spiritual director, I realized, and it was proper to talk to him. “How nice,” I said to this pleasant little fellow.
I walked into the dining room to see a bowl of chili, steam rising from the bowl, cornbread, a bowl of fruit and a small dish of grated cheddar cheese. I promptly dumped the cheese into the chili, so it could start melting, and I said a prayer of thanksgiving. The cornbread was so light and delicate, and sweet. I learned later that Sister Sarah found him helpless in the kitchen, trying to mix the cornmeal, egg and milk all together in the baking pan… he was all thumbs in the kitchen. “Please tell him how good the cornbread was,” I told Sister Sarah later.
I was so content as I plowed through my meal, and the man came back into the dining room, and he said, so kindly, “Would you like a Klondike Bar for desert?”
Ice cream is not something I have ever loved… it’s cold and milky, and I just prefer a nice warm, soft chocolate chip cookie to something icy and hard. As the whole retreat was focused on honesty, I had to catch myself, before I said it– “No, thank you. I’d rather have a warm cookie.” Instead, I looked at the man’s hand, cradling the frosted foil and could see the word “Reese” on the Klondike package. This man had such a kind face… just his pious expression could make anyone give him the coat off your back. So, I found myself saying “Yes, sure, I’ll take a Klondike bar,” with enthusiasm.
He looked so relieved, as he placed the bar on the table. I then realized, what a gift I had given him. He had no idea what in the world to give this retreatant for desert, and heaven forbid, I would ask him to bake me a cookie, which, I’m sure he would have, if I had asked.