Labor Day is ending, along with this strange summer. This is the first September in more than 20 years that I don’t have a child, teenager, or young adult starting a new school year. Really more like 50 years, except for a break of a few years in the early 90s. I could swear that I’d written a blog post about the melancholy that I’d feel every year at this time. End of summer. End of childhood. I haven’t. That’s another thing I thought I’d done, but hadn’t.
This year, however, I’m not feeling that nostalgia. Not because I’m not sending someone off to school, even virtually. No, the new beginning in my life this year occurred in March when Anne Mei moved to Quincy, MA and I started living alone for the first time since 1994. This was not a temporary situation like the months she was off to college. This marked a new stage in my life. That realization made me more pensive than nostalgic.
As I enter a sixth month of lockdown, in good health despite my aches and pains—nothing life threatening, as I said to a nurse this week—I’m revisiting more and more my adolescent interest in becoming a Carthusian monk. Because of the well-known spiritual writer Thomas Merton, the Trappists get more publicity for their austere lives, but the Carthusians are even stricter, living as hermits almost all year. A Carthusian monk advised me that I needed to mature and gain more adult experience before adopting such a life. While my life is certainly not even close to the austerity of the Carthusians, the relative isolation of the lockdown has made me appreciate the wisdom of his advice.
Now, instead of the start of a new school year, the passing of time is marked by refilling my pill box every week, and by the illness or death of contemporaries. This past week one of my regular lunchtime mates before the pandemic, emailed to let me know that he’d had a minor stroke. Also, John Thompson, the long-time coach of the Georgetown basketball team, died last week.
John was a year ahead of me at Providence College. He was the star center on our basketball team. He didn’t know who I was, but I certainly knew of him. I have one very strong memory of him, stronger than any game in which I saw him play. In my sophomore year I had the flu so bad that they put me in the infirmary. Late one evening as I was lying in bed, John came into the infirmary to talk with the nurse, who had an office at the far end of the room. I was struck then and it still sticks with me, as John was talking with the nurse he leaned over and rested his elbows on top of the tall metal cabinet in the office. As coach at Georgetown, John Thompson guided the lives of many, many young men. Many others looked to him as a role model. He left this once-young man with an enduring image of gentle ease in his powerful body.