Greg Jarrell is an accomplished author, musician, and a friend of Common Good Collective. His work was featured in “The Folklore Project” for the prestigious literary magazine The Bitter Southerner. In his essay, “My Front Porch Cloister,” Jarrell reflects on his trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani as a part of his sabbatical last year through the lens of his current reality — a government-mandated Shelter-In-Place during a global pandemic.
From my front porch I look out onto a 200-year-old post oak — and, beyond that, my street in Charlotte. The sidewalk mostly stays busy enough to keep me interested while I’m in my rocking chair. When people are absent, the birds are active. The porch looks west, and the sunsets are often spectacular. What I am saying is, I’ve been pretty content at being told to “stay at home,” North Carolina’s polite way of ordering us to shelter in place. Even as that order is phasing out now, I’m in no rush to venture back into the world. I worry about the health of my family and my neighbors, and I’m willing to be patient out of a sense of neighborliness. I’ve also grown fond of the different pace. My rare trips out in the car have confirmed for me that I don’t miss errands running errands or waiting on traffic.
But after another night of my limited cooking, and another mound of dishes, and yet another planning session for our new homeschool, my wife and I rocked and wondered how many more weeks we would enjoy this da
ily pattern. We winced, knowing that at some point suffering and death wrought by COVID-19 will break the routine. Working and playing from home, and only from home, is one thing. Grieving the illness or even death of someone we love – possibly even each other – from home is something else altogether.
The front porch and the century-old bungalow behind it are our cloister now, we have decided. There is much grief ahead. This is where we will stay put to weather it.
I have thought, watching the sunset each night, of Father Juan Carlos, who lives in an actual cloister at the Abbey of Gethsemani, about 10 miles outside the revered little bourbon-making town of Bardstown, Kentucky. He described to me, when I visited in March 2019, how the goal of monastic life is not to become a saint.
“The goal, you might say, is to become more human,” he said.