Even if I know someone who has a lot of health problems, and has been sick for a long time, hid death always takes me by surprise. John D. worked for us for quite a few years. I am guessing about fifteen years. He was one of our main drivers taking people to their doctor appointments, as well as on occasion sitting with monks who were in the emergency room.
He was a good driver and for the most part very gentle and kind with the monks that he drove. For a few years, he lived in Conyers, but then he stayed on our property in one of our residence.
An Outspoken Atheist Who Cared for Us
John was one of the most intelligent men that I have had the pleasure of knowing, probably way beyond anyone who lives here in his IQ. He was also a good artist, but very private about it. He allowed me to see one of his journals and I was very impressed by the drawings that he created. He could have been a professional if he so desired.
While he was very intelligent and interesting, his emotional development lagged a bit. Which made him a tad cranky at times, or outright belligerent. However, we accepted him, and loved him, because we knew that he also cared for us and was not always responsible for his reactions.
He was an outspoken atheist, and some of the monks found it interesting that he would spend his last years with men who had a monastic vocation. I did have some interesting conversations with him, which were always enlightening as long as we stayed away from politics and religion. We did talk about literature and philosophy.
His ideas of privacy were extreme, as are many people’s. The slightest break of trust over the smallest incident could lead him to cut someone off. He was fragile and angry. From what I do not know.
He was a complex man, like all men and women. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a shallow person. Many people lack the language to speak of what their interior life is like, or even about their past with all of it joy and pains. I believe that John was good with words, but when it came to speaking about his emotional responses all he could do is to yell, or to walk away. I can’t imagine how much pain that may have caused him. For quite a few relationships with friends outside the Monastery ended because of that.
A couple of times I had to speak to him about a delicate matter, so I wrote him a note and that seemed to work. He responded well to the notes and then if he wanted, we could talk about it.
The God Question
I do believe that for some people the whole “God” question makes no sense and they are very articulate in explaining why. John’s position was very emotional, so I could never get a coherent response about the why of his atheism. Which was fine with me.
This morning John was mentioned at Mass and we all prayed for him and will continue to do so. He was with us for a long time, and even if he had little respect for our beliefs, or perhaps for us (don’t know really), the monks did respect him, and we did not force our ideas on him. I believe that he knew that we accepted him, and we did give him space.
A lot of death in the world. Today is the first anniversary of Fr. James Behrens death. Also, we lost our beloved nurse Rose just a few months ago. As time marches on, we leave one by one.
I have learned that Jesus told us not to judge others because each person is a complete universe before God. I cannot pretend to understand John D., but I can appreciate the mystery of who he is, and that he like me is made in the image and likeness of God. So I do not judge, but I pray for a man who was wounded, angry, yet also kind and thoughtful, no different than the majority of people trying to get through the day.
Brother Mark Dohle, now seventy-one, has been a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, since 1971. He runs the monastery’s retreat house. His last article was one of our Corona Stories, “We All Must Drink From This Chalice.” You can find his other articles for Hour of Our Death here.