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Preface & Reader Response



The monk, in all his forms, is a ubiquitous specter – an often frightening reminder of the elements, of mortality – of the roles of loners on the road and ancient obligations due them.

 


EVOLUTIONARY MAN



THE MONK

by Jerry Murley

When I was out and about on the streets of downtown Memphis from 1973 to 1977, there was a strange man on the road almost everywhere I looked. He was dressed in multiple coats, the top layer hanging over his shoulder like a cape. I don't recall him begging or selling anything on the street, though some sort of solicitation might have transpired. Sometimes he was standing outside the doors of office buildings and stores amid the foot traffic. Sometimes he was walking along the curbside at odd times of day. Some claimed to know his story. But to me his personal history was irrelevant. For me, he was a sobering symbol of something vague, something nagging, something sharply painful. He was a spirit, a harbinger, a periodic reminder of essentials. I never felt pity for him. He was a recurring curiosity. People referred to him as Monk. I prefer to call him the Monk.

More of his kind roam the byways throughout time. There are court fools, of course, but the monks of this world do not intend to excite interest or generate humor: they do not exist to elicit smiles and conjecture. They are not wholly akin to the homeless of our time. They stand apart and do not want to enter our society even to ask: they do not desire communion with us or the trappings of our lives.

These men are not of religious orders, though they may well be spiritual in their way. They are not of an intentional, disciplined mold, like the Medieval ascetics and mystics. Still their monkish demeanor shares some characteristics with those historical types. They are a modern, albeit distorted, version of old roles, an expression not flattering to our cultural achievement.

The monk, in all his forms, is a ubiquitous specter – an often frightening reminder of the elements, of mortality – of the roles of loners on the road and ancient obligations due them.

Not all monks are members of mankind. When thinking of the Monk, I think immediately of the Great Blue Heron that stands alone in the creek in bitter winter, a solitary being challenging and underscoring the suffering of damp cold and hunger. He gazes nowhere as if a beaten, withered soul seeking exit. He flees inspection.

I think, too, of two neighbors who ply our rural roads through all manner of weather, walking ten miles or more to buy a gallon of milk. Of dark complexion and mood, dressed in multiple layers of clothing that do not fit and do not blend with the season or the fashion of any era, they slowly but persistently shuffle along the roadside. Each of these brothers welcomes a ride, and solicits one from familiars in pickup trucks who have offered one before. Still, they are hard pressed to utter a word and readily avert their eyes when casually studied by strangers and neighbors alike.


The monk is ever with us, standing over our graves long before they are dug. The monk is a traveler along the evolutionary trail in passage somewhere between the first breath of beings and the last. He is the wind that scatters our ashes – the opposite that confirms our fortune and our fate.

 

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