a conscientious objection, pt. 2

Continuing my essay about my AWOL experiences...

A month later I was sitting outside another monastery. At the time I imagined that the monks were worriedly deliberating about me, but the decision probably wasn't a hard one to make. I had asked to join them. An AWOL American who showed up two weeks ago. Did I really expect them to consider this seriously? It was a foolish dream: To flee the merciless world and disappear among the monks, behind monastery walls, where everything was different, where they would understand me. It was foolish because of course everything is not different behind those walls. In his confusion the monk had said the first thing he thought of: “We use the national health care system, and you’re not a British citizen.” But it was also foolish because I should have known we cannot flee. We cannot disappear.

I walked along the garden path, past the cross, high on the rocky hill, and slowly lowered myself onto a mossy rock. To await the answer I already knew. Here was where my dream ended. Here I was finally waking up—I pressed my eyes shut tight.

Then it was all dark and I was alone. Far from everyone who knew me and everyone I had called a friend, far from the land of my home, where I was now considered a criminal. I saw my life broken in ugly pieces. All the opportunities and benefits I had been given I had ruined; all that I had gathered and protected I had squandered. It felt like I was falling, falling into the dark. I cried out.

It was then that I felt the movement again. Again in the deep dark. But this time it was all around me. I was in that forbidding place and the movement was close on every side. The darkness itself seemed alive.

But, just as before, there was no fear. I now knew this thing would consume me, was already consuming me, and I was in awe of it. I lifted up the pieces of my broken life. “Here, take it. It’s ruined.” And I felt the awakened Spirit move again, with such raw power that the garden seemed to lift from the earth. And I knew what I had to do.

I would go to prison. I had no doubt that when I returned I would be arrested and jailed, perhaps for several years. But now I had felt something greater than the thing I feared. I could go back, even to prison. And when I realized that, it was clear that the right thing was to return and submit myself to their judgment. I talked with several of the monks before I left the monastery, and they nodded approvingly, but I could tell they did not understand. That didn’t matter. I was the one going to prison.