Listening to the monks


NEW YORK -- I was on a Peter Pan bus one recent rainy Friday night, making my way from New York to Baltimore to celebrate the centennial weekend of my undergraduate school, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. I was listening to my Walkman, tired after a busy week and a trip that was taking longer than usual because of the rotten weather.

Suddenly, a little blond boy of about 4 popped his head over the seat in front of me. The movie had ended and his mother was falling asleep beside him. He was tired of turning the light on and off and had decided to see what was going on behind him.

Recognizing a bored child when I saw one. I offered him my headset. He took it readily and started to listen. I was sure he would screw up his face and laugh when he heard what must have been unfamiliar to him -- the voices of monks at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. Instead, he seemed enchanted.

"What's it called," he asked finally. "Compline," I said. "It's the last service of the day."

'Joy Never Ending'

I'm sure that meant nothing to him, but he continued to listen before putting the headset on his mother. She listened a while and then turned to me: "That's beautiful. Are they monks?" I told her "yes," that it was from a tape called "Joy Never Ending" and shared with her the cassette package.

Sensing that he might be missing something, her elder son who seemed to be about 8 then came across the aisle to get his turn. He also seemed reluctant to part with the music, but by now two other little boys behind me had popped their heads forward, wanting to get in on the act. I passed the Walkman back to them and they each took a long turn before trying to get their mother to listen. She declined, saying they should give it back and say thank you, but they kept listening until my first little friend clamored for his turn again.

I never did get my Walkman back again until we pulled into the terminal in Baltimore. We wished each other a good weekend, three weary adults and four fidgety children, now a contented communion of travelers, soothed by a chorus of men living a monastic life hundreds of miles away to the south.

Retta Blaney is the editor of "Journalism: Stories From the Real World," an anthology to be published in December.

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