Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 220

Thank God that Old Monk still has one good eye and that means she can still read. I still don’t know if sight will return in full or in part to my left eye, the one with the cancerous tumor. Loss of eyesight was one of the risks of choosing radiation treatment. Meanwhile, the tumor seems to be shrinking but I won’t know the final result until spring. And, yes, the cancer is aggressive with high odds saying it will metastasize. But Old Monk has always bucked the odds with gusto and will give this one a rousing effort.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last couple months taking it easy while my eye healed and…reading my journals from 1978 to the present. I’d been wanting to do that for the last few years to see if there was anything worth publishing and/or sending to the community archives. But there was never time to do it, until unexpectedly there was.

How much I’d forgotten of my life. How much I remembered and could recount moment by moment. There are touching and edgy family encounters. Difficult community stories. Loving and hurtful experiences with friends. A library of inspirational quotes to copy in my commonplace book. The turbulent but exciting Vietnam War years and the explosion of the Catholic peace movement. Interviews with the leading peace figures of the 70s and 80s, including a tough disagreement with Dan Berrigan and a reconciling letter. A handful of book ideas that I never started. New initiatives in the inner city with a preferential option for poetry, beauty, and children. Dozens of books read and commented on. Protests and demonstrations and scathing letters to the editor about some form of injustice and arrests for praying for peace on earth. But most of all--a relentless examination of self and my motives for acting as I did and still do.

I’m not sure if journal keeping—and mine are all printed and in binders—is not the ultimate ego trip. Like, who really cares what you think about…well, just abut anything, Mary Lou? On the other hand, I keep going back to words by psychologist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl that have guided this writing practice. Frankl wrote that there are two ways a person can go through life. One way is to approach our calendar with fear and sadness as each day we tear off another sheet, noting that it grows thinner with each passing day. Another is to tear off the daily sheet, jot down a few personal notes on the back, and file it with the previous years.

Those who keep a record Frankl tells us, can reflect with pride and joy on all the life they’ve lived to the full. He writes of the journal keepers: What does it matter if they notice that they are growing old? What reason do they have to say to envy a young person—for possibilities, for the future that await them? “No thank you,” they will say. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering suffered. These are the things of which I am most proud.”

To H then with publishing and archives. To come to Frankl’s realization is to definitely find a pearl of great price.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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