Nearly 20 years ago at a meeting for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, N.S., we sat outdoors for one session.
Seated in a circle our blah, blah, blah introductions were going normally until it came to a fellow near me who said, "I'm Father Nick, and I'm a hermit." Well, I could have been knocked over with a feather - especially when I was sitting on a bench. No, I hadn't time travelled to the Middle Ages. And yes, I was unaware (like many others) the eremitical life style still existed.
Father Nick was from: The Hermitage of Saint Mary's, Place of Solitude and Prayer. It is located in the Codroy Valley (Google its name and see) and was established by the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador in 1990. However, Father Nicholas O'Keefe just this month retired to Stephenville, but its other hermit, Sheila O'Handley, is still there. Weaving, pottery, gardening and a support group help keep Saint Mary's a going concern.
With regards to the pottery, we bought a water jug from Father Nick at the Corner Brook Christmas craft show a number of years back. Quiet often it has graced our dining room table.
Retreat rates (daily, weekly, monthly) are most reasonable (real bargain) and open to all. The hermitage has two cabins that have a bedroom, kitchen, washroom facilities and propane to provide heat, light, hot water, cooking and refrigeration. Guests fend for themselves and follow no formal prayers or discussions, but they can meet with and consult with Sheila.
A good number of people, facing the possibility of being away from their cell phones, tablets, laptops, multi channel universe and other gadgets would probably choose the Middle Ages punishment of being hung, drawn and quartered rather than have to spend a night, let alone a week, at Saint Mary's. Poor souls!
We recently had a semi-hermitage experience with a two-week stint in North Rustico, PEI at my bother and sister-in-laws 142-year-old schoolhouse, charmingly renovated into two storeys.
We had electricity and delicious well water that doesn't stink of chlorine. With no telephone landline or ownership of a cell phone nor access to tv, our contact with real world was through public Internet and daily newspapers. At night once the beach traffic died down it was so, so quiet. That quietness was momentarily repeated this past Sunday blueberry picking across the river where the only sound to be heard at times was the wind swaying the trees. Heaven on earth, here and in PEI!
One thing not missed in PEI and across the river was cell phone users. Cell phones are positively, marvelous, phenomenal tools that have many valid uses including saving lives, catching crooks and keeping an eye on politicians, police and others doing what they shouldn't be doing.
However, many cell phones users are in a constant state of chatter...they can't shut up! No place for talking is out of bounds, be it in church, stores, theatres, concert halls, vehicles, walking and in even places we wouldn't want to think about. And on top of all the yakking, many users seem brain dead by taking calls without excusing themselves and talking out loud showing no respect for other people's privacy or public space.
Many cell phones users constantly show they don't care one iota about the dangers for themselves and others as they talk and drive. Even in the sky they can't shut up. A recent Transport Canada report noted that a pilot may have contributed to his own death by cell phone talking and not enough attention to flying.
Air travel it is one of the last places on earth to get away from cell phones users. However, Virgin Atlantic is planning limited (for a fee) cell phone service on its A330 Airbus. I can imagine a passenger tapping another on the shoulder and saying, "Pardon me, would you mind stepping outside to take that call?”
I find cell phone users comical...walking around with them almost glued to the palm of their hand, constantly checking, checking. And then there are those with the ones clipped on their ears. I recently saw a guy I thought was having a crisis moment in life - talking to himself - until I spied that thing on his ear. What call or text needs so much constant attention?
All in all too many cell phone users tend to be as the French would say - a royal pain in the derriere!
Guaranteed future jobs (other than tattoo removal specialists) will be physiotherapists working on cell phone users who have self-inflicted carpel thumb texting and bent neck syndromes.
When it comes to solitude, I have inherited it, almost genetically. My maternal grandfather Louie John spent many a night up in the country alone, either hunting, trapping or looking for some lost soul.
And my paternal grandfather, Robert Barker, once retired as a woods contractor for the AND Company in the late 1920's spent a number of summers as a forest fire ranger in a tower on a hill that now adorns his name - Bob's Hill (7 miles northwest, Hodges Hill). Weeks on end, alone, wow, what a man, an old one at that!
Some of the hermit ways of simple living have always had an
appeal to me. And knowing I am walking in the footsteps of two grandfathers who lived a similar way of life gives me the sense that I have been walking on the right path for a long time.
As for that talking circle in Antigonish, others who introduced themselves have evaporated from my memory. But never will I forget, "I'm Father Nick, and I'm a hermit."
Andy Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org