The first morning of my four-week long Mountain Companionship, Br. Kevin showed me how to use the coffee pot in the House of Peace. I’d been to the Mountain numerous times before, but only for short stays, never long enough to warrant being taught how to make coffee. “Give a college kid a cup of coffee and you’ll keep them awake for a morning but teach them to make coffee and they can make coffee for Br. Kevin,” he remarked. Kevin is the king of dry witted humor. Yeah, humor.
I don’t think there is a “right” way to do anything. I don’t like doing things the wrong way either. If you give me a set of instructions and tell me I have to follow them, I’ll probably try to dice apart the words and find a way to do it differently. Sometimes this makes me painful to be around, but all of the time it brings me to unique places in life.
I used to come to the Mountain often as a kid, brought up by my mom for Holy Week or other special occasions. I enjoyed my time then, but I wasn’t exactly the best behaved. The Mountain is a quiet place. Games of hide-and-seek, tag, jumping over couches, and wrestling are not exactly on the menu here. However, as a kid these were all incredibly fun and exactly what I did. Thankfully, no one seemed to hold it against me years later.
Now I’m twenty and I’ve calmed down, some. It’s a cold night and the friars and I are going out to dinner. Kevin turns the key in the ignition. I squeeze into the back seat of the Subaru alongside Br. Joe. Heated seats, even in the back? Nice. The warming seat slowly draws the West Clarksville January cold out from my back and legs. Fr. Dan rides shotgun. Kevin shifts to reverse. What will I order for dinner? We’re headed to Moonwinks restaurant. Going out to eat has made me nervous for the past year or so. I feel guilty having someone else wait on me. A nice restaurant chair feels like pins and needles. Dan asks me if I ever thought I would be living at the Mountain with the “crazy old men who pray all the time”, my brain flashes back through the many stages of life that have already passed me by, or so it feels. Preoccupation with the future normally clouds my ability to think about the past. Without exception, only conscious effort can rope my brain in from the future to the present moment. Dan’s question triggers me to pull the rope back from the future, tie a lasso, toss it into the past and pull the entangled mess of memory to the present. Kevin’s foot lifts from the break and we begin to roll backwards, leaving tire treads in the freshly fallen snow. “Definitely not,” pause for effect, “I was supposed to be throwing touchdown passes in the NFL by now.” Dan, Kevin, and Joe’s laughs bounce around the interior of the car. Thank God I can make these guys laugh.
Okay, so I knew I was never going to be an NFL player, but a few months ago being a Mountain Companion seemed to be about as likely a possibility. That was before I decided to take the spring semester of my junior year off from school to attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Did I successfully hike the whole thing? I have no idea, I leave tomorrow. Hopefully. Wish me luck. While the actual hike has not yet begun, the first month of the semester off allocated me the time to be a Mountain Companion. What a wild, weird, and wonderful experience it was.
What’s a Mountain Companion? My grandma thought it was a dog. Thankfully she was wrong. A Mountain Companionship is not a job, it’s a life. For four weeks, I followed the lead of the friars to help ensure the Mountain was exactly what it is – a place for people to experience happiness and goodness. Shoveling, cooking, stacking wood, attending meetings on campus, reading during masses, welcoming groups and visitors, and yelling slightly too loud at Bona basketball games were all parts of my daily life along with reading, engineering a camping stove, hiking, yoga, writing, running, or whatever else I wanted to do in my free time.
The last morning of my Mountain Companionship, the conversation following Fr. Lou’s Sunday homily centered around the idea of giving love to each other. I realized I had gotten a lot of love from the Mountain in my time. Every time I had been there I left with a renewed sense of peace and a deeper appreciation for the people around me. Short visits left me with a lot of self-satisfaction. However, after spending a month as a Mountain Companion, I not only felt the familiar boost of being at the Mountain, but I also felt I had learned the skills to give the Mountain love to other people near and far.
In a slightly forced metaphor, I spoke up after Lou’s homily to relate my time as a Mountain Companion to making coffee. In the past I had gotten a cup of coffee from the Mountain – a quick positivity boost that lasts for a few days but eventually fads away. However, in the last four weeks I had learned how to brew a pot of coffee – put in a little effort to create positivity and love to share with those around me while still personally benefitting from the goodness.
-by Ryan Schlosser