What a black-eye! How on earth did Brother Oculus get such a shiner? After all, he was a very peaceable person –not the type to provoke a violent argument. And we Dominicans tend not to settle our differences with fisticuffs. Heated arguments are about as far as we go. Had our brother been attacked by an intruder while we were all asleep?
Such were the questions which distracted our community’s early morning prayers. Not surprisingly, we were all bewildered. We could hardly wait to ask Br. Oculus to satisfy our curiosity. What, had hit him? Did his puffed, closed eye hurt? A stupid question, since it must have been very painful. Various remedies were suggested, including the application of a piece of raw steak. Not very practical, since we didn’t have any. I must confess I couldn’t help being fascinated by the beautiful yellow, blue and green of his bruise. As for his ruddy nose, that looked as if something had hit it very hard.
Far from giving us a dramatic account of a heroic encounter, Br. Oculus looked rather sheepish and embarrassed by our solicitous questioning. But he had no choice. So, reluctantly, he began to explain his battle wounds. And what a tale he had to tell –one which no fevered imagination could have invented! Eagerly we awaited his explanation. What on earth could have happened to such a gentle, devout brother? Who could have treated him so brutally?
Hesitantly, nervously he explained what had happened. In his zeal to be an exemplary poor friar he had decided to dispense with electric lights whenever possible. To achieve this end he’d carefully paced the length of the corridor to the point where the corridor itself took a right-angle turn. And so should he have done! Folly of follies! This was a thrifty brother who wanted to save electricity, especially in a post war time of austerity. Probably unfairly, and in self-justification, we suspected him of feeling superior to his wasteful brethren! But until that night his measured approach to moving around the priory in the dark had worked without mishap.
But for some unknown reason on that fateful night Br. Oculus had quickened his pace. As he increased his speed he lengthened his stride. That, of course, threw out his calculations. As our unfortunate brother charged down the corridor he crashed into the solid end-wall, his speed adding to the violence of the impact of soft flesh on a hard brick wall. Speeding motorists can also misjudge distances and end up crashing into something! No wonder his protesting eye took on such an angry colour!
We, his fellow students, were faced with another problem. How should we react to the sorrowful plight of our battered brother? Obviously with concern and compassion at the injured face and damaged reputation of someone who had made such a mess out of meaning so well. Sadly, our reactions were more robust and less noble. Our initial, instinctive, sympathy for our wounded, heroic brother collapsed into fits of laughter.
I must admit that later I reflected, with shame, that there was a certain smugness in our mirth at the deflation of our austere brother. Not that he intended to show us up by this peculiar, hidden expression of poverty, which we only discovered through his unfortunate accident. Perhaps we resented his asceticism as a judgment upon our not showing his kind of austerity. Maybe we were only too eager to see his mishap as vindicating our use of electric lights. I don’t know.
Certainly, in many a community there are those who studiously go round putting out lights, while others instinctively switch them on. Each will justify his behaviour, either on the grounds of economy or safety. Each will give a religious spin to his arguments. The same is true of those who open windows and those who shut them!
What does God, what should I, make of all this? I suspect the Lord is amused at our petty antics. Are we all taking ourselves too seriously and allowing things to get out of proportion? Perhaps those who prefer to walk in darkness should learn to ‘take it light.’ Are we making much ado about nothing?
Perhaps we should heed the West Indian saying, ‘Cool it man,’ and be more relaxed with ourselves and each other–especially when there's a heat wave. I’m sure it would help all of us to meet God if we could learn to see how petty and ridiculous we can be. Especially in community life we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and with each other –even when that results in a black eye. Thank God there’s a certain craziness in Dominican life –otherwise we would all go mad!