The clock read 2:55 am. I put on the many layers of clothes which I had set down on a chair the night before. I combed my hair, took a look at myself in the mirror, and left into the terrible February cold, flashlight in hand. It was raining. I sloshed through the puddles, a parking lot, a foot bridge, and finally the winding sidewalks.
At 3:20 am, one of them stood up, walked about two feet, and activated the bells from an electronics box. They rang from a tower right outside, and the noise pierced the 50 foot ceiling of the church. Everyone stood, and I followed suit. As the bells died down, a knock emanated from somewhere.
I had come to Mepkin to make sense of my life and to make sense of myself. But it was too early in the morning for anything to make sense. I got a scant five hours of sleep the night before, as I wasn’t used to an 8 pm bedtime. The benadryl I had taken to aid my slumber was still doing a number on me. I felt like I was in a dream, as if nothing as fantastic as these ancient practices could actually exist.
Two weeks had now passed, and it had been years since I had felt so happy, and at peace. My cell phone, my computer, and my television had all dulled my sense of the present. And in living in the present, I could now appreciate the tiny, little moments that slip through the cracks.
After 30 days, my time at Mepkin had come to a close. As I prepared to leave, I realized how much I was going to miss the place, and more so, the monks. I was prepared for many of the aspects of the monastic life, such as the vegetarian diet, 3 am wakeup call, and lack of modern trappings. But the thing I hadn’t expected was the community. I had come as a mere guest wanting to experience their life. But, over the course of my stay, I was embraced by the community. I didn’t feel like a guest or observer. I felt like I had a place amongst these men dedicated to the contemplative life.