That Time James Taylor Helped the Overworked Monk Slow Down

That Time James Taylor Helped the Overworked Monk Slow Down October 18, 2023

After rushing through matins, the monk fiddled with his prayer rope before urging me to start the car. For the past twenty years, he had devoted his life to prayer and contemplation, living according to the monastic rule, and assumed he would remain an ascetic until his final breath.

However, the abbot had recently assigned him a new responsibility – to take over the duties of an elderly priest. I offered to go with him to make the transition smoother. Kauai seemed like the perfect place to break in his pilgrim’s staff.

Driving on the island of Kauai is an enchanting experience with its crystal-clear ocean and breathtaking vistas. The speed limit of 50 mph is well-suited to the island’s laid-back lifestyle. Why rush? Kauai is as close as you can get to Eden. The sunsets and waterfalls are renowned for rekindling travelers’ connections with the divine and leaving poets enraptured. Trails have signs reminding visitors to respect and preserve the land and its resources. The Hawaiian people treat the island as a gift, imbuing it with a sense of reverence that is both inspiring and humbling.

As we exited the hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the scowl on the monk’s face. He tapped his foot compulsively and fidgeted with his habit as if he were serving a sentence at Rikers Island and couldn’t wait to escape. Within five minutes of our drive, he threw his hands up and exclaimed, “I know everyone’s on island time, but at this rate, we’ll arrive after the old cow has already kicked the bucket!”

I put on “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole to ease the tension. But my companion was not in the mood for sentimentalities. After visiting a hospital to administer last rites, we took a break and stopped at a coffee truck. The monk seemed tired and said, “Let’s see if they’ll sell us the whole pot. We still have fifteen house blessings to go. Lord, have mercy on us.”

While we waited in line, I noticed a wooden sign hanging from a storefront:

Slow yourself down. You’ll see so much more.

Coffee secured, we headed back to the car. As the monk took a phone call, my attention shifted to a vending machine in the corner of the parking lot. The final slot held “Good News,” a traditional Hawaiian chocolate bar. I inserted quarters and discreetly slipped the bar into my pocket.

The monk received instructions on where he would be baptizing new converts. I got behind the wheel and drove us to Hideaway Beach. The monk, dressed in a long white robe, solemnly led the group of hopefuls into the water. I watched as he carefully dunked each person, one by one, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The shoreline filled with joyous cheers as the new converts emerged from the water, beaming with happiness and a sense of rebirth.

After the ceremony, we gathered around the BBQ pit, where the monk blessed the food before returning to the car. With a layer of wet sand in his beard and a face contorted in pain, he looked like a war-weary soldier emerging from a brutal battle, desperately seeking refuge. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the chocolate bar, and placed it on his lap. “Have you heard about the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?” The monk howled with laughter, tears streaming down his face. “God bless you. I needed that.”

Before returning to the road, I showed him how to sign the shaka, Hawaii’s reminder to take it easy or “hang loose.” On our way to meet the bishop, I spotted a fruit stand and pulled over. The owner of the roadside stand was a rugged man with thick, gray dreadlocks that cascaded down his back and reached his waist. He stood shirtless, revealing a surfer’s physique, and held a sharp, well-maintained machete in his calloused hand. A portable radio rested against a pile of coconuts, emitting the soothing tunes of James Taylor’s “Shower The People.”

As we approached, the dread-headed man greeted us with an “Aloha” and adjusted the radio’s volume. The monk dropped his prayer rope and clapped in time with the music. Turning towards me, he shared that this was the last album he heard before ‘leaving the world’ and proceeded to sing a verse,

You can run but you cannot hide
This is widely known
And what you plan to do with your foolish pride
When you’re all by yourself alone
Once you tell somebody the way that you feel
You can feel it beginning to ease
I think it’s true what they say about the squeaky wheel
Always getting the grease.

The dread-headed man chuckles and hands us two green coconuts with straws.

“Padre, you got that aloha spirit! I didn’t know you holy rollers listened to the layman’s song.”

We thanked him and resumed our journey to the bishop’s house. After a while, I had to make a pit stop to use the restroom, and when I returned, I was startled to see the monk sitting in the driver’s seat. He honked the horn, gesturing for me to return to the car.

As we cruised, the monk embraced every twist and turn and flashed the shaka to all oncoming vehicles. I grabbed my phone and queued up James Taylor’s greatest hits. The uplifting melodies were irresistible to the monk, and a smile spread across his face. He rolled down the window, letting the cool breeze rush through the car, and extended his hand towards the setting sun.

Slow yourself down. You’ll see so much more.

About HJ Sandigo
HJ Sandigo hails from Placerville, California. His decision to exchange his car for a camper van led him to explore the country, hike around Europe, participate in the International Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, visit spiritual communities across the globe, and harmonize with monks while listening to James Taylor. HJ Sandigo is immensely grateful for the experiences, wisdom, and humor that people have shared with him throughout his journey. His work has been featured in Foreshadow Magazine, The Dreamland Review, Forum, and various poetry anthologies in San Francisco You can read more about the author here.

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