Eventually he moved to Boulder and we were in school together. We traveled around Colorado and Texas together pushing each other to risk a little more, having any fun we could find. We got on each other’s nerves. We sat in silent resentment on long drives. We had full-blown vent sessions about hurts and passions. Toward the end of College we spent two summers guiding at Wilderness Ranch, and he stuck close to me when I nearly walked away from my second summer guiding in a burnt out dark night soul. We explored various traditions of faith, tasting a little of this liturgy or that, questioning why denominations existed, taking days of solitude as sips of the monastic life.
A few years went by and he, born and raised as a southern baptists, stepped down the road to Orthodoxy. First, it was reading books and visiting a community here and there. Then he turned away from the precipice of a new job in Oklahoma, returning to Denver to join a Russian Orthodox church, driving a milk truck to pay bills. From here he moved into a monastic community to begin is novice period - 3 years. (Not many of us would say we are a novice after just 1 year in anything, much less 3). The monastery moved to West Virginia, where he was eventually ordained as a priest in the Russian Orthodox way. He took a new name as part of this baptism into a new life - Fr. Alexander, after a 11th century monk he admired.
And all this time we have kept in touch, exchanging hand written letters every few months. In fact he is one of the only people left in the world I write long hand, with pen and paper, mailing each through the slow post. Which seems only fitting, orthodox.
Friends who knew him before he went monastic, often wonder aloud what became of him, why he made the choices he made. Some say with such pity in their voice, “I feel so sad for him,” as if making this choice is a wasted life, as if playing the game of shallow successes and owning more toys is a better way to spend it. The ones that respect him wonder how he got there with a bit of envy at his simple life, so dedicated and devout. I tell them it’s never surprised me that he is a monk. I tell them how, over dirty dishes and late nights in college, we would dance with the possibility of becoming monks, living quiet lives of solitude and study, lives far from “quiet desperation.’
And so the boys become men, living the lives for which they were created, neither more extraordinary than the other and yet unlike anything anyone saw coming when they were just lads. It is said that if we are lucky we might have two or 3 really close friends in life; friends that are closer than brothers, men that are more intimate than wives. It may be the case with this friend. We do share a 16 year old history unlike any other in my life.
His letters slow me down. I have to hold them as I read them. And I have think as I write them. wasting little on petty news. They slow me down because they wreak of contemplation; carefully chosen words. Such that I can do no less than the same in respect.
This letter I just mailed took a month to write. It will take another or two to read his response. And so it goes like a slow moving current underneath a loud, demanding world. two friends keeping the fire lit.