After Easter, 1974. I had finished my thesis at Emory: “Toward the Only Real City in America: Paradise and Utopia in the Autobiography of Thomas Merton.” I went to meet Patrick Hart at Gethsemani for the first time, like a cat bringing a mouse so he would notice me. I had met my partner, Robert Moore, on Holy Saturday. We dyed waxed eggs together for Easter. I brought one for Patrick as a first gift. I thought he would take it to his cell and treasure it. He held it for a moment but then put it in a chink of Gethsemani’s brick walls. “It’s going to get ruined out here,” I thought. Was he telling me my gift was not for him?
As he did so many others, Patrick went on to mentor me. He helped me reach out for whatever it was I was stretching for. We loved one another. If he had been a randy twenty-year-old, he could have been my dad. Every Christmas, beginning in my forties that he had blessed, I would write him to say that he was the father of the best years of my life. He stood on the sidelines, cheering me on. He gave me a life’s mission. He sent me on my way.
Whoever embalmed him did a great job. His face never looked more beautiful. He was radiant, at last handsome. I thought he would be pleased were he looking down at himself and touching his chest as I did with my own right hand to say thanks and good-bye.
I stayed at the foot of his grave as the crowd dispersed. I looked down and threw in some dirt. I waited while the novice started to shovel just as it began to rain. I noticed he began filling in along the edges of Pat’s body. He hesitated to hit his head that I stared down at through the cloth covering it. I was not fearful of the dirt, but I silently commended the novice’s delicacy.
In 2016 we had a final meeting in his infirmary room. We knew this visit was it. Hugs and tears. He was wearing a plaid shirt and he pulled one of my letters from its pocket. He told me he kept it there right next to his heart. I was not fooled. I knew he had file drawers full of notes and cards from everyone everywhere. Depending on his visitor, he would retrieve one of their notes, place it in the pocket of his heart and offer it to them as Exhibit A: “See how much I loved only you.” Ha! But I was not jealous.
He was 93, rich with experience, loved by the chorus of those he saved with kindness. I am one of these who will sing his praises until I myself am dead. The father of our best years, he rests awhile in our hearts, always only passing through, leaving behind his gifts of joy and peace, urging us on to do more and better work.