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  • I loved what someone said at the very end of the retreat, at our check-out meeting, where everyone talks about what the retreat meant for them. They shared about a catholic high school men’s retreat they went on over half a century ago, where a priest spent a day and a half of that retreat describing hell to the boys. (I thought, “Boy, that must have been one hell of a retreat!”). He went on to say that none of us who attended this retreat needed anyone to do that for us– we’d all experienced hell for ourselves, already. This retreat brought moments where we might have had a little glimpse of what heaven is like.

    That really resonated with me. First off, much as I hated every moment of my 3 years in that all-boys Catholic high school I went to, I had a moment of gratitude that I never had to go on one of those retreats, like the speaker described! (It was bad enough without that!)

    I did have moments, throughout the weekend, where I felt like heaven was within reach – maybe even right there. Both mornings, just before dawn, I made my way down to the lake at the bottom of the hill behind the big, old Senexet House, down those two long flights of old, wooden stairways through the woods, across the little meadow, to that little slice of nature’s heaven where I am reminded of chill fall mornings in my youth, out fishing all day on a lake with my fishing buddies.
  • Walking through those woods, alongside the foggy lake, I was also reminded of my intellectual and spiritual awakenings 42 years ago, when I first came up to Connecticut from Pittsburgh, and discovered the likes of Thoreau and Emerson, and the beautiful nature and history of this part of the country. It blew my mind then, and it still blows my mind today, 42 years later. There’s a real timeless quality to this moment, and this realization of my oneness with it all. There’s the same awe and sense of wonder now as there was then. The same sense of hope and of not being alone, out there all by myself.

    Of course, those early morning risings – I’m always the first one up in that houseful of 25 men – are just about the only time I find myself alone, there. The rest of the time it’s all about making connections with others, and each time I go up to one of these retreats, those connections go deeper with those I see each time I come up, while they also go broader as I meet many new people each time, as well.

    This time, there was a cross-connection, as well. I brought someone with me – well, they actually came down from New Hampshire, but it was an old friend, the guy who had actually started the group I now call my home group, in Georgetown, D.C. J. had said that if there’s an extra bed, he’d like to check it out, and when none of the guys in my group could make it up, I invited him, and he came down.
  • The way the weekend is set up, you wind up spending time with just about everyone who attends, be it a 5 minute conversation in a hallway or an hour long walk in nature, and you get to know some people well. For the second retreat in a row, I was asked to share some stories with the group, after the 2 speaker meeting on Saturday night, around the fireplace in the large living room. Bedtime stories. Last time, I just told a couple from memory, and read 2 or 3 others.

    This time, I came more prepared, just in case. I spent a little time picking out which stories might be good for this crowd, then read through them enough that I’d be able to just tell them, without reading at all. When the guy who’d asked me last time to do my stories had to leave on Friday night for a family emergency, I thought I was off the hook, but another guy approached me later, and asked if I’d do it again. I said if folks wanted me to, I would. They did, so I did.

    That turned out to be even more enjoyable this time than it was last winter. I was just more relaxed, more prepared, and was more into the flow. They wanted to hear the Pete Rose Hat story again, as a number of folks weren’t there the last time, and those that were wanted to hear it again, anyway. Other than that, I chose a series of stories that described how I came to move to Connecticut with my family in the first place. They included my dancing with Tina Turner story, my first date, with the hot, straight girl who I took to the Alice Cooper concert, my big keg party, and my first attempt to clean up my act. They were the perfect stories to tell.
  • At dinner on Saturday night, at our table (there are 3 tables, each seating 8 to 9 guys apiece), somewhere between the main entrée and dessert, we devolved into increasingly crude, but good, jokes, and it was just one of those moments where you get onto such a roll, and are filled with so much laughter and shared humor, you completely get out of your self. That was a moment I won’t forget. Heavenly! Another was, just as I was going to sleep on Saturday night, I had this sense of being so connected, to the universe and to just something so much greater than my self, it was close to being an out-of-body experience, but it wasn’t. I’ve had those moments before in my life, but never one that was quite as calm and reassuring as this one was. It was truly a gift. It didn’t last all that long – but, at the same time, it was infinite. It lasted forever.

    I decided to drive home Sunday, instead of staying over at my brother’s house Sunday night and coming back today. I got more sleep at this retreat than I’ve gotten at the previous three I’ve gone to. Four hours and five hours, Friday and Saturday nights, as opposed to the usual two and three. I’m glad I did, although today I’m pretty wiped out, physically and mentally, from that long drive. This way, by tomorrow, I’ll be somewhat human again. I would have had to spent tomorrow recovering from the drive, had I come back today.

    It is very clear to me how truly fortunate I am, for what I have in my life. Life is damn good!
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