Mepkin Abbey recently lost my friend and Hero Br. Robert. It was Br. Robert who in my book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, tells me, "You know everyone wants to die like a Trappist, but no one wants to live like one."
Br. Robert was an incredibly hard worker.Every day for many years he collected eggs in the chicken houses; rapidly scooping them up with both hands three at a time and then gently depositing them in 24 egg flats stacked in columns six... flats high. Then he would load them into an old truck and drive them to the "eggery" or "grading" house where we would wash them, grade them, put them in cartons, and send them off to market.
One day I was "picking eggs" myself when Robert entered the chicken house. He grabbed one of the four wheeled push carts, loaded it with empty flats, and began picking eggs as well. Determined to prove my mettle in the presence of "the Master" I began frantically picking until I was going like the proverbial one armed paper hanger.
But it did no good. Working one aisle over from me 80-year -old Robert quickly overtook and passed me like I was standing still. And as he did he just gave me a good natured smile that clearly indicated that he didn't even know we were competing! I will never forget watching his strong fingers dancing through lines of still-warm eggs; they seemed permanently melded by long use into the perfect position for picking eggs three at a time.
But my most precious memory is running into Robert one day in the kitchen after a long day of work. We were both covered in sweat and dirt, and after giving me a quick once over he smiled and said, "You're a good monk!"
There are very few if any compliments I have received in my entire life that mean more to me than that one.
(Many thanks to Matt Rutter for this photo of Br. Robert.)