I had a life, once. Then in 1993 that life ended--well, went into deep hibernation at least. I changed. Everything changed. I literally became someone else and was that someone else for over four years, four very important years from age 18 to 22. It was during that time that I ceased to be just Sean and became Brother Sean. And sure, you can say I was always Sean no matter what titles went before my name or initials followed, but for me, I cannot explain how transformative those years were for me. I think only others who have been through the exact same thing--living and working in a monastery or even spending time in prison--would know and understand some of what that experience does to a person. And so I come to the purpose of this blog. It was 10 years ago today, July 19, 1997, that I left the religious order I was in and ceased to be Brother Sean.
When I joined the Brothers, I gave up everything I owned. I gave away my possessions and lost my friends (the latter not happening on purpose but as a side effect of never being able to speak to them or see them). I cared very much for my friends and loved them very much. Attempts to communicate were thwarted, though, and even letters sent to me were confiscated and opened before I saw them. There is no need for exaggeration on my part: It really was that bad. The word brainwashing was used against me by my friends back in the day, and I assured them I wasn't being brainwashed. I was, however, quite soulwashed.
I was called by God to be there. I was called by God to be guided and taught by my Brothers and I was called by God to guide and teach my Brothers. I was also called by God to leave. But I didn't. My ego self tried to "make it work" and I honestly thought I had to stay there even though I was deeply unhappy. "Unhappy," of course, is putting it mildly. By my fourth year there, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and seeing a psychologist weekly, crying all the time and frequently on the floor in my room listening under door cracks and around corners to hear if people were talking about me. I wasn't crazy. I was just very, very sad. The Brothers--perhaps predictably--forbade me from getting medication for my clinical depression and my Novice Master suggested I pray to the Holy Spirit for help. My psychologist, though paid by them, saw through their quackery and advised me to get out of there.
Realizing I was gay in those years was one of the toughest things I had to go through. I knew it wasn't a sin--I wasn't delusional--but I also knew I was stuck, with no one to talk to about it. One person I finally confided in was a college professor who I knew to be gay himself. As I am publishing these reflections online, I won't go into specifics about him or the other people I told I was gay, including fellow Brothers, but it was very much a helpful process for me. Unfortunately for my professor, he wasn't so lucky. His letters to me were intercepted unbeknownst to me--either before I read them (re-sealed?) or after I had read them and stolen from my room. After I left--I found out later--the Brothers of my community went to see the President of Manhattan College, Brother Thomas Scanlan. They reported the letters to him and attempted to get my teacher friend fired. They never showed any real concern, any real Christian love for me, but instead took their warped minds to the campus of Manhattan College and tried to ruin the life of one of the only people who treated me decently. They failed and have since started sending their young Brothers to a different college, thereby restoring decency and honor to my beloved college. Ahh...catharsis.
My freedom in those years was stunted. No movies out at the theaters, no random trips to the mall, no time spent with friends, no fun trips away, no family time except for a few hours every six weeks, and I even missed a couple of family weddings. I see TV shows like Friends or Seinfeld on reruns and unlike most people, I'm seeing them for the first time. I had TV there, but virtually no free time to watch it. My day began every morning at 5:30 AM. Morning Prayer and Mass were at 6:00 AM and I had an incredibly full schedule all day long every day, finishing with Night Prayer at 9:20 PM. And that didn't include any homework or reading time which would have to be squeezed into the one or two hours I managed to stay awake before collapsing in bed each night.
This blog could sufficiently fill books about my time there. My own first novel which I'm still putting finishing touches on lately goes into some of my experiences there. But today as I commemorate, celebrate and reflect on my tenth anniversary of the day I left there forever, I also reflect on what I have done with my life since then and what I still want to do. Any freed prisoner or defrocked monk is filled with an enormously elated sense of freedom. The whole world is yours and you appreciate all the freedoms you have more than any ordinary human being could or would. It really is a complete absence of freedom that makes you appreciate the freedom more when you have it again. But today, even though I have so much in my life to be grateful for, so many friends, a loving boyfriend, an apartment and possessions, life experiences and more, I take this time to especially recognize all that I have not done.
That brings me, finally, to the subject I began my blog with. I am wasting time. I am wasting my freedom. I am wasting my life. Too drastic? Too harsh on myself? Perhaps, and it's true that we all do this to different degrees. But I believe that if I asked a prisoner, or someone who feels stuck in monastic life, or more poignantly if I asked an elderly person or really anyone older than me, "What would you do if you were 32 and free to do anything with your life" how many would say just keep wasting it?
There is no finale to this long blog. There is no magical answer at the end. There is reflection, and there is determination. My first life lasted me to age 18. My second life felt like a lifetime unto itself and it was only four years. My third and present life began 10 years ago today and it is not over yet. I have goals. I have dreams and aspirations, many of which are beyond reason, but as Blaise Pascal said, "The heart has reasons of which reason does not know." I dream big and I make many dreams come true. I am blessed with many talents, a sweet and caring disposition, a good sense of humor and a lot of love for others.
I will waste time and freedom and life more in the future, but I will not waste it as much as I have in the past. I am only 32. It has only been 10 years. I am only just beginning.