I had little faith, but what belief I did have seemed strongest in the mornings. By sunrise the fires were low and my cell was so cold I could see my breath. I rushed to put on my robes, which might be itchy but were certainly warm.
For all the loneliness of the cloisters, there was peace in abundance, if you wanted it. As I rushed through the stone halls, no one engaged with me or even really gave me a second look. Though it was early morning, many of us were already up and praying or going about our chores.
I took my meager porridge and my one daily ration of coffee and hot milk and went to the gardens. Some of the oldest brothers were there, tending to herbs, guiding leaves to grow to their designs.
Out, past the plants, was a high cliff. The cloisters looked over the whole of our vast island. The hills all around, the misty river, the small lake to the south. All the green glory made it difficult not to feel the weight of God.
What was God to me, though? If he made this place, he made it for us to squabble and war and get sick and die. I am told, in monotonous services and masses, that this is a proving ground. We are here as a test of our faith. We are here to live and die in his service.
I’m here because I didn’t want to fight in a war, frankly. And I didn’t want to marry a very cruel and not very attractive woman. I didn’t want to write numbers in a big book and decide how and when to kick people out of their homes, as my father did. I didn’t want to participate in a horrific society.
So I had my lukewarm coffee and milk. I sat on an ice-cold stone bench and watched an old man fall asleep trimming a bush. I learned to sit in mass and ignore everything except what required a reply. I did it all for some peace. I did it all because it was better than pretending to love some woman I didn’t even like or that I cared about my family or that I wanted to eat rich sauces in a tuxedo.
Honesty, I believe I made the right choice.