The monastery is not too far north of Silver City, into the Gila Mountains, but the increasing twists and turns, steepening mountainsides, and continually narrowing dirt road gives the impression that you're out there. Really leaning into that monk thing, like trekking into a Nepal with more juniper trees.
I didn't really (and still don't) have any clue what a Benedictine is, but I was assured they were friendly by my Austrian-sounding friend and I was further comforted by the Google Maps listing stating they were "open at 10am." Monks that keep hours on Google Maps must be approachable.
Pulling through the gates of the monastery I immediately entered a state of panic. Despite some obvious contrarian tendencies, I hate making a scene. I especially get anxious about being disrespectful of other people's beliefs and traditions to their face, even if they're objectively absurd. And I really try and avoid it when I'm on their turf.
Hence the panic as I pulled my lumbering van covered in non-subtle technicolor decals and was immediately blocked by a crowd of 50 people, dressed in all manners of flowing black robes, scarves, and their Sunday Best, standing in the middle of the drive. Most of them were obviously not monks but also obviously more than visitors on a scheduled tour, the women all wearing black scarves on their heads and the men wringing their hands held down in front of their pleated pants. A central figure was speaking in front and the crowd was moving through formalities of kneeling and bowing and standing and kneeling. A robed monk stood behind the crowd with a large portable speaker on a tall staff, reverberating the speech for all to hear. A few plain clothes men with large written tablets stood on the periphery, on my side of the crowd, having a somber side conversation. From the passenger seat, Covid tilted her head and gave the same unexpected and uncertain stare I was giving the crowd.
When socially panicked my brain has a lovely ability to absorb the whole scene and all the details at once, in fractions of a second, send it down to central processing to run through some heuristics and statistical models, then kick up a few "most likely" scenarios including exit strategies tied to risk mitigation. I chose "funeral" from the list of most likely scenarios (I would be surprisingly close it turns out) and "pull over in the gravel shoulder immediately to the right and hide in the back of the van until they leave" as the least risky maneuver (this strategy has consistently topped the charts ever since buying my first van, validated by a success rate upwards of 92%).
Peaking through the tinted windows from behind the driver's seat I watched the crowd continuing it's sporadic procession down the drive. Finally it dispersed and generally headed off with casual purpose towards what I would presume to be the chapel. I slipped out of the van and sort of blended in as best I could with the plain clothes types in back. I was looking around feverishly for the gift shop or wherever monasteries sell their coffee and cheese. Thus began the second round of panic. That was the plan? The same brain that processes bulk situational data through statistical risk scenarios is the same brain that planned a leisurely afternoon of "let's go get some cheese at the monastery gift shop"? I edged further to the back of the crowd as we neared the chapel. Risk mitigation options were now popping up with "turn tail and RUN" as a top choice.
"Is this your first time here?" he asked.
"Yes!" I elaborately replied.
"Well, you came on such a great day! And you are just in time for mass!" he beamed.
"Oh! Neat! Is this a special one today?" I thought I'd play along here, find out who died. Maybe they were a big deal.
"Well, of course it is a special one, because it is such a special day," he responded, his enthusiasm starting to crack.
I gave him a slack-jawed smile with wide eyes and held the gaze, the polite and nonverbal way to say "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Today is Good Friday," he said flatly.
"Yeah!" I responded. "Cool!"
Somewhere down in central processing an inner monologue was yelling "Booyah! I TOLD you it was a funeral! Nailed it!" Another voice was sadly considering "I doubt the gift shop is open..."
The events that followed continued my theme of ignorance and total lack of awareness. I ended up in the line for confessional because, well, lines usually go someplace worth waiting in line for and I still hadn't found the gift shop. I was rescued by a nice woman who probably thought I would take too long and hold everybody up. She pointed me into the chapel where I tried to mimic everybody else but couldn't tell if I was supposed to be kneeling or sitting or praying or flipping absently through the program (they might have been bibles) and I finally listened to that exit strategy of "RUN" and sort of slinked back outside and through the parking lot and up the drive towards the van still there on the gravel shoulder. Some voice down in central processing had finally realized that a Good Friday mass was probably going to be longer than the 15 minutes I was willing to endure "just for the experience" and getting out now was my best, safest option.
[During the chapel experience I had noticed a metal water cooler and thought "well, I am kind of thirsty" but couldn't find any cups. I finally noticed the sign talking about holy water. But part of me felt like I still had to try and drink some because that would be on-brand and I had a reputation to uphold by this point. I didn't drink any. As I mentioned there were no cups.]
Outside I could relax. Everybody was in the chapel and it was just me alone on the grounds. I took the long way back up the drive, meaning I started walking around and between the buildings. And get this. Seriously. There was a gift shop. A young monk let me buy some coffee beans and trinkets as he was heading out the door down to mass (no sign of cheese or beer but I wasn't about to delay the poor guy any further). He rang everything up with an impressively sophisticated point-of-sale system, including bar code scanner, and said "the total will be nine dollars and fifty cents. Or just give me eight dollars." I'm still confused by that. I handed him a 20 and didn't count the change, but it involved no coins.
As he was leaving I asked "how long is mass?"
He gritted his teeth, half rolling his eyes like the teenager he was heading off to chores he couldn't avoid. "Oof, it's two hours long today. Just have to persevere."