Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Robert Lax - Sort of a Memorial

Robert Lax – Sort of a Memorial

"Sometimes we go on a search
and do not know what we are looking for,
until we come again to our beginning." (Robert Lax)

Robert Lax was Thomas Merton’s best friend. Both met at Columbia University in the 30’s. Merton became a hermit monk and best-selling author. Lax worked for the New Yorker for a while as an editor, then joined the circus and spent many years traveling with the circus. He was also a poet and his most famous book, "Circus Days and Nights," was called by The New York Times Book Review "perhaps the greatest English language poem of this century."

After his circus days, Lax moved to Greece and ended up the last several decades of his life on the island of Patmos.

Two years ago I made a trip to the island of Patmos. Patmos, as you may remember, was where the Apostle John was imprisoned and wrote the book of Revelation. I went to the cave where he penned his famous words. It was a meaningful experience.

I also took time to have my picture made by the waterfront in front of the Arion Café. This was Lax’s hangout. He came daily and made his rounds, saying hello to the fisherman, sitting and eating with friends in the cafe, and keeping tab on a tribe of cats. He was known on the island as "the holy man."

In a recent magazine I read a story by another close friend of Lax, Moschos Lagouvardos. His description of Lax is worth remembering. Here are a few comments.

Roberto lived in an old house near the sea. It was a damp, two-story house in a narrow street that led to the sea.

He was like a migratory bird, traveling for the most part with only what was on his back. He had no possessions other than an old sack which contained the Psalms of David and the Book of Isaiah from the Bible, some underwear and shirts.

The most important thing in the world for Roberto was the beauty of God. Through him the beauty of the presence of God touched me to the core.

He once said, "only when one’s mind is free can thoughts be calm, bright and happy. It is only when we are calm and we take things slowly that our vision grows."

His only solace was his writing, his prayer-life and staring out to the sea.

He was always on a spiritual high thanks to his purity of heart.

He loved the circus. He loved the acrobat, the clowns, the lovely faces of the children with excitement in their eyes, and the music. Roberto felt that the circus was a never-ending cycle founded on the strength that comes from wisdom, and the wisdom found in beauty, and the love of the soul in search of its beloved.

He was in search of pure prayer and a free mind.

He had the gift of continually feeling the presence of God.

In closing Lagouvardos says,

"Many years later, at the Planet Cafe, I sit and write about my friend while drinking cappuccino, Roberto who left his friends and family to find a quiet place to write and pray. Roberto who introduced me to the spirit of Othodoxy, Roberto through whom I saw the value of a simple life, composure, placidity, solitude and silence, along with the unspeakable job of the continual repetition of the Name of God."




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