Tony Rossi, Director of Communications,
An Irish Monk and the Purpose of Life
December 15, 2019
August Turak jumped out of an airplane. He had a parachute on, of course, but his skydiving
attempt with some college students he was working with at Duke University resulted in a
hard landing that “smashed my ankle to smithereens,” he recalled on “Christopher Closeup.”
What he didn’t know at the time was that this incident would cause him to rethink his life and
become more open to the promptings of God.
As Turak spent a week in the hospital, he began experiencing panic attacks and a deep depression. He came to realize that his fractured ankle was just symbolic of the fact that he was facing his own mortality for the first time. This reaction was particularly ironic since Turak made his living coaching college students on spirituality and finding meaning in their lives. Yet here he was, the teacher who offered advice to others, but who found himself empty.
Eventually, the panic attacks stopped, but the emptiness continued to torture him. At the gym one day, a man that Turak recognized commented to him, “Not feeling too good, are you, Aug? It feels like your heart’s broken, don’t it?” Turak was shocked that this relative stranger knew exactly how he was feeling. The man continued, “In AA, we call it the Soul Hole. I’m here to tell you that you’re in for two years of so much hell, you’re going to be wishing you was never born. But you’re going to come through the other side. When you do, you’re going to love yourself a whole lot more than you do right now.”
A few days later, Turak received a call from a student he’d coached who was spending time at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery and working farm in South Carolina. Turak felt a sudden urge to go there himself, as if this was the place that could lead him to the answers he was looking for. At first, he traveled to the Abbey for several weekends of prayer and meditation and found the monks’ kindness and selflessness made a big impression on him. But it was when Turak became a monastic guest over the Christmas season that he had his life-changing encounter with Brother John.
Following Christmas Eve Mass and a small party afterward, Turak was ready to return to his room in a separate building. He heard raindrops hitting the roof and realized he’d forgotten his umbrella. Cursing to himself because he knew he would get drenched, he approached the doorway and saw 60-year-old Irish monk Brother John standing there with an umbrella, waiting to walk people who’d forgotten their umbrellas to their rooms. Despite the cold and rain, the monk in his thin habit walked guests across the grounds, sharing with them his single umbrella.
For the next week, Turak couldn’t get Brother John’s simple gesture of kindness out of his head. The monk had anticipated the needs of others and was willing to endure discomfort in order to help them. This, Turak realized, was love. Turak got the message that God was sending him. He discovered the way to fill his “soul hole” was by practicing selflessness and love.
Turak has now shared this story in an illustrated book called “Brother John.” He concluded, “Most people these days are relativistic. We’re all supposed to find our own purpose. I say, we all have the same purpose …We’re all put here for the exact same reason: to be transformed from selfish people to selfless people.”
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