This is the story of two Irish brothers who quit school to become monks. The brothers were born to a woman named Imelda. Imelda held down a wild motorcyclist rocker for a number of years. She gave him a son whom he loved and that convinced him to stick around. A few years later she gave him another son. Shortly after that, he decided seven years spent being a Dad was quite enough, and he got on his bike and rode into the honey-skied sunset, never to be seen again.
Imelda raised the two boys who were named Michael and Gabriel, to be nice boys. Well-mannered, well-spoken and polite. On top of this, Michael and Gabriel’s surname from their father was ‘Bliss’. So already many people thought there must be something special about the pair.
When Michael was in primary school he once told his teacher that he was not meant for this world. Assuming he was caught up in a fantasy from a comic book, she asked him what world did he belong to? He answered “No world”.
Gabriel showed even more striking signs of peculiarity. When he was only eight he started to teach himself Chinese through a Chinese-government funded website for Westerner kids. The website was badly designed and nearly impossible to navigate, but Gabriel made steady progress.
Imelda would take them out to parks and beaches on the weekends. She was quite puzzled why her children didn’t seem to care much for running around and playing with the other kids. In fact, the brothers would often be contented sitting and making spirals, or other such patterns, with their fingers in the sand. One Christmas Imelda even bought them a dog (specifically of an energetic breed, a springer spaniel) She hoped the dog would awaken some fun and agility in her sons. While they showed the bouncing pup a lot of love and joy, his spritely energy didn’t make them any more willing to get up and throw a ball around. Conversely, as the dog grew up, his personality was moulded by the two boys’ placid and indolent ways. So by the time he was three, he was a fat, slow and lazy mutt who was mighty fond of bellyrubs.
Imelda didn’t know what to expect from her sons. As they entered secondary school, she worried that they didn’t have enough friends. They both spent a lot of their free time on their own. Michael reading books, or drawing. Gabriel studying languages or going on long walks. She went to see a counselor one day, to help her make sense of her worries and woes. The counsellor told her she had nothing to worry about. That she was merely the mother of a pair of introverts and that it was likely her boys would end up becoming rich and successful career-men, because they were so disciplined about their respective hobbies. Imelda couldn’t help but think the counsellor was full of shit and that if the motorcyclist had stuck around, her boys would be the life of the party.
One day Gabriel came home with a black eye and blood-stained nose. On the same day Michael came home with a girlfriend. Imelda was thrilled and stunned all at once. Thrilled that her son Gabriel had been noticed enough to be boxed in the face. Stunned that Michael was now under the clutches of a surely evil wench who was going to break her boy’s precious heart. She sat down with all three of them at the kitchen table and attempted to tell a biblical story she had been told in her youth. She fumbled for the details and began to look especially dumb when Michael’s girlfriend, Saskir, began asking questions and even correcting her. The boys saw through their mother’s contrived preaching at once and didn’t pay much heed. They just let her go on til’ she wore herself out. She’d done the same things a few times before.
Michael dated Saskir for three months and even managed to get to second base. After all that time though, he felt she was requiring too much effort and time of him, so he broke it off, and broke her heart. Gabriel got boxed a few more times and Imelda couldn’t figure out why for the life of him, he didn’t learn to throw a punch back. Perhaps she had raised him to be too nice. Again she pined, if only that bleeding motorcyclist had planted his tatooed ass down and had been there to show her boys how to be men. Even if he couldn’t cover the gentleman part of the syllabus.
Then one morning Imelda got the fright of her life. She was downstairs drinking her low-fat cappuccino and scrolling through mildly-interesting medium articles when she heard an unearthly shriek coming from Michael’s bedroom. Her heart leaped into her throat as she slammed her coffee mug onto the table, intentionally spilling a little. She hesitated before getting up, wishing whatever was happening, wasn’t.
When she got to Michael’s room she saw his precious body convulsing to and fro in a diabolical display. Face down, his mop of brown hair was sweat-drenched and dishevelled. He made a few more odd shrieks before going silent. Imelda screamed as she brought her trembling fingers to her mouth. “MICHAEL! NOO!”
The ambulance arrived twenty minutes later and within the hour Michael was in A&E being checked by all sorts of specialists. Imelda sat bedside, clutching onto her other son beside her and rocking back and forth. Her face was the colour of the lime-flavoured starburst.
After countless checks, none of the doctors could pinpoint what was wrong. They found nothing abnormal in his brain scans. His bloods were clear. He had no infections, nothing broken, no damaged nerves, nothing imbalanced with his hormones. They put him on a course of antibiotics because they didn’t have any more creative ideas, and sent him home that very evening.
Imelda stayed up by his bed all night, holding his hand, making sure it was still warm. He hadn’t said anything all day or night. But at 6.52am he opened his brown eyes and looked into hers. She started to cry. Not because she was relieved to see him finally wake up, but because she had never seen this quality in his gaze before. He had this holy look about him. Like everything putrid and dour had been wiped clean and all that was left was the pure essence that was underneath.
When he began speaking a few days later, Michael explained to his mother and brother that he had undergone a profound awakening and was now ready to dedicate his life to alleviating the suffering of humanity. Imelda would have been happier to hear him say he was now determined to become a successful investment banker. But she was just happy that he was speaking again.
Michael began to surround himself with books about buddhism and he devoured one after another day after day. Every mealtime it was all he would talk about. Overnight, he was a complete fanatic. Naturally Gabriel followed in his older brother’s footsteps. Because nice kids are interested in what their siblings are into.
One day Michael and Gabriel approached Imelda while she was cooking and stood there in straight-postured silence, awaiting full attention. “What is it?” Imelda asked, smirking. The boys looked at one another and then both began speaking at once “There’s this place we want to go…” “Buddhist Centre” “Free” “Can we ?” “It’s this place where you can…” It came out like a garbled heap of nonsense and so Michael looked at Gabriel to shut him up and proceeded to say “Mum. We would like you to take us to this Buddhist Centre in town. It’s open every evening for group meditation and classes about Buddhism.” Imelda sighed. Part of her hoped that her boys were going to ask for a holiday to Disneyland that she couldn’t afford. “I’ll think about it” she said and turned around to stir the soup.
The next week the boys were sitting crossed legged on the musty carpet of Dublin’s only Tibetan Buddhist centre and chanting strange words in a language that resembled disturbed gargling. Imelda sat in on the meditation, ignoring the instructions to cross her legs and detach from her thoughts. Instead, she kneeled on the floor and clung to every thought like it was the climbing hook on the side of a sheer cliff.
The following week she sat in on the meditation class, which was been given free of charge by an older Croatian man. “You do not exist. There is no self.” “Life should be lived for others.” “The best use of time is meditation (i.e. sitting still and doing nothing) Hearing all this made Imelda queasy. Was this really the best influence on her sons?
As the weeks went by and the boys got more and more involved in the goings-on in the Buddhist centre, Imelda wished more and more that they would suddenly become interested in drugs or drinking, or even with evil wench girls who might break their hearts! Anything but this moralistic, bollox-shrinking hogswash! But the opposite was the case. The boys became thirsty. Dogged. Feverious after one thing… ‘Enlightenment’.
Michael had been spending a lot of time speaking with the older Croatian man, before and after the classes, and increasingly on weekends. He had become somewhat of a mentor figure for the boy. And the man, who was called Jakob, was particularly interested when Michael told him about his recent ‘incident’. Jakob further convinced Michael that his fit was some kind of heavenly sign of awakening and it instilled great encouragement in the boy.
The greatest shock came about three months later, when the boys were officially ‘regulars’ at the centre. Imelda was picking up the guys from their Wednesday evening Buddhism lecture. She rang the doorbell and Jakob opened it, greeting her with an eerily friendly smile. “Imelda! How lovely to see you!” She saw the two boys at the other end of the corridor, smiling and talking among themselves. They didn’t make their way to the door as usual. It felt immediately like something strange was going on.
“Imelda, do you mind if we have a little chat?” Jakob said, still smiling. “Fucking Buddhists” Imelda thought to herself.
“21 years?!” She heard herself bleat, in a slightly posher accent than she usually adorned. “That’s not a retreat! That’s a bloody lifetime!”
“21 years, that’s correct. It is the most intensive and effective program in the world. If I were you I’d be very proud of your sons for even considering…”
“Are you absolutely bleeding nuts?!” Imelda said. “They’re still in school! They don’t know what they want! They don’t know what’s out there for them!” She continued. Jakob stood there, still smiling and nodding.
“I understand that the prospect is frightening for you and that you would miss them dearly. But I can assure you they would be absolutely safe and sound… happy, maybe not… but that’s not exactly the point, is it?!” he said, then chuckled mildly. Imelda was fuming.
“There is no way they are going to sign up for anything of the sort. They are my sons and they are going to live normal lives, find normal wives and get on with things! Come on boys, get your shoes on” Imelda said.
“Would you please consider sleeping on it? We can discuss it again another day when it is less of a shock.” Jakob said.
“Bye Jakob” the boys said in unison as they walked out the door behind their steam-train mother. Imelda said nothing.
Weeks went by and not a word more was spoken about the 21 years retreat. Imelda had placed a strict ban on mentioning it in the house. In fact, she was tempted to ban any talk of Buddhism altogether, but she didn’t want to make mutes of her sons.
However just because Michael and Gabriel weren’t discussing the retreat in front of their mother, does not mean they did not talk about it all the time between themselves. Which they did. In case it wasn’t obvious. Encouraged by the countless stories Jakob told them about the transformational power of the monks in the mountains, the boys wish to go only grew stronger. One day they were told by a visiting monk
“You are not your mothers’ sons. You are independent souls. Your age matters not. You have lived many lifetimes already. If you feel the call to monkhood in this lifetime, it is extremely wise to heed that call.”
They had made their minds up.
Everything was arranged in the monastery in Nepal. The only thing left was to convince their guardian to sign them out of school. Imelda wouldn’t hear a word of it. So they decided to find another plan. The boys needed to find their father.
They scoured facebook for anybody with the name “Ricardo Bliss”. There were, crazily enough, 3 results. One didn’t have a profile picture and the only thing on his profile were reposts of horse-racing tournament results. Another’s profile photo was of a coca-cola can. He had a number of status updates about mundane details of his life. ‘Ricardo was at the cinema – “don’t see the new spiderman, pile of stink”’ ‘Ricardo updated his relationship status: It’s complicated – “does unrequited love count as a relationship? Lol.”’ It was embarrassing. They hoped that wasn’t their dad. The last photo was one of an extraordinarily tanned older man who seemed to be at some beach bar in a tropical location. He was smiling a very wide-grinned, toothy smile. While his smile was big, it was showy; the expression in his eyes was cold. His profile was littered with photos of sunsets and beautiful people on beaches, reposted youtube videos of pranks and people hurting themselves and trail-of-thought posts full of vacuous and uninteresting opinions.
“That’s him” Gabriel said. He looks just like you Michael.”
“Jeez. He seems horrible” Michael said. They hovered over the ‘Send A Message’ button. “Here it goes…”.
Ricardo was highly amused by his sons’ outreach “I knew it was only a matter of time boys, before you’d find me. I wanted to wait for you to find me, so that I would be able to meet you as independent young men and not little boys by Mummy’s side.” he said, as he sat across from the two of them with their club oranges, him with a large lager in hand. He took a long sip and then sighed a deep sigh of satisfaction.
“So you want to become fucking monks is it?” he said and laughed.
“Boys it appears you haven’t yet discovered the power and the joy of that little creature between your legs!” he said, clutching onto his own balls in a theatrical gesture. He put down his beer. “But at the same time I think it would make a hilarious story to tell people… that I’ve got two monk sons, living in bleedin’ Tibet! Brilliant! Aha!” “Nepal actually” Gabriel said.
Ricardo took no convincing. He was only disappointed neither of them took up his offer of a beer.
The flights were booked by Jakob and Ricardo even agreed to chip in. The boys felt guilty about leaving their mother in the dark and it hurt them both to think of her lonely life once they were gone. But they were convinced there was no better path for them than to follow through with this path. After all, they couldn’t wait until they were out of college and had jobs and independent lives. They could die before they even reached that point! Enlightenment doesn’t just wait around. Time was precious and sacrifices had to be made.
So on the morning of the 21st of May, they both said goodbye to their Mum for what they suspected might be the last time in their lives, and headed out the door dressed for school. Schoolbooks in their bag had been replaced by essential supplies. A taxi to the airport was waiting around the corner. The two of them were so sleep deprived from waking up for their early morning meditation that their cloud-like state of being made it immensely easier to float through the most monumental day of their lives without too much worry.
Jakob met them at the airport, to say goodbye. “Make sure you take good care of her. Make sure she knows we’re safe, and tell her we’re happy, even if it’s not true.” Michael said.
“Yes, please Jakob. Please make sure she reads our letters so she knows this decision came from us. Please reassure her as much as you possibly can.” Gabriel said.
“Don’t worry boys. I will do my very very best to make sure your mother takes this the best she can. I know she is going to hate my guts no matter what. But that is ok. I have complete understanding why she will and I will do my best to reassure her as much as humanly possible.”
Before they left for their gate, Jakob told them one final thing. “Boys. Remember. When you feel like you are totally broken. There is still something underneath which is indestructible. You know what that is.” he winked. They smiled and toddled away, their schoolbags bouncing up and down slightly as they went. Jakob shed a tear.
And so the boys became Monks…
Imelda became bitter and her counselor became richer.
Jakob was pleased at his pupils’ progress and crestfallen to lose the company.
Ricardo had another anecdote to add to his collection and Saskir could tell her friends a Monk broke her heart.
But nothing much else changed down on earth while the boys sat up high in the mountains, taming their minds.
Was it right or was it wrong ?
We can only find out in 21 years time…
2 thoughts on “Monk Brothers”
Let us know in 21 years what happens. Maybe the secret, “you know what that is”, Jakob was winking about will come out as a Buddhist scandal!
Haha and would you believe it is actually based on a true story – though many of the details are skewed! Irl the mum loves the buddhism too. Yeah we’ll have to wait a long time to hear the end of this lol