birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Seventy-Five Guests at Dinner Made for Ten

I heard the clanking of dishes coming from the kitchen. And there were loud voices too, unusual for the monks. I stepped inside—it was chaos!

Five middle-aged men dressed in black cassocks were flying about the room. One of them was the abbot, another the kitchen master. They should have been taking off their aprons to go to Vespers prayers. Instead, they were hauling out box after box of snack-y foods from the walk-in freezer, throwing the food onto baking trays and stuffing them into ovens.

I asked if I could help. The abbot pushed me out of the room.

I went to Vespers—pretty sparsely attended by monks that night. But the parishioner pews were full to overflowing. This wasn’t normal for a Wednesday night in autumn.

Where had they all come from?

After prayers ended, I went into the retreat office where I had volunteered the day before. Father Philip, the guest master, sat at the desk, shaking his head.

I asked, “Who are all those people? Where did they come from?”

He winced, “They are from St [so-and-so’s, I’ve long ago forgotten]. They were on the calendar for dinner tonight. You didn’t see their number there?”

I felt horror. I dumbly shook my head too.

He pointed--a very pale and shaky “75”, with an even paler “for dinner” next to it, on the corner of the page.

“They scheduled weeks ago. They arrived about 2:30. We discovered the miscount at 4.”

My eyes welled with tears. I couldn’t speak. I left.

I went back to the kitchen where the bustle was slowing to a run. Food was coming hot from the ovens, but it was already about 20 minutes late. The guests and monks surely must be wondering why dinner wasn’t when it always was.

I went to the abbot, tears still blurring my eyes. “Please, Francis, let me help. Let me make amends!” I began to wail just the slightest bit, “Let me make it up to you.”

“Go sit down. We have it under control. Accidents happen.”


Becoming Your Parent's Parent