Monday, March 8, 2021

I Was Gone Long Before I Left: A Review

What would it be like to live in a monastery?  And how would it change ones life to leave such a sheltered setting after twenty-five years?  These are the questions addressed in Peter Wilcox's book I Was Gone Long Before I Left.  Written in memoir style some thirty-eight years after he actually parted ways with the monastic life, Wilcox's account benefits from his having had almost four decades to reflect on this crucial part of his life.  While he certainly speaks of the great challenges and difficulties that he faced (emotionally and spiritually) it is usually without the rancor that some such volumes often exhibit.  Indeed, he is not an ex-Catholic, simply a former priest and monk.

It is intriguing to note that the book is essentially divided into two major sections.  The first, recounting his life story, the second, reflecting on its significance and meaning, seems written in two different styles.  The first is much more colloquial, and far less polished, the second, more formal.  An example of the former can be found in a passage where he reflects on a day in his childhood spent collecting leaves for a biology project in a local park.  He writes:  "It was such a fun day and among our group was the girl that I liked a whole lot which made the day even more interesting and enjoyable."  (23)  An example of the latter reads:  "Letting go of something in life isn't one step but many.  It's a winding, spiraling process that happens on deep levels and then, only gradually."  (170) 

The book is carefully organized, in fact a bit too carefully for my taste.  It is literally ordered following an outline, and is divided into many, many lettered and numbered subsections for each chapter.  Perhaps the structuring grows out of the many years of living a highly scheduled life.  Whatever,
the format hinders the flow of the book and would have been better left out altogether.

That said, the book taken as a whole, provides a fascinating account of a life rich with a variety of experiences.  Certainly if Socrates was right about the importance of living a life that has been well-examined, Wilcox has met that criterion.  He is a careful observer of his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others.  This is not a book of heroes and villains, nor an account of someone who sees himself as a victim.  Rather it is the story of a man struggling with his faith and his identity. 

Near the end of the book Wilcox talks about his own work as a psychotherapist.  "When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.  And in the silence of listening, you bring healing to the other person." (191)  One can only assume that in recounting his life story Wilcox has listened generously to himself.  And in doing so has heard the truth within himself.  In sharing his story, he has also allowed for others to listen in.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

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