It had been my intent to rent a car and explore Northeastern Iowa and attend parts of the Studio Tour Art Fair, now in its second decade. Until, in a small (pop. 500) Iowa town, my rental car had a flat tire.
I was unable to reach any sort of effective roadside assistance, and so went to bed in my charming AirBnB, thinking I would deal with it tomorrow.
The next day, my intrepid host found me an able mechanic. He changed the tire to the donut within 10 minutes. When I offered him my credit card, he merely told me he didn’t carry a Square, and I should drop by his dealership, in the next small town, 2 miles down the road, to settle up on my way out.
I love small towns, I told him.
Three hundred miles from home, I had been researching my options–driving indefinitely on a donut tire was not one of them–and decided to drive to the nearest car rental in Dubuque, Iowa, 83 miles away and an hour 27 minutes, according to Google, to swap the car for one with four good tires. It looked like I had plenty of time leaving Clermont at 10 a.m. to make the noon closing. Gentle reader, shall we skip the detour and slow-moving traffic? It was 2o after 12 when I arrived at the rental location. The location was closed, and would remain closed until Monday at 7:30 a.m.
I’d passed a monastery I’d been at before, where the monks were known for making caskets out of the trees on their property for their livelihood. Heartened, I stopped and spoke to the Retreat Master at the monastery.
The monks, whose motto was, “Treat all guests as Christ,” (taken from the Rule of St Benedict) had just told me they had no room at the inn.
I suddenly remembered a passage from a book my mom gave me on traveling. It said, “Many rooms are out of commission but usable. Ask about those.”
So I asked, “If I make up the bed myself, would you have a room?”
He considered for only a moment before saying Yes.
For the next two days, I ate (cold, bountiful, cafeteria-style meals–eaten in a silent, serene, dining room; “talking” dining rooms were clearly marked–were included in the cost of a daily “offering” around $60) slept, napped, read, visited the gift shop (with caskets and caramels displayed prominently), and attended seven-times-a-day prayers (full disclosure: six times a day, as I did not make it to the 3:30 a.m. prayers). The prayers consisted of singing, not prayers. It felt like a movie with the monks coming in, singing in the beautiful, acoustically – perfect chapel. I felt as if I was participating in something ancient and reverent, and soothing.
Monday morning I left New Melleray Abbey, grateful for my forced stop, and vowing to return soon.