Historical setting: 589 C.E. The cottage in the mountains
The monk explains that in Lent there are more pilgrims than ever at Annegray. He thanked Ana for the seeds and wild roots and flavorful herbs and for instructions for the kind of root cellars used in Gaul. So now, he says, food was already set aside for guests. He says they need more copies of Columbanus’s Rule so this servant brings more velum ends and ink.
The servant monk says to me, “Surprised we all were to find Ana is such an able scribe. Even in these times of good health all around she is still useful.”
Ana rises from the table to stir the pot. Her lips are pressed, holding back tears. I know this isolation here, serving people she never sees, is a deep hurt.
After the servant is on his way I find I can be more useful with the daily chores washing the bowls and readying the pot. Then she sets the table with velum, ink blocks and blades and brushes.
“Ana, how did they discover you are a literate woman?”
“Well, you know the messenger birds only fly one way, so to ask something of me they send the servant monk here with a wax tablet. It’s a tablet like the one Brother Nic used to teach me letters. When the servant brings news that someone is in the infirmary in need of an uncommon cure, the symptoms come scratched in the wax. Then I press the wax down and write the instructions for the remedy and send it back with the proper herbs. But now they want true writing. I’m not practiced with the inks but here they are in need of Rules for guests so I become the scribe.”
As I watch Ana spend her hours and her days caring for a group of strangers she never sees or touches nor even does she know by name, I ask her if she finds this isolation a blessing or a curse.
“Do you welcome your solitude?”
“Such is the way of all goodness, light and warmth of fire, love and even life itself…” She answers, “It is both blessing and curse.”
“How is such isolation a blessing?” I ask as we scrape the blocks of ink into powder and trim the dried and stretched calfskins.
“The complaints old Nic had of The Rule of St. Benedict were structures to serve as practical solutions for controlling an unruly mob of boys using punitive earthly measures and threat of hell. And now you ask me if ‘community is the curse’?”