#69: The Friar

October 5th, 2012

He was leaning against the Red Line train door that wouldn’t open in the direction of travel, smacking chewing gum, hoisting a backpack over his shoulder and wearing a full-length brown habit with knotted cord belt wrapped around his waist and dangling low from his right side.

He also had a long rosary hanging from his left side. And a shaved head. And sort of a scruffy soul patch.

The train dinged and said “Doors closing.” It rattled south from the Chicago Avenue stop. We stood in silence for a second.

“Are you a monk?” I asked.

He blinked, taking a moment to realize I was talking to him.

“A friar,” he said, smiling peacefully.

“Ah,” I said.

We stood in silence for a second. The train rattled a bit.

“So do you live in a friary?” I asked, thinking I made up a word.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s in Hyde Park.”

“Ah,” I said.

“St. Joseph. It’s small, just there.”

“Like just off the street?”

He nodded.

“Most people only know St. Peter downtown,” he said.

I nodded. I had no idea where he was talking about.

Neither of us said anything. He kept chewing his gum. We neared Grand.

“I asked because of the wedding ring,” I said.

He looked at me for a second, then glanced at the hand holding the backpack strap over his shoulder. He smiled peacefully.

“Oh, I got this as a gift a long time ago,” he said, nodding toward the band on his left ring finger. “That’s the finger it fits on.”

“Ah,” I said.

We stood in silence for a second. I glanced at the friar’s feet. He wore sandals, but they didn’t seem monastic. More like Tevas. The sandal of men who play hacky sack and try to popularize calling Ultimate Frisbee just Ultimate.

His backpack was a brand called “Intense.”

“Did you say you’re a monk?” the man in the other corner of the door area asked.

“Friar,” he said, turning to his new inquisitor.

“What’s the difference?” the man asked.

I silently thanked the man for asking it.

The friar shifted his weight a bit, getting ready to give an explanation he had clearly given before but didn’t seem yet tired of.

“Monks lives in a monastery and they’re cloistered. Friars live in a friary and they’re not cloistered.”

“Ah,” the man said.

We stood in silence for a second.

“What’s ‘cloistered?’” I asked.

“They can’t leave,” the friar said.


The three of us mumbled uncomfortable thanks, you’re welcomes and sorry to bother yous to each other. We all avoided eye contact after that was done.

Hoisting his Intense backpack closer, giving a kind smile and smacking his gum a bit more, the friar got off at Lake.

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