Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

The monastic life


Neon doesn’t seem the best light for contemplating the contemplative life. Not to mention those bright red shopping carts lined up in front with the red bulls eye prominent on the facade. And the smell of popcorn and Starbuck’s coffee wafting out the front doors? I don’t know. This doesn’t seem right. Although, the directions are pretty specific — the northwest corner of Merle Hay Road and Douglas Avenue. And that’s exactly where I am. And, really, who am I to question the spiritual path? But in all honesty, I don’t see a sign of St. Gabriel’s Passionist Monastery that is supposed to be right here. All I see is the Target store at the Merle Hay Mall, Menswear Department, socks.joes1 2.11

Clark Eide is a tall man, hair pulled back tight in a long ponytail, an easy smile. He is of the age when he could be an old young man or a young old man. He stands behind a desk in the heart of the cozy nook that makes up Beaverdale Books, an anchor in a busy world.

“I was born in Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.”

Of course he was. The Eide name is not foreign in these parts. His great uncle, Howard Eide, was police chief in Des Moines from 1952-1960. And his grandfather, Clark Eide, fought in World War I before returning to Des Moines as a successful businessman. And his brother, Matt Eide, is a lawyer/lobbyist up at the Capitol. But now, after 30 years, Clark has returned home with a purpose. He’s written a new book — “A Monk’s Way.”

“The reason I wrote the book is that after a certain point in my life I wanted to go investigate the spiritual side of my life. I’m convinced we all have that dimension.”

Prep Iowa

With a melodic voice and a storyteller’s rhythm, Eide talks to the crowd with a gentle passion.

“After trying out many paths, I discovered that direct divine connection is the most important thing. You can overlay it with whatever you want in terms of ceremony, clergy, doctrine, but if you get to the fundamental, that’s what it is. I felt I needed to write about that. And that’s the beginning of the story.”

Sure, sure, sure. Everyone is interested in spiritual questions, but what about all the dirt and grime and turmoil before getting to the spiritual questions? So, after Eide’s presentation, I asked about his past.

“I graduated from a high school in Fort Dodge and I got a scholarship to Notre Dame. So I went. Notre Dame was all male at the time. I met some very interesting teachers. I ended up majoring in business. That was good. But what kept me going was, quite frankly, the glee club. I joined the glee club as a freshman. Those were my buddies. We traveled to Europe; we traveled all over the place.”

Hah, now we’re getting somewhere.

“When I was still at Notre Dame, one of my great loves was travel. I wrote some airlines as to why they should have me. My gosh, one of them hired me — the old British Overseas Airways Corporation — to represent them on the campus. It worked. My recompense was free travel.”

And travel he did. Hitchhiking around Europe. Staying in Ireland for lengths of time. Eventually, he graduated from college and his business life blossomed — running travel agencies; a financial business dealing with currency for overseas travel; and then a financial service to reclaim VAT taxes from overseas expenditures. Everything successful. Everything a winner.

It was not enough.

So he eventually sold everything and became a professional singer. Yup, The Fabulous Fourmeldyhides, an a cappella group of four guys. Again, a success.

“We had toured overseas three times, been on national television, sung with some great oldie acts like The Turtles, Gary Lewis, Lou Christie, The Little River Band and performed hundreds of concerts of every kind — from stadiums to theaters to intimate venues, to the Edinburgh Festival and the pubs of Dublin.”

But this, too, was not enough.

joes2 2.11So Eide married the love of his life, Agnes, lived in France, Uruguay and South Dakota, and began to write his book. Four years later, “A Monk’s Way” was born, a fictional story about a monk in France named Jean Moreau, who faces the conundrums of any person searching for spiritual answers in today’s unspiritual world.

“I was raised an Irish Catholic. I was already attracted to monasteries. So I placed a monk in the very center of these traditions and had him go through everything that we go through, because he is an everyman. And he finds his way back. How you can incorporate that in your own life? It is a parable. I don’t want to sit here and tell you this is the way it has to be or this is the only way to do something. It’s not. So my guy is able to open himself up. And if he can do it, we can all do it.”

Eide smiles. Encouraging. Searching. Planning even more books on his monk and his monastery.

So naturally I drove away from Beaverdale Books searching for a monastery from where to begin my spiritual journey. The only one I could find in Des Moines was St. Gabriel’s Passionist Monastery, located on the northwest corner of Douglas and Merle Hay. At least, that’s what the directions said.joes3 2.11

Which brought me to Menswear at the Target store at the northwest corner of Douglas and Merle Hay. The socks department to be exact.

Lo and behold, it turns out that St. Gabriel’s Monastery stood on these very grounds, only to be torn down in 1958 to make way for Merle Hay Mall. Who would have guessed?

Still, even a monk has to wear socks and eat popcorn. So, I bought both as an early step on my spiritual path. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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