S late tile has gone missing from the roof above Ramon’s bed, blown off in the last storm of the winter. Yesterday, a bird ducked through the hole at dawn, flapped wildly around, waking up the other novices. Brother Francis was pleased; everyone was on time for morning mass.

Now, Ramon lies in his narrow cot, watching as the silvery moon filters through and forms a puddle of light on his gray wool blanket. Sleep is far away.

But then, it is many nights since he has slept soundly.

He has heard that farmers lie awake and make an inventory of their livestock: How many sheep? How many lambs? How many hens, producing how many eggs?

He blinks. The silver is gone. Perhaps a cloud is passing over the moon. He wishes there were a window in the room, that he could crane his neck and look.

An inventory.

He, too, could make an inventory. He knows… what?

The usual list that he recites to himself comes to him: the sacred scriptures, liturgy and the sacraments, church history, canon law, homiletics. He has working knowledge of the papal bulls, and can read and write in Latin, Greek, French, German, and Spanish.

Of what am I ignorant?


Ramon grips his blanket and wills the cloud to pass over the moon, for the silver light to return.

What do I know?

The walls of the priory. What is served each day. The lines that cross the palm of his hand.

Of what am I ignorant?

Hebrew. Where he comes from.

He closes his eyes. Will he ever again find repose?

What do I know?

That Friar Pere and Brother Francis know something about his bloodline, but refuse to divulge it.

Of what am I ignorant?

The Talmud, orders, tractates, volumes, chapters, pages, words.

What do I know?

Nothing. The darkness presses against him, he can taste it; his skin is cold, his fingers icy. The void of himself, his origin. Child of tragedy. Child of mystery. Child of emptiness.

What do I know?

Words buzz around his head like bees, feeding from one thought, cross-pollinating the other.

All his life he has been protected in the priory, made to believe that there’s nothing out there more precious and worthy than a life devoted to the faith. But there are vast tracts of knowledge of which he is ignorant.

He thinks of the farmers, shearing their sheep each spring. They know the turn of the seasons. They know how to reach into a dying ewe and pull out a living, bleating lamb.

They know the woman who is their mother. They know the man who is their father. They know the place they were born; as well, the small cemetery in the village where one day they will lie beneath the earth.

What do I know? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 558)