“I love it!” I exclaimed, as I walked through the door of the big box store. “I really do love it!”
The clerk inside the store heard me, and he didn’t look very amused.
We were within eyesight of I-85, just west of Charlotte. I had stopped to pick up some “necessities” as we traveled in search of Catholic Roads in the Carolinas.
What first caught my eye as I pulled into the parking lot were those memorable, gothic-style windows. They were on all the brick buildings in the shopping center, including several large, chain stores. They were everywhere!
TELLING THE STORY …
“Well,” the clerk said to me, “you wouldn’t love it if you were the person who had to tell the ‘window story‘ to a steady stream of strangers every day! I spend half my life each day telling it to PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU!”
I decided to turn the conversation in a more positive direction at this point.
“Curious customers can be a good thing,” I said to the clerk. “They might come in for information, but I bet a lot of them leave with merchandise.”
“You’re right,” the clerk begrudged me. “The windows definitely do bring in the people. But you don’t know the half of it!” he continued.
“It wouldn’t be so bad, but most of them think they’re comedians. If I had even one nickel for each time someone said …
‘Oh those windows are are so … heavenly … or divine … or adorable … or out of this world … ‘ or something else cutesy like that!
“I’d be a rich man by now! But they don’t stop there either. Then they want me to tell them the real story of the store windows. By then, I don’t want anything to do with them.”
Then the clerk mumbled something under his breath. It sounded like he said, “Maybe I ought to start a blog and put all the conversations I’ve had about these windows in it.”
THE CHOSEN ONE …
I was quiet while I tried to figure out if the store clerk was mad at me or if he just didn’t like classically styled architecture in retail stores.
“So, you do have to admit,” I said. “they really are some very cool windows.”
“That’s exactly the point,” the clerk replied, glaring at me. “Everyone thinks they’re cool. I used to think they were cool too! But somehow, I seem to have won the window storytelling lottery.
“Why me!” the clerk continued. “Step outside. Look around. These windows are on every building in this shopping center. But for some reason, everyone comes in here to ask me about the windows!
“I’m the anointed one who has to tell the world about this!”
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF IT …
I couldn’t miss the irony in that statement, but I decided not to pursue it. I had another, more pressing question, and I was sure it wasn’t going to make this clerk very happy.
“I’m not sure I heard you. Please tell me again. Why did you guys put gothic-style windows in all the stores in the shopping center? I’m sure you’d agree, it’s pretty unusual.”
“Monks!” the clerk replied. “It’s because we’ve got monks!”
IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE MONKS …
“Monks?” I asked. “You’ve got monks! Here in the shopping center?”
“Yeah!” he replied. “We’ve got monks. But the truth is, they’re not actually here. They’re over there,” the clerk said, pointing across the Interstate highway. “They’re on the other side of the big highway.
“But I’ll tell you a secret,” the clerk continued, “if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this. When you’ve got monks, you can expect the unexpected. Just having them around changes everything. It makes things different!
“I mean there are hundreds of shopping centers here in the Southeast. Many of them have big box stores like we do. But I’ll bet there’s not another shopping center within a thousand miles that looks like this. It’s all because of those monks!”
FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF THE TALE …
Now I was really puzzled. There were gothic windows in stores on this side of the highway because of monks over there on the other side of the highway. And there were people here thinking and talking about monks over there. Could a few monks really have that much effect on others? Could they really make a place special and memorable? It was starting to seem like it to me!
I decided we had to get to the bottom of this story. So, like the proverbial chicken of a thousand jokes, we were just going to have to cross the road.
MY NEXT MOVE …
The clerk told me the place I was looking for was called Belmont Abbey. He said we could find the monks “there at Belmont Abbey across the big highway.“
I thanked him and apologized for my questions. Then we headed to the other side of the big highway in search of Belmont Abbey. With any luck, we might even be able to meet and talk with one of those monks!
LOOKING AHEAD …
What we had learned so far was that something so simple as a choice of windows could make an enduring difference in the business cycle. We also learned that almost any place you go in the world, monks matter. But maybe there’s no other place in the world where they matter so much they matter at a regional, liberal arts college campus in central North Carolina.
I expected to discover that having monks in your life is definitely Catholic Cool! But now it was time to try to find out for sure.
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[EDITOR’S NOTES: Almost no part of this story is true except, of course, that the store windows in the shopping center across the highway from Belmont Abbey really are shaped like that. Also, there really are monks at Belmont Abbey. And yes, those monks do seem to have an influence on the young people who attend college there and the world around the Abbey itself.]
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