One summer we were given the use of a tony, private Jesuit college near the airport in L.A. for our summer theatre festival. The buildings were beautiful, the grounds very well kept, the campus large and roomy, dotted with trees and glades and places to sit and reflect.
One of the nicest of these places to sit and reflect, including cement benches was on a hill and had several generous old shade trees. It had a lovely view of the L.A. basin straight out to the Pacific Ocean. Even in the hot, smoggy afternoons there was a cool, clear breeze and I pictured people who wanted to know their concept of the Divine better spending time here by daylight or starlight, (there were a few scattered streetlights to light the paths).
We actors were very deferential, or tried to be, to the nature of this place which was in the seminary part of the college. We spoke in hushed voice, tried to swear less, dressed more appropriately than we might have if we were rehearsing in, say, the parking lot at a mall in Santa Ana.
I loved to go there in the morning, before rehearsal to run my lines and just walk around the winding paths. That is where I began to see them, just down a bit from the parklet at the top of the hill, just out of sight of a person sitting on the bench or enjoying the view. There they were, condom after condom after condom, many full, some a bit deflated. I doubt that the expert teams of gardeners came down there, it wasn’t on a path.
At first, I thought it was funny. I told my fellow actors and we made a few smug remarks about the nature of prayer. We were delighted to feel superior to these people who we did not know but who we assumed felt superior to us, wanton sinners all.
Later, I felt bad about that. I had had a cheap laugh at somebody else’s expense. I had mocked not only faith, which I have no right to do, but actually love. These young men, many from countries far, far away, had found someone actual to get close to and this was in the AIDS era where using a condom could be a life or death thing.
Of course, I hated and still do the hypocrisy it is easy to find in organized religion. None of us are perfect enough to follow the rules, either petty or grand. Even not coveting your neighbor’s ass is impossible, trust me, I was a professional actress and as happy as I was whenever a friend got a good job, I was also plenty covetous no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of it.
But I don’t want to mock love, ever. I don’t want to mock faith either. These are gifts as precious and necessary as the multicolored sunsets from that beautiful garden and no matter how or where the young monks found it, it is as reverential as the prayers they recited as they sat under those beautiful trees.