The Fellowship of the Mountain
by Jude Joseph Lovell
Several weeks ago, I woke up very early one morning alone, and found myself staring out through huge glass panels at a broad, dark expanse populated by slumbering, snow-dusted mountains. Indeed, the entire world seemed to be asleep, awash in the last vestiges of moonbeams.
In a magnificent short novel called A Month in the Country, J. L. Carr wrote: “There are times when man and earth are one, when the pulse of living beats strong.” This aligns with what I was feeling just then.
We are told that it is always the darkest before the dawn. I know this is not true, however, because this is the hour when your humble scribe comes alive on most days. I know it well. It really depends on the time of year and the position of the moon.
Nonetheless, the pre-daylight hours always hold unfathomable mystery. They are a time for re-orientation, assessing where you are, what you are doing—and maybe even beginning to see where you are headed.
My twin brother and I have a longstanding relationship, dating back close to thirty years, with a faithful friend I’ll call Joseph—a name with significance to all three of us. Joseph was for a time a roommate of my brother’s, and the two of them developed a lifelong bond. I am a bit of a tag-along to this relationship.
This happens with identical twins sometimes. We do form our own relationships—ask our wives. But for a third party encountering one brother, in many cases the other ends up tossed into the bargain. We come as a bit of a package deal.
When Joseph and my brother first met, I was away in the United States Army. Luckily for me, Joseph has always had a generous respect for those who serve. Between this and my kinship with my brother, he seemed comfortable with me before I ever met him. That opened the door for our own friendship.
About a year and a half ago, Joseph reached out to both of us with an enticing idea. A financial controller for a small organization, he has done well professionally. Though settled in the Midwest, he had recently invested in a gorgeous, three-level cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. He threw open the doors to this rustic retreat, metaphorically speaking, and said the two of us could join him for a weekend there if we could ever arrange it.
Never gonna happen, I remember thinking, despite being thankful for the idea. It was a long haul by car for both of us, for one thing, as I didn’t feel comfortable buying a plane ticket just to indulge myself. We all live in different states and together have a total of eleven children, as well as full-time jobs and plenty of responsibilities.
Nonetheless, we texted about it a few times more during the pandemic, though a little half-heartedly on my part, I must admit. I did not even realize when we first started communicating that Joseph, in fact, owned the place. His texts around this were vague, but he seemed to have a strange confidence that the cabin would be available. Joseph is a humble fellow.
Around the time I realized that he was quite serious, I started to understand that the idea was bigger than me or my hesitancy. I spoke to my brother about it, and he said that Joseph was hungry for fellowship. He longed for us all to temporarily disengage from our daily duties as husbands and fathers and immerse ourselves in nature and in brotherly camaraderie.
In this light, the notion of coming together in the mountains took on greater meaning, even urgency. So, we spoke to our wives, and they all supported the idea, recognizing that the three of us worked hard, made sacrifices, and rarely took time to hang out with just men. Thanks to them, it happened.
The result was three nights and two full days, sunrise to sunset, of fellowship, laughter, and discussion. There were no specific objectives beyond these other than taking time along the way to go outside and experience the splendor of the Smokies, eat, and drink beer (and a bit of Irish whiskey). Topics of interest for us ranged from books and literature to the impending Super Bowl to fatherhood, marriage, and matters of the spirit.
Joseph is a man who could be described as “intense.” A bit older than my brother and I, which places him in his mid-fifties, he has a commanding physical aspect (ruggedly Italian), a death grip for a handshake, a daunting intellect, and an impressive stockpile of experience (not to mention stories) in international finance. He is fluent in one Eastern language (having studied and worked in Asia for years) and only slightly less so in Christian Scripture.
I, on the other hand, am fluent in eighties heavy metal and can occasionally hold my own on the subject of literature. Furthermore, I don’t share the same personal history with Joseph as my brother. So, it is easy to understand why I was slightly intimidated as well as excited to go to the mountain. What would I bring to the summit, exactly?
But when we got there, the sincerity of Joseph’s hearty welcome was complete—perhaps matched in terms of pure joy only by Elizabeth’s greeting of her anointed cousin in the Gospel of Luke. The only response was to embrace the whole endeavor with proportionate enthusiasm. It was immediately clear that we had arrived at something that was rare and inherently good.
My brother and I were prepared for this, though, and knew it. We are twin sons of a man who spent his whole lifetime equally engaged in both science and spirituality. Our father, who died several years ago, was an ex-Jesuit whose favorite word, arguably, was “dialogue.” He loved nothing more than honest exchange about weighty topics. If Joseph was prepared to go hard on essential matters, the Lovell brothers could bring it.
At least in this country, the United States, men have long wrestled with a peculiar malaise. It doesn’t seem to improve as we grow older, either. To put it simply, we don’t talk—not enough. To women or to one another. We tend to pull in, turtle-wise, when we encounter stress, fear, emotion. We learn to revile weakness in ourselves, real or perceived.
But in our best moments, men can sharpen one another, as iron upon iron. We can infuse one another with courage and strength. We can pull our brothers up when they are slipping. And, assuming we can move past the flawed notion that we cannot discuss our feelings, these edifying actions can help us to fulfill our calling to be brothers, husbands, fathers.
This is what that meeting in the mountains was about. It was Joseph’s vision, fueled by his generosity. But only the full fellowship could have dragged the unformed idea up the slope and into the light.
Artwork by Ukrain artist Igor Reshetnikov. You can buy or commission his extraordinary artwork at: Azotconcept@gmail.com or https://www.deviantart.com/azot2021. So many incredible pieces – it was quite difficult to choose which piece of art to include!
Jude Joseph Lovell writes on books and popular culture for Silver Sage and is the author of four novels, three short story collections, and four works of nonfiction. His newest book is Door In The Air: New and Selected Stories, 1999-2020. He lives with his wife and four growing children in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. For more information visit his website at judejosephlovell.com.