Fr. Thomas Esposito, Contributing Monk
The night before I flew to Rome to commence my pizza (and Scripture) studies, I asked my Abbot for permission to buy a motorino to transport my habited self to and from school. His response consisted of a narrowing of annoyed eyebrows, closing of the eyelids and a pained wince, which told me (cue the Hungarian accent), “Brother Thomas, you are an IDIOT.” I had received the same silent and snarly response before and made an immediate counterattack: “What about a bicycle?” The good Abbot paused, realized the question was at least rational and uttered with deadpan aplomb, “Good compromise.”
With his blessing, then, I purchased the fairest pair of wheels I ever laid monkish eyes on soon after settling into my Roman home. She had a sleek steel frame with killer blue-grey hues, a generous butt-cushion and a ravenous zeal for crushing cobblestones. Aware that such a glorious ride needed to be christened with a noble name, I turned to a clever Cistercian confrere who, in an email message approaching biblical proportions of inspiration, suggested the most hallowed of names: “Gaudium et Speed.” The sheer awesomesauceness of this name will no doubt escape those unfamiliar with the Second Vatican Council and its document entitled, “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Joy and the Hope”). With a name so Chuck Norris-ly unbeatable, I could ride as proud as Don Quixote on my own Rocinante, fearlessly confronting untold awkward adventures on the Roman streets.
And oh, those streets! The tire-puncturing square stones sprouting from the soil of two-centuries-old asphalt! The traffic lanes, which technically can’t be violated since they are totally invisible! The utter disregard of human dignity displayed by Smart-car and motorino drivers who use the sidewalk as a passing lane! Into this malaise of motor madness I would daily fling myself aboard my champion. My normal route to school had me hurtling down the Aventine Hill at speeds unchartered by non-monastic riders, hugging the apocalyptic right turn next to the Mouth of Truth, saluting the Campidoglio before descending into the bowels of traffic-circle hell in Piazza Venezia, and gently pulling up to the Biblicum, always grinning stupidly at gawking tourists clearly uninitiated into the sacred Gaudium of my Speed. I feared no evil from motorized terror-machines, for I felt myself to be a habited incarnation of the four horsemen of Revelation, charged with dooming those who dared to cross my treads.
And speaking of judgment, the time I nearly orchestrated my own death in front of the Mouth of Truth is my most treasured bike memory.
While cruising down the middle lane on a cloudless day, lost in meditation on the words of the “Dies Irae” we had sung at Mass that morning, I remained blissfully ignorant of the red light that had stopped the traffic in front of me. I remained ignorant, that is, until five feet separated my speeding self from a motionless minivan. Realizing that my Mass was not sufficient to cancel his force and my acceleration, I swerved to the left with all my monastic might and cringed as I heard a crunch, then saw red flashes soar into the air together with my back wheel, which seemed to hang above my head like a guillotine blade for several fear-and-trembling seconds. I initially believed myself to have died a rather miserable death, but had in fact only punched out the minivan’s red rear light with my handlebar. The driver was so startled to see my habited self standing sheepishly behind his van that he did not think I could be responsible for the annihilation of his tail light. As he pulled away, he waved to me with a compassionate movement of his Italian wrist, and the words of Father Abbot resounded in my ears: “Brother Thomas, you are still an IDIOT, but a living idiot is better than a dead one.”
“Gaudium et Speed,” as you might have guessed, emerged totally unharmed from that fateful escapade. She remained a faithful traveling companion for the duration of my Roman holiday/studies; when I returned to the States for good, I bequeathed her to a Cistercian confrere from Vietnam, who rides her undefeated to this day. I celebrated her virtue in a tearjerker of a sonnet on the occasion of her second birthday; the last lines are featured below. May this song make her name forever remembered, as enduring as the sun!
A fortress thou, in blue and steely gray!
Defend the glory of Cistercium,
And bring to school and back for tertium
The white/black monk portending judgment day.
Of thee I write, o fair and faithful steed;
With thee I ride, my Gaudium et Speed!