Deep in thought, Johann watched the twilight sky all but oblivious to the cookie he was slowly munching on.
The fresh summer breeze fluttered across the azure canopy of the Bavarian Alps. It was that ethereal moment when day transformed into night. Space and time seemed to expand as the sun made its steady, stately descent. Pastel purple clouds gave way to gray against the darkening skies. Like diamonds, thousands upon thousands of tiny sparkles—planets and stars—slowly made their evening appearance, emerging with the fading light.
From the bright field of stars, Johann’s eyes sought the constellations in the Milky Way. He spotted the belt of Orion overhead, and then he found the Big Dipper, which led him to the North Star. Brightest of the lights, Polaris pointed the way to the true north. On the gas-lantern-lit porch of the inn, the dreamy young sky watcher, lost in the vast night, slowly put his cookie to his mouth and took another barely noticed bite.
Two monks walked by on their way to evening Mass at the Andechs Monastery Brewery. Summer was a favorite time for the people of Munich to visit the Hermitage. They would hike or take the hour train ride up the mountain. The tenth-century beer garden was a beautiful destination in the warm weather. A liter of beer and a lunch of roast pork with sauerkraut gave visitors an added something to talk about when they got back home.
The door of the inn slammed behind Johann, jarring him out of his reverie. Albert had an inquiring look on his face as he strode over to his friend. “Are you going to the church service with your parents?”
“Um, no... I don’t know. Maybe. Do you want to go?” replied Johann, who struggled to gather his thoughts.
Albert frowned, sensing something was going on with his friend. “What’s wrong, Johann?”
Johann brushed cookie crumbs from his chin. “Nothing,” he said as he examined his shoes.
Albert kept his mouth shut and just stared at Johann, patiently waiting.
Johann squirmed for a moment, then sighed. “When a boy in the Thomas family reaches sixteen, he has to do a month-long apprenticeship at the brewery in this monastery. The monks have been brewing beer for centuries, so I guess the idea is that we can learn a lot.” He paused and looked up at his friend. “And you know I turned sixteen last month.”
Albert thought for a moment; then he got the picture. “Oh, it’s like when Jewish boys turn thirteen and have a bar mitzvah. It’s a rite of passage into manhood.”
Johann looked away into the distance as if he was looking for his future. “Yeah, but what if I don’t want to work for my father in the brewery? What if I want to do something different?” Realizing what he’d just revealed, Johann quickly turned to Albert. “You won’t tell anyone, will you? I mean, I feel I have to do this apprenticeship for my family, but...”
Albert shook his head. “Of course not.” He plopped himself onto the bench next to Johann. “You never said you didn’t want to work in the family business before. What’s changed?”
Johann turned away from his friend, searching for another cookie in his pockets. Food made him feel better when he was anxious. Food made him feel better on almost any occasion. “I don’t know,” he mumbled around the new cookie he was stuffing into his mouth. Albert’s gaze hardened.
“It’s just that... well... I’ve been thinking...”
Albert nodded encouragingly, and Johann blurted out his dilemma. “I think I might want to pursue religious studies.” Johann waited expectantly as Albert digested the surprise revelation.
After a moment, Albert smiled. “If that’s what is calling to you, I think you should talk to your parents about it.”
“Really?” Johann said, visibly relieved. “You don’t think it’s crazy?”
Albert shook his head, a severe look on his face. “I don’t know what I’d do if my parents insisted I go into the family electronics business. I mean, I know they’d like me to do that, but they are very tolerant of my curiosity.”
“Well, you’re sure lucky. I don’t think my parents are ready to hear that I may not want to get involved with the brewery.”
Albert gave Johann’s arm an encouraging squeeze. “The good news is, you don’t have to make a final decision now. I’d say just to go ahead with your apprenticeship, so you get an excellent taste of what being in the business will involve.”
Johann considered his friend’s advice as Albert continued. “You might find you learn something that captures your interest. But at least you’ll know from your experience, and not just what you think it might be like.”
Johann started nodding. “You’re the best, Albert. That really makes sense. I’m delighted you came with us,” he said, smiling for the first time in the entire day. Relieved of his worry, at least for the present, Johann perked up. “Hey, did you bring your compass?”
Albert brightened at the question. “Of course, I have my compass. Why?”
“The monks at the brewery have their annual treasure hunt tomorrow. Guys our age will be competing, and I signed us up. There’ll be a lunch buffet afterward, too,” he added, never one to pass up a good meal. “I bet your compass will give us an edge!”
“Could be,” Albert said thoughtfully. “A treasure hunt, eh? Interesting.”
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