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Saturday, July 26 2014 08:02

The young woman suddenly leapt from the stage onto the lap of the gentleman sitting in the front row, right next to me. I was thoroughly startled, and, I must confess, a bit disappointed that the jumper had not chosen my lap.    

In the role of Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” this charming actress was one of fifteen lyric and aerobic performers for Shakespeare & Company. 

The company, located in Lenox, Massachusetts, was created by the legendary Tina Packer. Tony Semotes, her successor, directed this magnificent performance.

 “Midsummer” proved one of the highlights of a recent trip that my wife Susan and I made to the Berkshires. We were determined to inhale a great deal of the local artistic culture, which is justly celebrated.

This goal brought us to the Clark Museum in Williamstown, a regional treasure whose buildings and grounds have recently been transformed. The new setting, featuring a calm waterscape amidst the surrounding hills, is itself a work of art.

We also visited The Mount, designed and built by the novelist Edith Wharton.  The house and gardens are meticulously composed. What is most moving is the enduring personality of the author herself.

A very different venue is the museum dedicated to Norman Rockwell. We looked at innumerable Saturday Evening Post covers, some of which we remembered from long ago. Rockwell had great skill and journalistic perception but he fails to move me deeply.

I was moved, however, by the Hancock Shaker Village, which was home to a Shaker community for almost 200 years. It was fascinating to discover their way of religious life, so carefully ordered but ultimately doomed to disappear.

Our last evening was spent at Tanglewood where, as part of a large audience, we greeted Andris Nelsons, the new music director of the BSO. With music by Dvorak, including the Violin Concerto and his Eighth Symphony, the young conductor proved worthy of the warm welcome he received.

This visit to Lenox and its environs made me reminisce. Long ago, I spent four years of my life in Lenox.  There I lived in what was then called Shadowbrook, a mansion formerly owned by Andrew Carnegie, among others. 

The Jesuits bought the place in 1922 and used it for the training of men wishing to enter the order.  That’s what brought me there in 1949 as a novice ready for instruction in Jesuit life.

In 1956, several years after I had moved on, the Shadowbrook mansion was destroyed in an immense fire that killed four Jesuits and injured several others. All the younger men managed to escape, though some suffered injury.

As I look back at Shadowbrook, I have to celebrate my introduction to a deeper spiritual life. There were also friendships that I came to value and still do. One of my incidental memories was of hearing the strains of a Sibelius symphony performed by the BSO at Tanglewood, the next property to ours.

However, I later came to see the aspects of the novitiate experience that were not good for me.  Had I been more mature than my age of twenty-one allowed, I might have known how to choose and judge better.

Visiting the Shakers recently, I reflected upon my early Jesuit experience.  The differences are obvious but there was enough in the Shaker way of life to stir memory of the indoctrination that rubbed against the grain.

I only wish that my earlier contact with the region had featured more of the wisdom of later life instead of the green judgment of my younger self. 

Our visit to western Massachusetts showed me once more the natural beauty of our state.  And this beauty is intensified by a wealth of artistic expression.