There is a part of me that feels a tinge of guilt in writing something about a brief encounter I had with the late Randy Druken. There is a sense that doing so is taking advantage of someone who was dealt a bad hand by our justice system. I fear it might be some form of intrusion. I do think, though, that Randy Druken would have approved.
I was never formally introduced to Randy. From being around what passes for a justice system in our province we had what was a nodding acquaintance. Our paths crossed and it was enough for a nodding recognition between two people known in media circles. I only spoke with him in conversation once in my life and you would be guessing for a long time before you discovered where that conversation took place. It was in the quiet of the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s.
I don’t remember the day, or the month, only that it was a weekday afternoon in the summer.
By way of explanation I can tell you that when I pass the Basilica I sometimes drop in for “a visit” as it was called in school. The building has a calming effect; at least it did. You can’t really do that anymore because they lock the doors most days now because of some recent thefts. There is now a security presence there and that wasn’t always the case.
The Basilica is a nice place to visit. It is a very old building filled with the lingering smells and general aura accumulated over of a century and a half. Those smells are a mixture of old wood, furniture polish, and faded incense from a century and a half of history, both good and bad. Rattling around the interior, probably in the rafters, are the echoes of a million or more prayers and Gregorian chant hymns from the parish faithful.
Usually, I walked in through a side door of the church but on this day, I came through the big heavy doors at the back. I walked up the main aisle in the half-darkened church on my way to the main altar. There was only one other person in the whole place. About a dozen rows from the back sat Randy Druken. As I passed his pew I looked at him and nodded. He nodded back. “I’m surprised to find you here,” I said.
It was a true statement. It was an unexpected meeting. Randy answered me with the simple statement. “I am surprised to see YOU here.” I smiled. Then Randy offered, by way of explanation for his presence, a short sentence that threw light on his attendance at church. “It is quiet here,” he said. I agreed and without a further word I went on my way further up towards the main altar. That was the end of our encounter.
Looking back, I understand completely why Randy Druken found something of value in an old church. It was, as he said, quiet. I can only imagine that a place where things were quiet would be a good place for Randy to be. He had been so ill done by through our justice system, spending years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
That is the story and I think it has value. It is about seeking in an old church on a summer day a measure of that most elusive of spiritual treasures – peace.