In 1959 Jim Forest was 18 years old and working for the U.S. Navy. At the bus station in New York City he picked up Merton’s autobiography, “Seven Story Mountain”. He was hooked.
A year later, while visiting the Peter Maurin Farm on Staten Island, Jim heard Dorothy Day reading one of Merton’s letters. He was amazed. He had been under the impression that the monk of Seven Story Mountain was cloistered behind walls and had closed the door to the world forever yet here he was corresponding with one of the America’s more controversial figures.
In 1961, upon his discharge from the Navy, Jim joined the Catholic Worker Community in New York thinking that it would be his own stepping stone to the monastery. Knowing of his interest in Merton and attraction to the monastic life, Dorothy began sharing her Merton correspondence with Jim. By this time Jim had read more of Merton’s books. Merton and Jim began their own correspondence.
In late 1961 Merton invited Jim to Gethsemani. Their friendship and correspondence continued until Merton’s death in 1968. (probably longer :-)) Jim went on in life to be a predominant presence in the formation of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His correspondence with Merton is extensive, as is his writing about Merton. His book, “Living with Wisdom”, is one of my favorite biographies of Merton. Jim and his wife, Nancy, now live in Amsterdam.