Spiritually, Merton was always moving. His innate tendency was to depart rather than to settle down into fixed ideas or perspectives. He was never afraid to walk away from himself when he found himself too narrow or non-inclusive.
Toward the end of his life, Merton realized that his “fans” had an illusive idea of who he was that was “completely out of touch”:
“They have trusted me in building a house I myself once built and then destroyed. I frighten them! But there is no question that my world and that of Thompson Willett have nothing in common. And neither of us wants to pretend.” (p. 298, "Learning to Love”)
Merton puzzled and prayed (and even agonized) over the seeming conflict and confusion that he experienced between himself and Mr. Willett. He did not want to alienate people in order to maintain his sense of identity, but he also knew that his vocation required that he faithfully follow a certain path.
“In the end – it just seems I’ve reached a corner I’ve got to turn, and there is a whole suburb that has to be left behind and never revisited. I am headed for some other city and had better get going!” (p. 287, “Learning to Love).
[Note: Thompson Willett and his family were good friends of my family. I grew up with his children and one Sunday afternoon when I was a teenager, Thompson taught me how to make bread in his big hearth fireplace/oven. I was in his daughter’s wedding. And I was aware, as a teenager, that Fr. Louie visited Thompson at his home. I love them all very much. And I also understand well what kind of “Catholic” Thompson was because it was the same Catholicism that I grew up with.]