A Quaker Meeting

For no good reason, I was crabby this morning. I haven’t been sleeping well so perhaps that’s added up, or maybe I know that as lovely as Thanksgiving will surely be, it’s also tiring -before and after- and busy. I had gum surgery two weeks ago and do miss eating without considering the hard and sharp factors of everything I put into my mouth; sutures out tomorrow, but my gums are still tender. Maybe it’s the full moon up there; it’s so gorgeous but things do sometimes seem wonky when it’s a whole pie versus a sliver.

Perhaps because of or regardless of all that, I eagerly anticipated tonight’s all-school community Meeting for Worship and high-tailed it there just after 6. Have you ever attended a Quaker Meeting? I had never heard of this form of worship before the boys started at a Friends school, but it quickly became one of my favorite parts of the community.

While there is some diversity, the Meetings I’ve attended, at school and in our community, are unprogrammed gatherings characterized largely by their silence and lack of officiant or leader. Instead of churches, we have Meeting Houses in which the pews are arranged in a square formation so that attendees face each other. Meetings may last twenty minutes or 90 minutes or any amount therein and may be commenced with a query to ponder, or none at all.

During the shared silence, each attendee is encouraged to both contemplate and listen, seeking to access their inner light; each of us contains wisdom and self-knowledge. Sometimes we simply don’t make time or space to hear or understand.

If an attendee is moved to speak, he or she is welcome to stand and share. Perhaps a reflection on the query, or a personal feeling about or experience with current events. Some simply stand to share gratitude: for the community, the space, the gift of silence and time.

At school, the boys have Meeting for Worship once each week for 30-45 minutes. I think this time is an enormous gift; it always is for me when I join them for Worship or attend an evening gathering on my own, as I did tonight.

Sometimes, Meetings are called in response to an event. For example, after Ferguson some years ago, Sidwell called an all-school Meeting, and it was profound. Tonight’s Thanksgiving all-community Meeting is an annual event, and I can think of no more thoughtful, peaceful way to begin the holiday break.

This evening, I went alone, not knowing if I’d see any familiar faces but not surprised when I did. Our head of school was there as were several folks I know through parents association work. My resister sister, K, was in attendance, and an older couple I recognize from several previous Meetings too. As luck would have it, I saw and got to sit next to a woman I’ve known for almost nine years now; she was the parent who called to welcome us to Sidwell back when Jack was accepted to PK and she has since become such a truly lovely friend.

As we settled in, I felt the familiar tug of Everything Else. Was Tom making the kids dinner? Did I wrap the pies well enough before I froze them? God, my hacking cough is annoying. Did I, do I, will she, won’t he, is it…?

My shoulders dropped, someone cleared his throat, her stomach began to talk, a cup was kicked over by someone adjusting their legs. Outside, the wind howled and gusting branches scratched at the walls of the Meeting House. Sirens blared -the campus sits on a busy DC street- and doors opened and shut.

That woman has her eyes closed and is smiling.

She is wearing a chic boucle jacket that rises and falls with her breaths.

He is balding, but just. His salt and pepper hair is elegant.

She switches the cross of her knees and adjusts her hem.

She stands and gives thanks.

She rises and recounts a Quaker Thanksgiving when even the most excited child quieted completely during a shared, silent prayer.

The wind and the sirens and the branches and the peace. And then suddenly I think that a gunman could shatter all of this, irreparably and forever. It is the first time I’ve ever thought like that in a public space, and it breaks my heart. I consider how I might dive, and turn over a pew, pulling the friend next to me with me.

I talk myself away from this darkness. The sounds are only of the wind, surely the sirens are typical ones- speeding drivers, a policeman who doesn’t want to wait for the light to turn and so uses a privilege to cut it.

But in Baltimore yesterday, a 5-year-old was shot; she will survive, but just last summer, her older sister was shot; she did not survive. Some Americans are now experiencing multiple gun-related traumas over time. How are we letting this happen? Continue to happen?

I drew my thoughts back to the bald spot and the Chanel-like coat and the humble boots and the close-eyed smile and the growling tummy. I gave thanks for the shared silence, for my community, for the complete stop in a week of pedal-to-metal.

I am grateful. But there is work to do.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. 

The midterms are coming: what's at stake

I don’t even know what to say, y’all. It hasn’t even been a month since Christine Blasey Ford was summarily ignored by a mean, enraged, entitled group of white men, and a few white women, just because who can ever understand them?! It hasn’t even been a month since a belligerent, enraged, entitled beer guzzler of a high-school-was-my-glory-days dude got a lifetime appointment to the highest judicial court in the land. Despite so many things.

Not even a month. But during?

Yesterday, a 10th grader in North Carolina was shot to death by another student who was angry.

This past Saturday, eleven Jews were murdered in their synagogue as they gathered to celebrate a bris.

Last week, an angry man, mid-50s, sent pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democrats and Democratic supporters and to CNN.

Earlier last week, evidence was released showing that Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was found to have violated, in criminal fashion, conflict of interest regulations.
Megyn Kelly expressed sadness that she and fellow white people could no longer wear “blackface” for kicks.
White nationalist Richard Spencer, one of those “very fine people on both sides” according to our “president” was accused by his wife of domestic abuse.
And Brian Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate, was found to be actively suppressing the vote of thousands upon thousands of his state’s black citizens.

Nine days ago, Trump screamed to any immigrants watching, “This country doesn’t want” you. People cheered.

Ten days ago we found out that in Dodge City, KS, a majority-Hispanic city of 27,000, NOT ONE  polling place exists. The only place to vote is outside of town, a mile walk from the nearest bus stop.

Y’all, ten days ago does not even take us halfway back to the Kavanaugh debacle.

Returning to the present, Pittsburgh’s Jewish leaders have written a letter to Trump saying that until he denounces white nationalism and the other heinous shit he seems far too fond of, he is not welcome in their city. Naturally, and not least after crassly holding a rally the day after Pittsburgh Jews were murdered by a man who feels Trump isn’t nationalistic enough (justifying the rally by LYING that the NYSE opened the morning after 9/11 [fact: it was closed for 6 days after 9/11]), he has big plans to go there, DISinvited, this week.

I have followed politics since I idealistically, naively, and somewhat brazenly, applied a Ross Perot sticker to my orange blow dryer in early middle school, hit the “high heat” lever, and went to town for four years. If you haven’t witnessed a south Louisiana middle school girl in the early ‘90s attempting to manage bangs, you haven’t the slightest idea what a hair dryer really can do or how any adhesive in close proximity to it will behave. That shit’s there for eternity. I have never seen anything like this.

The past ten days, the past month, the past two years…how can this level of violent degradation go on? How can anyone come out OK?

Have you read The Power by Naomi Alderman? Just after I first read (re: tore through) it, I spent several days thinking about how fascinating the premise and structure were. Women discover a secret power and, besieged by and pissed off after years of mistreatment and subjugation by men, use it; at first with restraint, and then without. As you might imagine, cataclysm approaches, and one by one, every character, regardless of position, of stake, of power, votes to burn it all down.

The further I get from this work of fiction, the closer I circle back to the ways in which it seems all but true. Any power taken to the extreme is fatal, or nearly so, yes? Religious extremism is but one example, nationalism another.

Can we burn things down next month? I doubt it, but I hope we can light a powerful fuse. I am tired of the hate, the fear-mongering, the othering, the demonizing. I am sick of sending troops to the border because hungry, terrified people are marching a thousand miles simply for the hope of a slightly better life.

I am sick to death of pro-lifers carrying on about the rights of cells but crapping all over the rights of toddlers and children to eat daily and learn and get to see the pediatrician. And I’m sick of all that being contingent on their being white. Brown toddlers? Forget it.

I am sick of guns and bullets, purposeful and stray, killing children and adults out for an evening jog or driving home from working at a food pantry (this happened to a friend’s cousin last week here in DC; shot dead at a stoplight by a stray bullet not aimed at him at all).

I am sick of my children detailing the various lockdown drills they do for weather, intruders, or active gunmen. I am sick of my children getting an exceptional education because I can afford it, but others getting lousy or no education because their parents can’t.

I am sick of propaganda TV passing for “news,” and I’m sick of the people who believe it’s news and then kill people because “the Jews are funding the migrant caravan” and other such complete lies.

I am sick to the point of being ill by having a “president” who only slightly cares about being president to a few and who cares not at all about being president to the rest of us. I am sick of a bullshit electoral system that asserts that 3 people in Wyoming are more important than 60,000 in California. They aren’t. Each person is worth one vote. No more, no less.

I am desperate for the pendulum to swing back to any sense of stasis. We are so far gone from that that I can’t see the inflection point toward normal. And I’m focusing just on America. Have you looked round the world? Have you seen what’s happening in Yemen? Who just got elected in Brazil?

Literally, and as a writer and human who is really sick of word overuse and misuse I use this one carefully, I see NO hope for the United States if the Democrats don’t take back at least the House next month. Trump Republicans have the presidency, the Supreme Court, many of the lower courts, the Senate, and the House. There is not one check or balance on anything anymore except the protesters who continue to march, call, petition, show up, plead, poster, phone bank, and beg. Literally, there is nothing else.

Please be a part of the Resistance, the protests, democracy, whatever you want to call it. Please. If not for you or for me, for our children. Our children have done nothing but be born into this world that is falling apart.

PLEASE vote on November 6th, if you haven’t already. Please vote your conscience. Please vote for your children and grandchildren and our Earth and all who inhabit it. Your guns, your money, your faith- there’s room for it all when we don’t try to refuse room to all but what I or you or she believes.

Please.

Twentieth college reunion!

I’m just back from my twentieth college reunion. TWENTIETH! I cannot even get over that. College feels like a lifetime ago and it feels like yesterday. I feel 42 and I feel 18. I have an almost-teenager and I myself am leaving my teens behind.  

Most of my dearest friends and I have returned to Northwestern for every fifth-year reunion since 1998, but this year’s was the best. I don’t know that I can explain why but it certainly doesn’t hurt that everyone is doing so well. What a joy to watch your friends grow into such successes- in their careers and marriages, as parents, as hobbyists, as adults.

We have all settled into ourselves for the most part, and that, too, is a joy to see and to experience. So many of the concerns of our teens and twenties are immaterial now- figured out, left behind, small relative to things since.

What remains are the sorts of friendships you can only, in my opinion/experience, forge in college. In late nights laughing and talking in cramped rooms in somewhat dingy dorms. In too many beers and cookies and study sessions and heartbreaks. Through too many parties and concerts and all-nighters and the library stacks. That I made on the fourth floor of Bobb-McCulloch, in the Sargent dining hall, in Delta Gamma and in parties at Delt and Fiji. In so many classrooms and bad grades and good ones, in sesame bagels with cream cheese and raspberry jam, in rollerblading along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Then and now (above and below)…

This past weekend, as we visited old haunts, bought new NU t-shirts to replace our worn ones, partied but also went to bed earlier than we once did (except for Alli who retains the ability to stay out until 4am), all the connections we all made so long ago--twenty-four years ago for those of us who met freshman year--proved as viable as ever. Minus some quotidian details, we were good friends who’d simply not seen each other for a while. 20+-year history with others, especially those who’ve experienced such formative years alongside you, is a hell of a relational scaffold.  

I was not academically prepared for Northwestern but I was capable, and I’m so glad I pushed myself to rise to the (somewhat terrifying) occasion and quickly learn so much of what I should have been provided in high school. I did miserably my freshman year- both because of my relative lack of prep but also because I focused primarily on my social life. And while I’m sorry to have squandered a year of classes at an incredible school, I wouldn’t trade for the world the education I got beyond the lecture halls: in those dorms, at those parties, during the long talks and rollerblades and trips to Chicago. In those moments, I shed the many limitations I felt in high school and became an unrefined version of the truest me. It was and remains a thrill, the greatest gift. I wish everyone had such a four-year watershed experience.

In my work with prospective college freshmen today, I respect their school choices completely, but I do urge them to think deeply about why they’re applying where they are. What do they love, or think they love? Who do they hope to surround themselves with? Is the environment of each school truly one in which they feel they can be challenged and thrive?

I urge them to study hard but also to play hard. To cut themselves some break and breathe deeply and embrace more than academics with abandon. I have never once regretted doing just that. My friends don’t either. And we are fuller and richer for it.