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.