crow 5

It’s your second ever Quaker Meeting of Friends. You get out of your car just as another man dismounts his bike. Where’s your bike? What does driving say about your environmental priorities? You say hi automatically. He says hi back, of course, since he’s not a jerk. Inside, you’re panicking. Is it okay to talk outside? You know that people aren’t supposed to talk during the Meeting. But you’re still outside. That’s different, right? You resolve to hold open the door for him, hoping that makes up for your impulsive greeting.

You know a Quaker Meeting isn’t like your standard church service. No pastor paces back and forth, extemporizing on the truth of the universe; there is no pastor. Nobody gets up to sing; there is no choir. Nobody welcomes you at the door. You go straight to your seat. It doesn’t matter where you sit, because everybody’s got the same view. Every chair is turned towards the center, so you can see everyone. Not that you expect much. The others aren’t that interesting to watch; they’ll just be sitting, contemplating the inner truth we all have stashed away inside us. But you get the sense that you shouldn’t be watching other people. Eyes should be closed or aimed at the trees outside the window, or at a corner, or at the floor, or at your laces. If only you’d brought a pair of chocos. Then you wouldn’t stick out so much.

Some people will be breathing deeply, eyes shut, almost like they’re meditating. A part of you rejects the idea of social security pulling white folks meditating, so you decide it’s something else. Maybe they really are communing with the spirit inside them, as they claim. You give that a try. The spirit’s there all right. That familiar feeling, from when you were younger, that sensation of interacting with God. You correct yourself: some undefined higher power. That spine tingling feeling which, in the moment, is better than an orgasm. And you do your best not to think about sex. Anything but sex. You’re not sure if the Quakers have everything right, but you have this feeling that even if God doesn’t exist he’d surely burst into existence to scold you for fantasizing in the midst of a spiritual act.

It’s not that hard, to forget sex. All of the others are a good deal older, way out of your range. Except that one woman, but she’s still ten years your senior. What if Quakers are a dying breed? Why don’t they appeal to your generation? Explanations from your statistics classes spring forward: small sample size. Maybe this is an anomaly. You decide it’s not. Your generation wants to do something. Waiting around is for failures. It’s what gets you shoved off the meritocracy ladder. Your generation’s god, when he exists, expects you to be proactive. There’s no inner voice with spiritual wisdom. When you sit in a silent room for an hour, that hour of your life has just been thrown against a wall and shot. You don’t get it back. No ROI for introspection. A crow caws outside, mocking the silence.

You remember that someone once told you that you’ve got a gift for introspection. Suddenly it has value again. You realize that you’re not quaking in good faith. So you clear your mind again. That’s when the story comes back. It’s that novel idea you’ve never sat down to write out. You know you don’t need to. It won’t disappear like other ideas; day after day you get it back. Little pieces of its world get revealed, dependable advent candies of inspiration.

This time’s different though. Your mind is truly bored, maybe for the first time in your life. Dull days have netflix. Dentist offices have magazines. Long car rides have shifting views, or maybe fitful sleep. But this Meeting just has the inside of your head. No distractions, no options but creation. The story goes further today. You see more of the characters than ever before. Faces come as clear as day. You hear voices practically. The beginning thrills, the middle pulls, and the end approaches. You’ve almost got it.

And then they’re shaking hands. Someone, an elder somewhere, must have started it. That’s the signal that the Meeting’s over. You’re done. One man,  he must be the elder, asks if anyone felt any stirrings to speak from the spirit. So you could have talked, as long as it was a message from the spirit. Nobody claims a revelation. Anything else someone would like to share, he asks. A woman comments on the crow, that it was pretty. You wonder for a second if she did something wrong, in speaking up, if she violated some sort of taboo since the elder doesn’t praise her opinion. Then it occurs to you that he might be deliberately reserving judgment. Why would it be his place to judge her feelings on beauty?

They make announcements, attending to the minutiae that must exist to keep any grouping of people tumbling along. Then a break for fellowship. A woman, prematurely graying, comes forward to speak with you, asking you about your life in a small talk sense. So you tell her, revealing a bit more than you intended. It’s big talk now. For some reason, she reciprocates, talking about her children. Right now they’re sleeping, and will probably make it to a later service. The oldest is in high school, struggling to reconcile biblical and contemporary ideas of equality. You wish him luck. His youngest brother still plays with blocks, so nobody makes him go to the Meeting. The middle child reads books during Meetings and insists he’s an atheist. An image of that atheist friend you have pops into your head. Then you wonder why reading books couldn’t make you an atheist too.

Unconsciously, your body position shifts. You hear what your body language is saying. Arms crossed, you must be trying to emotionally cut yourself off from this woman, from the big talk. You nod and smile, knowing that you won’t be able to reveal anything else, at least not in this conversation, at least not today.