You walk in, either a few minutes early or a few minutes late. Nobody looks at you; they’re all staring somewhere between their knees and the floor. You know that they know, because you know: the shuffling of your feet, the “pardon me”s, the groans of the chair as you settle in. And yet, no one looks at you in reproof. No one will scold you, embarrass you, berate you for your interruption. Of the silence. So you settle in, focus your thoughts, and become one with the group. And then, someone stands up and speaks, and all eyes — such nonjudgmental eyes — look to the speaker. And people listen.
I spent almost all my high school years (minus three months or so, but that’s another story) in a wonderful boarding school, literally right outside the city limits of where I grew up. It was a Quaker-based school that was — and still is — devoted to community, personal/societal growth, environmental conservation/stewardship, and preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s world. I remember many things about the school. I remember the people I called classmates, mentors, and teachers. I remember the people who played on my soccer team, who I went to see Cahokia with, who I dated, loved, and separated with. And years after I’ve left, I remember Collection/Meeting the most.
Oil on canvas portrait of William Penn at age 22 in 1666, portrayed in suit of armor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Quakers love, as far as my experience has shown me, to Collect. By this, I don’t mean that they collect stamps or leaves or portraits of William Penn — though the argument can be made that Quakers do love to hold on to their history, or history in general — but that Quakers have always believed in the community. There were (if I correctly recall) no less than twelve (12) Collections a week: two each weekday, before the beginning of class and the end of the communal day (dorm time); one every Wednesday afternoon; and the big collection at Stillwater Meeting House every Sunday morning. In all of these, silence was important.
It is in the silence that we are all called together, and called to express higher truths. Personal truths. Because, as far as my collecting experience tells me, there is no reigning denomination, no higher power that can be called by name (yes, Quakers are defined as a sect of Christianity); there is only the Inner Light, the voice of a Creator that we can all hear if we only listen closely. In the silence, we are all Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, Wiccan, and any number of other belief systems. I should know, I was there. With 70+ students from 14 different countries, all of various religious, economic, and what-have-you backgrounds.
And my point? I miss it.
I miss the communal buzzing sensation that comes from sitting in a silent room, even though it is full. I miss the words of wisdom — consider it an unelectronic blog post if you will — that came from people who had the urge/bravery/calling to stand up (because Collection is usually done in the sitting position for all attending) and speak their mind.
I miss being comfortable in that silence. I miss listening to others as they stood, and to myself as I sat.
I miss that silence, because it was good.