I have no idea how long I’ll keep this up. I suppose I’m starting on this venture because I’ve really enjoyed reading blogs by other Friends lately, and want to add my own perspective to the mix. In part, this is me fumbling with the challenge of letting my life speak my convictions. I’ve been feeling an electric urge to do something meaningful with my faith since reading Robert Lawrence Smith’s Book of Quaker Wisdom. But what? There’s the rub.
Two years ago, I boarded a plane in Burlington, Vermont, bound for Portland, Oregon. With me were two suitcases and a worn-out backpack, their contents the only possessions I was bringing on my journey. My ticket was one-way. I had no job waiting for me, and only two contacts in the Rose City: a friend from college who would let me crash on her couch for two days, and a cousin I could contact if I didn’t find a place to live in those two days. I hadn’t seen this cousin since I was ten or so…
Looking back now, it’s hard to remember exactly who I was at the start of that journey, what my expectations were. I know I never expected to grow into the person that I am daily becoming. I never expected to find a spiritual home, or to fall in love with so many people, myself included. The first Sunday that I ventured into the meetinghouse that would become my meetinghouse, I had no idea that I would come to call myself a Quaker. I only knew that my previous experiences with Friends worship suited my spiritual sensibilities far better than the fundamentalist Christian church my cousin’s family attended. Over the past two years, that meeting has become my Meeting, that community has become my community.
I’m leaving Monday, headed back to Vermont. The reasons are in part familial: both sisters are getting married this summer; my oldest niece graduates from high school Father’s Day weekend. My youngest niece turned a year old in April—I have yet to see her outside of pictures. There are other reasons, too, ones less easily ticked off in a list. I’m happier in a climate with four distinct seasons; as Robbie Robertson said, I got winter in my blood. But more than that, there’s the undeniable pull that one’s home can have—these are my towns, my roads, my people, the stone out of which my foundation was formed. Part of going back is that magnetic attraction, the acknowledgment that when I close my eyes, it’s most often the rural landscape of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom I see flickering in the dark. Part of it is also a test, not of myself so much as of my memories and their relationship to reality: immersed again in the world of my adolescence, will I still feel at home? Or have I evolved in two years into someone for whom the pull is no longer there? I’m standing at a point in my journey where the road curves sharply around a corner a hundred feet ahead. There’s no way to tell what lies on the other side except to keep walking, and to have faith that I’m walking neither off a cliff-face nor into the path of a starving, rabid bear. Understandably, I’m approaching the corner with a mix of trepidation and curiosity.
I can’t deny, either, that part of me isn’t ready to leave. Two years is a long time to spend with a community, witnessing triumphs and griefs, pettiness and unbelievable tenderness…I have come to love these people dearly, and to know without question that I, too, am loved. In worship last Sunday I found myself remembering the passage in Matthew, when a disciple informs Jesus that his mother and brothers are waiting for him outside:
But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!” (Matthew 12:48-9, New American Standard Bible)
There are two kinds of families: the one you’re born with, and the one you build for yourself. Over two years, I have built a family within my meeting, one that matters as much to me as the one to which I’m returning. I’m not the person I was when I arrived at PDX that night in ’09. My Quaker family understands this; they’ve been along for the ride (members of our YAF group especially). My biological family, however, has only seen hints of the transformation. The person coming to them is not the person who left, not the person they’re expecting. The family that knows me is here.
A friend recently suggested that the proper Quaker goodbye ought to be “Be quiet.” This idea appeals to me not only because of the obvious ties to Quaker worship, but also because it calls to mind Rumi’s plea:
I can think of no sweeter wish between Friends as they part: be still and calm in the chaos of life; feel the connection to the divine within your center even in the midst of hardship and confusion.