Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Becoming Friendlier

on November 23, 2014

Last weekend was incredibly Quaker-ish.  I had a visit to discuss becoming a member of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I read the book of this year’s Swarthmore Lecture, a lecture given by a Quaker to Quakers on an issue of importance to Quakers.  I went to my Quaker meeting.  I went out for lunch with some people from my Quaker meeting and talked about Quakerism.  It was altogether very satisfactory.

I applied for membership in the summer.  As with most things Quaker, it’s very considered, and very slow.  First of all I wrote a letter to the Area Meeting (this covers five Local Meetings, and my Area Meeting is Manchester and Warrington) explaining why I wanted to become a member.  This letter was read out at the Area Meeting meeting (Quakers’ diverse array of uses of the word ‘meeting’ is remarkably confusing) and two visitors were appointed to come and see me: one who I know, from my Local Meeting, and one who I don’t.  The visit was arranged, and I was looking forward to it, and then Ex-Husband broke his leg, and it was postponed, and I had my operation, and felt very tired, and Big Girl started school, and then, finally, we made it.

The purpose of the visit is to ensure that I know what I’m getting myself into, that I have thought about what membership would mean, that I understand what Quakers are about, and that I have sincere intentions.  We talked about why I had started attending Quaker meetings, and my spiritual journey, and my experience of and involvement in the Local Meeting, whether I had been to any other Meetings, whether there were things I found challenging.  It was a really affirming experience – I enjoyed an opportunity to talk about myself and my experiences, and to talk about Quakerism.

Following this, my visitors went away and wrote a report on the visit, which goes back to Area Meeting for consideration.  I loved reading a summary of our discussions, and seeing how what I said had been heard by someone else – my observations and experiences as someone new to Quakerism can be quite different to those of a longstanding Member, and articulated differently by someone who speaks Quaker fluently.  Area Meeting will then discuss the report and any concerns they have, and then decide whether I can be a Member.  This may sound a little harsh, but having experienced (and loved) Quaker decision-making, I’m happy to trust that a good decision will be made well.

One thing which became clear to me during the discussion was just how much I lead a double life, and these two lives collide at Meeting like nowhere else.  To a casual observer, it may appear that I turn up at Meeting most weeks, sometimes with children and sometimes alone.  But watch more carefully and you will see: this week, alone, I arrive at Meeting on time, say hello to people as I arrive, sit quietly in the silence, and afterwards, have coffee, attend to the Meeting Library as I am on the Library Committee, chat to other Quakers about interesting things, perhaps go out for lunch with some Friends afterwards, engaging as an adult and an individual, and go home feeling peaceful and thoughtful.  Next week, however, I arrive a harassed harridan, having hurried Big Girl and Small Girl to the train station with threats of missing the train and not going, and then from the station to Meeting, trying to be patient with their interest in bridges and shop windows and trams while also wanting to arrive before Meeting starts, and then sitting in the children’s room for the first fifteen minutes (because they *really* don’t enjoy sitting in the main Meeting with all the adults), and then when the other children arrive, attempting to extract myself from the Children’s Meeting without too many tears, and finally sinking into my chair, into the silence, trying to focus and keep my mind inside the room rather than wandering to who I’d like to talk to afterwards and Big Girl’s homework and what we’re going to have for tea and a thousand other domestic concerns.  And then I set Big Girl and Small Girl up with their lunch, and try to eat my lunch, ruefully looking at what I’ve managed to scrape together for us to eat because I’m never really prepared for a packed lunch.  We usually sit with other famillies and it’s lovely to catch up with friends, and then Big Girl and Small Girl go to play with their friends, and I try to make sure I have a rough idea of where they are and if they’re safe and behaving well enough, while also trying to chat and also wondering if I should be putting away some returned library books, and still thinking about the train home and homework and dinner.  Attending another Meeting is valuable part of the process of becoming a Member, because it allows you to see the breadth of British Quakers rather than just your Local Meeting.  But for me, for the two ‘me’s, who each get two Sundays a month to attend, to be involved, and for Big Girl and Small Girl, who only get two Sundays a month at best to see their friends and participate in the community, sacrificing a Sunday at my Meeting to experience another meeting does not feel like the right thing to do.

In both parts of my life, Quakerism has become very important to me, as a community of like-minded people, as somewhere to belong, a new way of looking at the world, something which challenges and stretches me, something which gives me hope, and something which has played a large part in my transformation over the past few years.  It’s good to have found a new home.

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