One Island, One Mind
I was in town a few days ago, buying beer and some mummified vanilla-crème cookies at the Pop’n’Squeak, and when I came out there was a note on my windshield. It was written on yellow lined paper, and it was tucked under my windshield wiper. It said, “Want to come to Meeting again Sunday? I’d like that. Meg.”
It was an odd request, given that the last time I had laid eyes on Meg, she was ogling the contestants at the Tink — and before that, she was playing couch cushions with Floyd. Still, Meg seems to like me, and I certainly like her. It did occur to me that young people stuck on Grand Seal Island might be reluctant to get involved with someone who is only visiting for a summer — someone whose time on the island is so limited he’s willing to live in a crumbling earwig nest and call it a cabin, for example. The smart move would be to leave the island for good, or to find someone nearby to build a relationship with. Maybe the Floyd Chat had been an exploratory adventure. I decided to forget about it, and to accept the invitation to Quaker Meeting. Eliza is a brilliant sculptress, but Meg can create serious beauty with needles and thread. Besides, I was beginning to figure something out. So I decided to go.
The last (and only) time I had gone to the GSI Quaker Meeting, I spent the first half-hour of the Spiritual Silence counting ceiling tiles and singing campfire songs in my head. But during the second half-hour, I lost myself in some kind of cool transcendental trance that allowed me to float, mentally and spiritually, in some kind of suspended time until suddenly the service was over. It was really pretty intense and profound, and I thought that doing it again might be fun.
But I had learned some things from my last visit to the Meetinghouse. I like to think of myself as educable, and I set out to prove it.
So when Sunday — I mean, “First Day” — dawned, I put on some relatively clean jeans and a decent but not fancy shirt. I wore sneakers, which my feet enjoy a whole lot more than stiff leather shoes. I drove the Island Car only as far as The Larboard; I parked it there and walked the rest of the way out the Meetinghouse peninsula.
Henry was already there, dressed in his standard dark pants and white shirt. He looked as stiff and serious as ever. Cory was dressed in a coarse brown shirt and jeans. Meg was with them, and she was wearing a very attractive denim dress and sandals. They walked silently into the Meetinghouse just as I arrived, and I slid into the pew next to Meg.
We were in the Coffin Corner again, but this time the view of the Maine seacoast was unobstructed by the violence of the Island Car. I took comfort in the knowledge that the sun had no windshield to bounce off of this morning.
The Meetinghouse filled slowly, and people settled down. There were the standard preparatory noises: people blowing their noses one last time before beginning the Transformation, people unwrapping cough drops to suppress any worldly interruptions to the Silence, people kicking off their shoes and sliding them under the pews. About a quarter of the people did that — men and women. I’m guessing the seating arrangement had worked itself out long ago, so that the people who slid their shoes under their seats weren’t directly in front of long-legged people who were counting on that space to unkink their hamstrings.
I closed my eyes, leaned slightly closer to Meg than was strictly necessary, and tried to regain the transcendental mind-whirl that I had stumbled on last time. I squeezed my eyelids tight, compelled my eyes to focus on the inside of my forehead, and probably tightened my butt cheeks and curled my toes real hard.
It was a disaster. It was like trying to force yourself to go to sleep quickly. It didn’t work at all.
But next to me, in that wonderful denim dress, Meg was breathing slowly. I could feel the tension melt from her left arm — the only part of her I was actually touching — and she seemed to draw the crackling energy away from my own body. My toes unfurled. My butt relaxed. My breathing slowed along with hers, and the inside of my forehead opened into fascinating worlds of color.
I could sense the others in the room, all easing down into some kind of peaceful suspension that swirled slowly, like cooling lava on a gentle plain. The little sounds of shifting feet and clearing throats gave way to the kind of silence that has no “up” or “down,” no “now” or “then,” no “me” or “you.” I was supported by that silence like a jellyfish, bobbing in eternal water that always holds you up. I don’t know how much time went by. I really didn’t care.
When a young woman stood to speak, her words did not intrude on my floating peace. They shaped it, gave it color. They served as gentle guides, not forceful walls.
“When people think about Quakers and non-violence,” she said. I could tell her eyes were closed, although mine were, too. “They think about our belief of That of God in Everyone. That of God in Other People.”
I wasn’t thinking in words, but I could feel some thoughts emerge from my mind. The logic was easy: If everyone has a little bit of God in them, it would be supremely wrong to do that person harm. Fair enough.
“But that’s not the whole point,” she continued, her voice soft in my ear. “That’s not even the main point.”
Odd. I thought it was the main point. What was she talking about? I floated and waited for the answer.
“The real reason we find violence unacceptable,” she went on, “is that there is That of God in us. It’s not only because God is in the other person. It’s that God is in me, and I ought to behave appropriately.”
I could feel her words bringing the worshippers into some kind of center space, like candles side-by-side drawing their flames together. I let my spirit flow with them, joining into a common Light that radiated peace and love. And I sensed something important, like the sanctity of others and the value of the self. How it is wrong to grovel and bootlick, but it is just as wrong to revere and adore too much. We’re all just people, doing the best we can.
I flowed through the Light like a spark on an updraft. Was Meg feeling this, too? I sensed that she was there with us all, shifting in a spiritual dance of harmony.
Then she reached out and took my hand. She was cool and gentle, and her touch shocked me in delightful ways, as though I was surprised to learn that she existed in the physical world as well. Then I realized that everyone was shaking hands, offering quiet “Good morning” greetings and smiling softly. The hour had gone by without time, and I could no longer remember how many planks made up the Meetinghouse ceiling.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — PeaceNick: U R getting the idea, Van!!! We R spiritual beings only temporarily suspended in physical bodies. Outside is ILLUSION. Inside is REALITY.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.