Down East 2013 ©
The Day rolled around. D-Day. First Day. It was time for me to go to GSI’s Quaker Meeting.
I was as prepared as I knew how to be. I was dressed in the best outfit I had with me on the island — grey pants, white shirt, dark blue tie, navy blazer. My hair was combed. I had showered within the previous forty-eight hours. (I had to sneak into Cory’s hotel when she was off at the docks.) I had coins and a few small bills in my pockets for the collection plate. It had been a long time since I had been to church, but I was ready. This was my big chance to demonstrate to Henry and the rest of the town that I’m really not an asshole. And besides, I didn’t mind the thought of spending the morning with Meg, even if it meant sitting silently in church instead of hanging out naked on a beach chugging warm beers with Eliza. Kate still won’t let me write about The Village, though, so I’m forced to make do in The Town.
I drove the Island Car to the peninsula where the Meeting House stands defiant against the sea — the first of my many mistakes. As I approached, fifteen minutes before the service was to start, I saw that everyone else was walking. Quakers believe in simplicity, you see, and there’s no reason on earth why you should drive somewhere if walking will get you there just as surely. Especially on a small island. Especially when the Meeting House is just a few hundred yards from the edge of town. As I sped past, I thought about rolling down my window and trying to explain to the knots of people walking by that I had to come all the way from the center of the island, so driving really was necessary. I even started to roll down the window, but then I realized that I was blasting some rather UnQuakerly heavy-metal music on the boom box that Whirlpool Eddie McCoy had hot-wired to the dash for me. I rolled up the window with my left hand and turned off the boom box with my right hand. This maneuver, of course, left my steering wheel free to follow its own whims for a second, so the Island Car veered sharply toward a clutch of tottering Friends. They jumped pretty fast for old religious people.
I gave up on the explanation and just parked the car between the driveway and the Meeting House, which caused me to wonder two things:
1) Why would a church full of people who hated the internal combustion engine have a driveway?
2) What are the odds I just parked on top of the Quakers’ unadorned graveyard?
Concluding that I had no hope of getting everything just right, I left the car there and joined the nomadic tribe heading into the building. There’s something peaceful about joining a group of people heading for church. It’s like you’re where you’re supposed to be, somehow.
The inside of the Meeting House consisted of a breezeway with hooks for coats, a little kitchen, a room for the “First Day School” (that’s Sunday School to the unwashed), and one large room for the worship service. I was trying to decide whether to hang up my sportcoat when I realized that I was the only person in the congregation wearing one. Everyone was clean and presentable, but most wore jeans and short-sleeve shirts, or simple dresses and sandals, even a few shorts and T-shirts. I felt like the only insurance salesman in a commune.
So I stuffed my tie into the pocket of my sportcoat. The sportcoat went onto one of those hooks and I walked away casually, as though it wasn’t mine. I rolled up my sleeves and tried to slouch a little.
Inside the big room, four rows of pews ran along each wall, all facing in toward the empty center of the room. Henry and the Coffinettes sat along the wall to my right, so I slid quietly into place next to Meg. She flashed me her cute snaggle-toothed grin.
That’s when I discovered another Donovan Graham blunder. The windows on three sides of the room offer peaceful and powerful vistas of nature: the pounding sea, the rocky beach, the tranquil pine forest. These scenes are essential, I’m sure, for the properly meditative frame of mind with which Quakers worship. The windows directly opposite the Coffin cordon, however, offered a neatly framed view of the Island Car, resplendent in the summer sun, parked immediately next to the building and supplanting the standard view of the rugged Maine coast with its own interpretation of neon-pink starfish, mermaids with perky boobs, and swordfish wearing little black Zorro masks. After muttering an initial non-Quakerly exclamation, I pretended not to notice.
The meeting settled into its hour of silence at 10:30, so I tried to do the same. Some people sat up very straight, their hands upturned on their knees and their eyes shut. Others leaned back in the pews, crossed their legs, and breathed slowly for the entire hour. Next to me, in her modest grey dress and simple brown sandals, Meg folded her hands casually in her lap and sat in a quiet and relaxed way throughout the service, her long brown pony tail trailing over her right shoulder.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I started out in the bolt-upright mode, hoping to look sincere and impressive for Henry. But my back started to hurt after a while, and Henry’s eyes were closed anyway, so I eased back in the pew. I figured that the best way to let this hour of silence slip happily by would be to clear my mind of all distractions and enter some kind of meditative trance. Get my conscious thoughts out of the way and allow my spirit to run free. Liberate my soul by quieting the tyrannical domination of my brain. I took a deep breath and forced myself to concentrate on nothing at all….
Did you know that the worship room in the GSI Quaker Meeting House has four windows on each of the three outside walls, and each window has eight small panes on top and eight more on the bottom? That’s sixteen panes per window, so there are sixty-four panes per wall. Multiplied by the three walls that have windows to the outside, that’s 192 panes in all.
The ceiling slopes upward on each of the four sides, meeting in a peak at the top. Each side is made up of thirty-six horizontal wooden planks, making a total of 144 planks in the ceiling. Just to check my math, I counted each set from the bottom to the top.
A small bookshelf on one wall holds fifty-three books on various religious and social topics; most of the bindings are black. There’s a little handwritten sign that says “Quaker Lending Library” on the shelf. Did you know that there are twenty letters in the words “Quaker Lending Library,” not counting spaces? Seven of them are vowels, and thirteen are consonants, unless you count “y” as a vowel. The most common letter in the phrase isn’t “L,” although it seems that way at first. It’s actually “r,” which occurs three times.
Oh, crap. It’s only 10:38. How do these people stand this?
I did manage to distract myself for precisely thirteen minutes through yet another reminder, offered by the Island Car, that I’m an idiot. As the Earth continued its eternal rotation in space, California endlessly chasing France around and around again, a fascinating triangle developed off the coast of Maine. One point of this triangle was occupied by the Sun, blazing in nuclear fusion in the upper Southeast sky. The second point was occupied by the Island Car, whose windshield, despite numerous collisions with pebbles and sticks and the occasional raccoon, remained remarkably reflective. The third point of the triangle began on the wall of the GSI Quaker Meetinghouse about three yards to my right. It was an intense gleam, a charged laser of solar energy that threatened to discolor the latex paint and ignite the wallpaper. The beam had a Star-Trek, fazer-like quality to it, as though Spock had irrationally twisted the dial on his weapon past “Stun” and all the way up to “Render Sightless For Life.”
The beam from the glare of the Island Car windshield moved with a slow and inexorable pace toward the unsuspecting heads of the meditating Coffin gang. The Earth turns with astonishing swiftness, completing its full pirouette as it does every twenty-four hours or so, and the Death Ray inched across the wall, toward the Coffins and me, at a rate of about a foot a minute. Being somewhat less deeply transcendental than your average Quaker at this moment, I saw it coming and knew I could not stop it.
The Quakers talk about the Light Within, the spiritual soul in all of us that connects us to God and each other. But on this particular First Day, on the Coffin pew, it was the Light Without that stole the show.
The Unbearable Lightness of Beaming first reached Cory Coffin, who was sitting farthest to my right. As the Beam That Cannot Be Denied encroached on Cory’s visual sphere, she began unconsciously to lean to her left, to move her retinas out of firing range. Now even though Quakers gather together in communal worship once a week, that spiritual connection does not extend any further than the extra-human realm. In other words, leaning against one’s fellow Quaker during the Service of Silence would be construed as weird at best. So the next Coffin in the lineup began to lean, too, opting against physical contact with Cory and choosing instead to invade the personal and spiritual space of the next Quaker in line. That Coffin, in turn, leaned to his left, setting off proximity alarms in the otherwise transcended brain of Quaker-Coffin #4. And so the chain continued, until the entire collection of Quakers on this side of the room were tilting rakishly to one side.
Then the glare from the Island Car’s glass reached its intensity apex for Cory, passing its zenith across her Prime Meridian, and she shifted to her right, still clinging stubbornly to her spiritual trance. A moment later, the Quaker of the Second Part leaned rightward as well. As the Gleam Beam worked its way along the lineup, crawling from Friend to Friend toward my own wide-open eyes, each Quaker in Question reached a crescendo of spiritual revelation and then shifted weight to the right half of their buttocks.
At last, the spinning of the planet brought the Spanish Inquisition to me, but I fought it off bravely by burying my face in my hands. I hoped that anyone else in the room would think that I was lost in existential rapture, but my posture of submissive and reverent connection with the Creator was in fact an attempt to fend off a seriously nasty headache.
10:51. Not even halfway through.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — FreedomFirst: What a bunch of wackos. It would serve them right if you blinded them with your car.
Comment — Gemstone: I think that kind of deep, intense meditation — assuming you actually do it, instead of counting ceiling planks — is wonderful for the body, mind, and spirit. If everyone did it, we’d have a lot less tragedy in the world.
Comment — PeaceNick: Right on, Gem!!! MORE meditation, LESS militarization!!!!
Comment — FreedomFirst: Gimme a break.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here .