This is a little thank you to Caroline Brown (“The Last Few Miles,” FJ Oct.). The paragraph on reading and experience is very well written. It is an excellent way of viewing what my 85-year-young mother is going through. Growing up on a farm, the tenth of fourteen children, she learned to be a “doer” early in life. She still has five of her six children living. It becomes heart-breaking at times to listen to the worries she has about my four siblings and the flood damage to the old mill, which my father and brother had before God took them. With difficulty seeing or walking, she still visits with her only living sister and other church friends to make things for others. We can read many things, but there is a difference between reading and experience.
Caroline Brown has indeed beautifully described some of the problems with aging. I’m 85, and the thought of living and not recognizing family and friends is NOT what I call living. I hope I will have the courage, as Clare Sinclair had earlier this year following a severe stroke, to simply stop eating and drinking. However, without a clear situation that calls for such action, how would I recognize which day? In the meantime, I enjoy the gift of life every minute, trusting my Higher Power will let me know when.
Great Falls, Mont.
Fountains of youth
When my Friends Journal arrives in the mail, the first section I turn to is the obituaries where I enjoy reading the accomplishments of Friends, many of whom lived long, productive lives. They’re the embodiment of George Bernard Shaw’s vision for himself:
My life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Sarasota (Fla.) Meeting is just one of many meetings blessed with long-lived Quakers doing good works up until the very end. Marie Hausman, 99, is active in our meeting and participates in her family’s charitable work in places like Haiti. She played tennis into her mid-90s. Another Friend is anthropologist Mary Elmendorf, 96, recently awarded an honorary degree by Brown University for her work for peace and justice and her participation with Quakers in Europe after World War II. Pat Murphy died this summer at the age of 86; he had clerked the Peace and Social Concerns Committee up until his death.
Last summer, I visited my daughter in Chapel Hill, N.C., where people spend a lot of time outdoors, and I went out on the nearby trails to photograph the Carolina landscape. A few days into my stay, I fell flat on my face on a sidewalk. Overnight, people treated me differently. I’d become a “doddering” senior citizen. But slowly my wounds healed, and I made it home.
Floridians have a different mindset about age. Sixty-year-olds are considered youngsters. Seventy-, eighty-, and ninety-year-olds jog, cycle, and swim in the ocean. They volunteer for organizations, most of which could not keep afloat without their “services.” They claim they work harder than they did in their former life.
The writers in the October issue of Friends Journal were eloquent about aging. However, I found something missing: a hint of the suggestion that Friends might age in, or create, multi-age deliberate communities, where the aged could be more useful and the young could grow with the benefit of senior hands and wisdom. Those in their middle years could also benefit from the mix, including the shared responsibility for young and old by an extended community. The back of the Journal is filled with well-thought-out communities that isolate the old. Is anyone putting ideas and money into communities that integrate us?
When ministry goes unheard
In the article “The Friend Is Not Heard” (FJ, Oct.), Louis Cox encourages people to advocate for themselves. My letter is personal: when I attend meeting for worship, I cannot understand a word that is spoken.
One of my Friends in a similar situation is willing to center into the silence without hearing the messages, but that is not easy for me. Since 1953, when I joined Quakers, I have faithfully attended a meeting near where I lived. Settling into silence in a group is important to me. But to not understand even the announcements after the worship means that I have only a tentative connection with the group. During the social time after worship, it is wonderful to talk with people that I know, but I cannot talk about what went on in the hour except to ask the person what was meaningful to them.
It is important to challenge people with good hearing to understand what it is like to live without this faculty.
Cranberry Township, Pa.
Our meeting room is small and has hard walls which reflect sound, so conditions are not ideal for listening. We have an assistive listening system, but it only works for some people. To help a dear Friend with an almost total hearing loss, we acquired a disused laptop, and a volunteer sits beside her and types what is said. The screen is adjusted to display a big, bold typeface.
While none of us can catch every spoken word, and typos of all sorts are made, this is such an improvement that we are all happy with the arrangement. Our relationship with this Friend has been vastly enriched!
About half the time, I am the volunteer typist. At first, I was nervous. But I type about as well as anyone, getting three or four words right for each error. My experience of worship is different when I fill this role, but it is not damaged.
After worship (and introductions, announcements, etc.), I delete what I typed. Our form of worship is so personal and intense that I don’t feel that it should be shared in such a format.
For a short time, the woman who taught me to sign visited the meeting I was attending. I was out of town on the weekend of her first visit, and she found that the audio system was abysmal (a high whine, lots of static, and the mics so far up on the ceiling with no intelligent mixing of active/inactive mics as to be useless) and the wheelchair door had been locked. I was present for her next few visits to meeting and interpreted as best I could. I am not a fluent signer, and my vocab wasn’t quite up to it (yay fingerspelling), but it got through well enough. The surprising thing was how many people came over and started signing with us after meeting for worship since they’d seen me interpreting. It seemed like none of them had even tried to talk with her when she’d come the first time.
Silver Spring, Md.
This article by George Kurz (“A Weekend Workcamp,” FJ Oct.) reminded me of the workcamps I attended with David Ritchie in the 1950s while I was in high school. They were an important rite of passage, and influenced my later decisions to work in Tennessee during the summer of 1963 on the Civil Rights Movement, and to volunteer for the American Friends Service Committee Voluntary International Service Assignments (VISA) program in 1964–66, first in Tanzania and then in Guatemala. My later work as a teacher has led me to teach in Spanish Harlem and south Seattle neighborhoods, communities that share similar problems to those faced by the North Philadelphia residents we met through Ritchie’s workcamps.
Meg Hodgkin Lippert
Mercer Island, Wash.
Thought and care of children
When I finished reading “Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There” by Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby in the August issue of Friends Journal, I felt as though I had just emerged refreshed from a very well-grounded meeting for worship. The thought and care for children, as growing spirits, that were reflected in the contents of the article touched me deeply, and I, at 74 years old, envied the children growing up under her care.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Quakerism has rich gifts for parents, a fact ignored in the recent Friends Journal on parenting (FJ Aug.). In the hurried competitive society of the United States today, Quaker process encourages parents to take time, to reflect, to be present. Quaker beliefs provide a solid foundation for one’s parenting. For example, Quakers’ recognition that there is that of God in everyone makes each child a person to be cherished. The testimonies give parents direction. A parent will reflect, “If I want my children to be able to live peaceably, I will take time to teach them how to resolve their conflict.” The practices provide parents with tools for implementing their parenting. Quaker community gives parents like-minded peers with whom to share and discuss their parenting. The Journal missed an opportunity to let parents know of these riches explored and written about by the Quaker Parenting Initiative (Quakerparenting.org).
The Quaker Parenting Initiative
Submitted by Harriett Heath
Where are the Quakers?
There are 13.4 million to 16.5 million children in the United States that are in families living in poverty. Among the developed countries in the world, the United States has the highest teenage birth rate, the highest infant mortality rate, some of the lowest educational scores, the highest prevalence of mental illness, the highest homicide rate, the highest imprisonment rate, the second largest income gap between rich and poor, and one of the lowest levels of social mobility.
John Woolman worked for his concern for the condition of slaves and the hard lives of English postboys. Where are today’s Quakers?
Darah P. Kehnemuyi
An open letter on fossil fuels
In what was both an unofficial and somewhat official capacity, I found myself sitting in Westtown (Pa.) Meeting’s meetinghouse on a recent Sunday listening to a presentation on divestment from fossil fuels. There was a brief presentation on our current carbon budget. There are a great deal more fossil fuel energy reserves still in the ground, but we can only burn so much before we reach the tonnage of carbon in the climate that will lead to an even further degree of devastating climate change. The questions of climate and divestment are in line with Quaker ideals of financial stewardship and are not new ones to me. I am fully behind this effort and would like to push Quaker meetings considering divestment to more fully engage with the impact of our fossil fuel use.
One of the key factors in our use of fossil fuels is people. This human aspect is often absent in the Quaker meetings where I have been in the room as fossil fuel use is being discussed. There are populations (mostly poor, people of color, and indigenous peoples) all along the extraction-to-refining supply chain line whose bodies bear the pollution of our use of fossil fuels. In places where there are extractive fossil fuel industries, an increase in human illness and pollution is bound to be present.
The accounts of injustices brought about by our reliance on fossil fuels span the entire planet; these stories could go on for pages and pages. Our reliance on the fossil fuel industry is having real, devastating effects on human and natural communities. Any sincere effort to divest from fossil fuels must take into account these experiences of injustice.
Bayard Rustin’s Communism
The one-hundredth anniversary of Bayard Rustin’s birth has restarted rumors that he was once a communist. I live within 20 miles of where he grew up as a Quaker in West Chester, Pa., and had the fortune to meet him in London in the early 1940s while he was staying at Friends International Center. I frequently visited there after my day’s work.
On one such occasion, Bayard told me the story of becoming more-than-casually acquainted with the controlling communist cell at City College of New York. He never joined, but he was invited to attend some of its executive meetings.
The cell met on campus on the upper stories of the college’s building. The communists had gained control of all the student-run organizations with the exception of the daily newspaper. At what would be Bayard’s last meeting with the cell, it planned to disgrace the paper’s current editor and install one of its members in his place. An attractive female member of the cell was to run screaming from the editor’s office with her blouse ripped open as if by a sexual attack; the incident was timed so that the night watchman would see. The put-up job was successful: the editor was stripped of his job and thrown out of CCNY.
At this point, Bayard severed any further exploration of communism. He explained to me, “No cause had the right to destroy a person’s life for its ends.”
In the November 2013 Books column, William Shetter’s review of The Gospel of Thomas: Wisdom of the Twin (Second Edition) by Lynn C. Bauman should have listed the earlier Wisdom Books as “Proverbs, Job, and the Apocrypha’s Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus,” as it was originally submitted by the reviewer. The editors regret the error.
Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.