My daughter goes to a Quaker school.
Now, a Quaker school is like any other school except for the fact that children are respected as much as any adult, and once a week, they hold a silent meeting.
The first time I attended Silent Meeting, I was a little nervous, so I arrived a few minutes early. I settled into a metal folding chair, noticing how hard the metal was, and wondering how I would last for forty-five minutes with no one to entertain me. No one to talk to, no one to listen to. And you're not supposed to sit there and read or write, which are my two favorite diversions.
When I first sat down, I was tempted to fumble around in my pocketbook, maybe to find my checkbook and bring up the balance, or update my to-do list for the afternoon.
But I didn't do it. I didn't want to be caught by other early arrivals doing something wrong.
When it was time to assemble for the meeting, the kids and teachers arrived in twos and threes - and were silent from the moment they entered the building.
As people drifted in and found a spot on the floor or in a chair, there was no shushing; there were no stern looks from teachers.
And then, all one hundred and eighty of us just sat there.
Hm. I wasn't sure I could last through forty-five minutes of this. A few minutes passed before I discovered something: That the silence at a Quaker meeting isn't just the absence of talking. It was this thing that rose up among us; I could feel it.
How does this happen? I think it's because this silence is intentional. It's not a lapse in conversation or a technical difficulty. It's not, as they say in radio, dead air. The purpose, I think, is to clear away distractions because, what is it that we're trying to distract ourselves from, anyway?
At the time of this meeting, my mind was staggering under a heavy burden. Someone I love was in big trouble and I didn't want to talk about it. My silent prayer at that meeting was to ask, without words, for everyone in the room to pray for - to choose - a happy outcome to this unbearable situation.
As my thoughts radiated out into that room, my body felt lighter, my shoulders relaxed, the tightness in my throat disappeared.
I couldn't shake the feeling that this problem had, on some level, already been solved for me.
As the clock raced toward the end of our time together, I tried to get a handle on what was happening. (As always, I'm not happy until I can stuff my thoughts into words.)
Here's what I came up with:
That room was alive with energy, and it didn't matter whether any individual was a child or a grownup, it was all the same thing. Like stars, we were radiating energy.
And there was this overwhelming feeling that there were no divisions among us. That we all shared one big spirit.
Now, I have spent a good chunk of my life installed on a pew in church, and never experienced anything like this.
It felt as though I had, for the first time, turned off the lights and discovered the stars.
All too soon, everyone stood up, people smiled and conversations began.
And, the problem that I'd brought into that room - in time, it disappeared.