After having breakfast on the unit, my pass out into the outside was signed and away I went. I arrived at Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C, about forty-five minutes early. Quaker meetings I have found over the years to be disproportionally comprised of introverts and people as socially awkward as I, if not more so. This creates problems, since one socially awkward person in isolation is bad enough, but fifty in the same room trying desperately to make small talk is something else altogether. So it was that until First Hour worship I had several conversations that would likely be hilarious to observe from an outsider's perspective---especially if I had brought along a camera to provide visual evidence of said fact.
Worship began after ten minutes or so of silence with a woman expressing grief that a close family relative had passed away. I contemplated this for five minutes or so according to protocol. Quaker etiquette holds that it's rude to immediately rise to speak after someone else has finished talking. The point is to contemplate and find inner meaning with what has just been said. I make a habit of frequently speaking in meeting, but since it's such an effort to psych myself up enough to gather my courage, I often get impatient with waiting when I know my ability to talk in front of people quickly leaves me when I have time to obsess about my outward appearance to the rest of the world. My nerves have often betrayed me. Fortunately, today was not one of those instances.
I gave an eloquent, passionate talk. Though inside I was on the border between so nervous that my voice quavered and determined to speak my heart in spite of it, I gave the best message I had managed in my life. Anyone with a fear of public speaking knows what a chore it is to fight with one's own neuroses and stay afloat in the process. Yet, I kept these forces at bay and finished my talk. The satisfaction of a job well done flooded through me as I took my seat and tried my best to embrace serenity and inner calm.
A tired-looking blonde-haired girl with circles under her eyes and bad bangs spoke next. Earlier, as the service was beginning, she entered from my right and sat a bench behind me. My eyes fell upon her threadbare stockings, which were full of holes. She looked unbathed, exhausted, depressed, and demoralized. Her voice was fearful and resigned.
Sometimes it is so easy to see the Light within other people (referring to me), but there are times when I can't even see it within myself.
I know what she meant. Sometimes God seems far away, leaving you wondering where he is and why he departed for other destinations. The reality, of course, is that God is always there but for mysterious reasons direct revelation can seem at times both elusive and fickle. Sometimes he is revealed in the person of a stranger sitting next to you. Sometimes it appears as though his hand is present in the life of everyone you encounter with, the notable exception of you yourself. My own personal belief is that this perception involves freedom of choice. I firmly believe that since we are granted Free Will and can choose between good and evil, God works subliminally rather than overtly. The times in which he seems to have deserted us, he may simply be wishing to not interfere with our freedom to choose light or darkness, good or evil. If everyone was blessed with constant revelation, all of us would easily and eagerly choose good.
I treasure these times, where I feel the Light reflecting from within me out to everyone else in meeting when I speak. Today was one of those fortunate mornings where even my introversion, performance anxiety, and fear of public speaking fall away. The credit, of course, goes to God. I know there's no way I could do it by myself.