“The silence went deeper, taking the three of us along. We were covered with gentleness and held in grace.”
When my daughter, Jessamyn was just two-and-a-half, my husband and I discovered our house required major renovations. The sooner the better. To avoid problems inherent in having a toddler amid the construction work, she and I needed to move out.
I knew where we could seek refuge. Our old Meetinghouse, once a mansion on a street of gracious wealth, had small rooms on the second and third floors where we occasionally hosted out-of-town guests or Quaker groups on their way through Cleveland. As long-time Society of Friends members, we requested, and were granted permission to live there for as long as necessary. Jessamyn and I stayed in a small room on the second floor for nearly a month.
One sunny morning, as we made our way out the door, Jessamyn peered into the darkened Meeting room.
“Where are all the people. Mamadi?” she asked.
“It’s Wednesday, Sweetie. The people only come on Sunday,” I replied.
She walked into the dusty quiet with determination. “But I want a Meeting today.”
I was surprised. Jessamyn was an active toddler, and our success at getting her to sit still in Meeting for Worship for even a short time, had been limited. Her father left home each Sunday morning with his pockets full of things for Jess to do — old keys, books, stuffed animals, paper, and an assortment of pens. We asked our friends what they had done with their children in Meeting and followed up on every suggestion. Still she hung upside-down from her father’s lap or stuck her head in-between the back and the seat of her folding chair, and her “What’s that, Daddy?” was too often heard in the silence.
But I was tired. It was not easy staying with a toddler in this place designed for grown-ups. Besides, the dim coolness was inviting.
“All right. We can sit here for a bit,” I said, and sank gratefully into a folding chair. She sat down beside me briefly, then popped back up.
“I have to get Todd,” she said. I heard her practical brown shoes clump-clumping through the dining room to the kitchen, where Todd, the house manager, had been eating breakfast.
“Todd,” she said with two-year-old authority, “come on. It’s time for Meeting.”
Todd, bless his soul, never missed a beat. “Oh, is it?” he said. “Let me just finish up. I’ll be right there.” As Jessamyn returned to her seat, I heard Todd turn off the water, stack his dishes, then quietly come to join us in the Meeting room.
And there we sat on a Wednesday morning, three people who could not have been more different from one another. Todd first, then Jessamyn on a small wooden chair, then myself. A forty-three year-old tired Mom, a pink and blue toddler, and Todd.
Todd was an unusual and remarkable man. I heard that for years he was pistol-whipped weekly by his father, a Cleveland policeman with a reputation for fierce brutality. Todd never referred to it. There were days when he shook so badly he couldn’t write and there were nights that brought terror instead of rest. I could hear him moving quietly through the house in the dark, muttering. He covered the windows of our entry way with black plastic. He washed rarely. But he shouldered the burdens of abuse with resolute and sometimes desperate bravery. He did not demonize others. He thought and felt deeply about spiritual matters. He continues to be one of the brightest men I know.
As we settled into the silence, the silence settled into us. Even Jessamyn sat quietly, her eyes closed, her wispy blond hair a bright spot in the gloom. The silence went deeper, taking the three of us along. I heard Todd sigh deeply and then felt the wings of the great grey dove close around and in us. And we were covered with gentleness and held in grace.
I heard a small sound as Jessamyn stood up and moved quickly to the exact center of the room. There she began to spin and spin, turning faster and faster, her arms held out to balance herself. Then she was released from her dance, and came to sit quietly between us again.
The great dove folded her wings around us again, and we rested and prayed. Jessamyn again rose from her chair and went to the exact center of the room, and began to spin. Arms out, turning on both feet, faster and faster. She tired more quickly this time, and came to sit by us again.
The grey dove folded us in her wings, and held us for a few minutes more. Then we were released. Our Wednesday Meeting ended.
Jessamyn stood with great formality, held out her hand and said, “Good morning, Friend,” to Todd and “Good morning, Mamadi,” to me. We each shook her hand and returned her greeting, then stood, and walked quietly out into the sunshine.
Elizabeth Spraker (Beasley) comes from a family of writers and story tellers. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University and has a Masters in Adult Education from the same institution. After years as an early childhood teacher specializing in Gifted Education (and in working with the parents of gifted children), she began to develop her second career as a hospital chaplain. She earned her certification in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) from the Cleveland Clinic, and worked as a hospital chaplain for a number of years. During that time, she became interested in the healing aspects of writing, and earned a certificate from Earlham School of Religion in the Ministry of Writing. Following semi-retirement from chaplaining, she looks forward to the development of writing /experience groups which address some of the issues present in today's communities. She refers to this as "community chaplaining." As an adjunct to this endeavor, she is trained in the Plagens Method, a way of organizing and facilitating long term group experiences.