Down East 2013 ©
So I sat in Meeting on Sunday, surrounded by stolid Quakers with closed eyes and peaceful expressions. I didn’t feel especially peaceful — I was still tearing myself up with images of Eliza, Eliza and Bo, Eliza and the sea — all both real and imagined. Most of the other people sitting on the benches seemed settled and quiet, but I grappled with swirling thoughts that were far from tranquil. It was like a debate going on in my head, with neither side gaining an advantage but both willing to battle to some bloody end:
I should have gone for the canoe. Why? What would you have done even if you had found her? I would have gotten her into the boat, brought her back to safety. What if she didn’t want to go? I would have forced her. How? Do you really think you can drag a suicidal woman into a canoe against her will? Then I would have died with her. Why? Because I loved her.
A guy stood up, off to my left. As agonizing as my internal harangue was, it was even more irritating to have it interrupted by someone spouting his own views. But there was nothing to do but listen and wait for him to stop talking.
“Friends,” he said. He stood casually — most of the Quakers in the room didn’t look at whoever was speaking, but I often did — and he stared out the window across from him as he spoke. He was maybe twenty-five years old, and he was wearing jeans and a red flannel shirt. “As you all know, I’ve been battling with an alcohol addiction for several years now.”
Booze? Addiction? This isn’t a confessional. What was this guy thinking? Did he want three dozen Quakers standing up, one at a time, sermonizing about the evils of demon rum?
“I drank again last night, pretty heavily,” he continued.
What? Is this guy insane? Who goes into church and advertises the bender he went on the night before?
“And I just want to ask my Friends here to hold me in the Light as I try to fight this thing,” he went on. “I’m not doing a very good job of it, and I could use all the spiritual support you could give me.”
He sat back down. Some time went by, but no one said anything. I was expecting some of the older crustaceans — maybe even Henry — to stand and tell this guy that addiction is a moral sin that will result in a bloated liver and an eternity in Hell. But no one said anything. No one even seemed all that distressed over this guy’s revelation.
Eventually, my mental dogfight resumed: Why did she leave? I loved her. You loved her? Are you sure? Damn straight. I loved the way she —
The way she what?
The way she smiled at me.
She did that once.
OK — I loved the way she always talked with me about — What did she talk with you about?
About art, smartass. And about Bo, although I didn’t like those discussions quite so much. And about —
Henry stood up. “Here it comes,” I thought. The Temperance Movement begins.
“I don’t remember the quote exactly,” Henry began. I suspected that he was going to quote the Bible about “strong drink” or “weak souls” or “discipline” or something. He continued: “But George Fox, one of the early founders of Quakerism, was once chatting with William Penn about the faith and about nonviolence. Penn was in the habit of wearing a sword with his formal attire, as was the fashion among the upper class back then. But the sword is a weapon, and Penn reasoned that if he wanted to be a true Quaker, he would have to stop wearing it. He didn’t want to stop — he rather liked it — so he asked Fox about it. ‘As a Quaker, must I stop wearing my sword?’ he asked. Fox looked at him. ‘Wear it as long as you can,’ he said.
“What Fox meant by that is really quite profound. He meant that Penn shouldn’t stop wearing his sword just because he wanted to emulate the outward trappings of Quakers. Fox felt that Penn should stop wearing his sword only when his conviction to nonviolence and the God Within was so strong that he found the symbolism of the sword abhorrent. At that moment, he would be no longer able to wear it — and he would understand more fully the Quaker belief.”
Then he sat back down. OK — I actually thought his little story was kind of cool. I like the idea of conforming to ideals only when you have taken them truly to heart. And I thought that Henry’s story, in an odd way, gave an answer to the alcoholic guy: “When you’re really ready to stop drinking, you will. Be patient, and let God lead you to that point.”
I was thinking about that when my internal shouting match resumed: I don’t care if I can’t remember most of our conversations. I loved her, and now she’s gone.
Fine — then what do you remember most about her, this person you loved so much?
What I remember most is her… Well… OK — it’s her body. Her big breasts and her tiny waist and her green eyes and her long legs and her general nudity. She was seriously hot.
And you call that love?
Yes! I could have made her happy, and she would still be alive today. And she’d be with me, so I’d be happy, too.
For how long? What if she got fat and droopy? Would you leave — like Bo did?
No! I’d stay with her forever.
Why? You can’t remember anything about her except for her body.
I loved her, and now I don’t know what to do. How am I supposed to get back to a normal life? How am I supposed to go on? I don’t get it.
No, you don’t get it, my Friend.
This is not about you.
But don’t stop now.
Wear it as long as you can.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here .