July 13, 2007

An unexpected meet-up at Gathering

FGC's Gathering is sometimes talked about as being a sort of greenhouse or hothouse, where you are opened by the Spirit, where you feel things more deeply. You get close with folks you normally wouldn't have time for, and you are exposed to intense ideas and conversations that can either light you up or burn you out.

In one case in particular, I would say I was lit up.

A long time ago, at my first and second Gatherings (1995 - Kalamazoo, Michigan; 1996 - Hamilton, Ontario if you're keeping track), I spent a lot of my free time playing volleyball with Friends I met while there. We so loved playing with one another: we called each other out into our best selves, both as recreational volleyball players and as members of a small spiritual fellowship. Some of us thought of it as Meeting for Worship for Volleyball.

Among the Friends on the volleyball court was BaM. Her smile was infectious and her care for each person there was deep and genuine. When BaM stopped coming to Gathering, I missed her sorely. My volleyball playing stopped a year or two later, for different reasons.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

About seven years ago, I resisted the nudge to attend yearly meeting for the first time. But God pushed me out of bed early on a Saturday morning and directed me to the site. I stood around wondering why God had brought me here--to River Falls, Wisconsin of all places!--and then I spotted a young girl, about five or six years old, standing alone and sullen in the midst of a room full of buzz and activity.

I approached her, gave her my name, and asked if she would play with me. She did, and soon she was telling me about how sad she was that her family had moved and now she would be in a different school and she'd miss her friends.

I listened carefully and soon enough we went back to playing. Then it was time to come together as a big group again, and I worried about what the girl's parents might think of their daughter playing with a stranger. It was, after all, my first yearly meeting experience and I didn't know what to expect. So I was relieved when the father smiled at me and asked his daughter, MC, if she had had a good time.

She eventually told her dad what she had told me, and I offered to be in touch over the summer, which delighted MC to no end. That was the beginning of a dear friendship, one which still goes on today, even if we see each other only at yearly meeting sessions and at Gatherings.

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Serving as clerk of the Workshops Committee this year for Gathering, the first few days and nights of were hectic and tiring.

After a particularly long and tense Monday, the next day was also busy and with 40 minutes to spare for dinner and preparation for Tuesday night's interest group, I made my way into the quietest part of the big dining hall with my tray. "If I tuck myself way in the corner, I might be able to have a quiet dinner and calm down a bit," I thought to myself.

God had other plans, of course.

I saw a table that had familiar faces at it, but something was out of place: Why were BaM and MC sitting together, looking so happy and chummy?

Wait, what??? BaM and MC!?!

Now, I had already seen BaM earlier in the week, which was just a great delight; and I had also already seen MC and her family, which was very tender and sweet too.

But this, this was a combination that would not have occurred to me, and yet there they were, BaM and MC, now thirteen, smiling and laughing with each other, clearly friends. MC's older sister and BaM's mother were also there, as joyfully connected as MC and BaM.

And there was an empty seat at the table, with my name on it.

I joined BaM and MC with a rather loud and obnoxious, "Now how is THIS possible, that you two--two of my most favorite people who I've seen at this Gathering--know each other?!?"

And they replied in equal astonishment and exuberance, "How do YOU know each other?!?"

All of us immediately fell into a round of hearty hugs and excited explanations, and we were full-up with the Joy of the Great Giver.



Honey said...

Hi, I came over from Heather Madrone's blog 'a friend in need' because I loved your comment over there. I've enjoyed very much browsing your blog, and this is a lovely story.
with best wishes, Honey.

Lovin' Life Liz said...

Totally love this story! It's a small Quaker world!

Liz Opp said...

Honey and Lovin' Life Liz -

Thanks so much for stopping by. This is such a strange story to tell, but I really wanted to tell it. Thanks for indulging me.