Monday, June 19, 2006

Worn smooth

I'm nestled into Pendle Hill: land of homemade yogurt, 6 am yoga, communal chores, and a really good swing big enough for two.

This morning someone helped me put together what it is about old Quakers. There's a quality in many of them that I've marvelled at for years - a kind of stillness, a depth. I used to be afraid of getting old and decrepit and ugly until I met them. Their age seems like a virtue instead of a weakness to be pitied.

Before meeting for worship one of the teachers asked us to imagine ourselves as rocks entering a stream as we went into meeting, to let our jagged edges wear away in its current until we're smooth and shining. She read us the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit where the shabby old Skin Horse explains that he's real because he's been loved by a child. And that's what these people are, what makes them elders instead of merely being old - they're real. Their bodies are shabby and their spirits worn smooth by years of action and trial. It reminded me of Donne -

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I don't think you become smooth and still like they are just by willpower. It's not something I'm going to achieve at 21. But seeing that they've been through it before me makes me less afraid to be battered and smoothed.

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

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