Where the Light Comes From

Where the Light Comes From
Sunday, January 18
Something a little more positive to begin the New Year:
I was recently overcome with a feeling of spiritual and – was it moral? – or ‘Service to Others’? – impotency. It is a regularly-occurring feeling of mine, but this had a specific source. I was reading the obituary notices in Friends Journal, the Quaker magazine, of Barbara Nokka.
When we were participating in the Washington Friends Meeting, she was our first good friend in the meeting. We liked her a lot. She was a vigorous and strong elder Quaker. When Gerri didn’t sit with me in the main meeting room, I preferred to sit on the side bench where Barbara sat. Her messages in meeting were rare, but always clear and thoughtful, and I liked sitting next to her wisdom. When she passed, I continued to sit on that bench, when I could, to honor her.
In reading her obituary, it was clear that her entire life had been continuously given over to the service of others. Compared to that, my insecurity made me wonder what my own obituary would look like. I was a late member to Quakers, and usually did the least taxing of committee work (in the Library) and little I could think of in the way of service to others.
Today in our current Meeting in Duluth, several people gave messages. People are usually more silent than that, so it felt like there was some energy in the air. They all deeply affected me. Principally one person spoke of a previous Meeting he had attended where the children from First-Day school would join the meeting for worship in its last fifteen minutes. This person spoke of a feeling of joyous light that entered the room with the children. My thoughts then were that not only children brought the light; but many different members that I knew and reacted well to; including an elder like Barbara Nokka, also brought in the light, for me. It caused me to wonder: did I bring in light, myself?
I thought about such times that my life might have had a good affect on someone else. I immediately remembered the other day, when I was sitting in a coffee shop, writing in my journal, and this fellow started talking to me. Ordinarily I don’t like strangers to bother me like hat in public, but I opened up, and we had a conversation. He told me his life; of being bipolar and infirm in several familiar ways. I think his conversation with me allowed him to go away contented.
That reminded me of a few days before, where I shared a sauna at the gym with a muscular, tattooed young man, and again, a conversation. He also told me his life; how he was working off a jail sentence here in Duluth, before he could go down to the Twin Cities and his girlfriend. Nervous at first talking to a stranger who could possibly be dangerous, I remained at ease, and left him feeling good that he could talk to another human who was not passing judgment on him.
Or like tonight, waiting for a bus in the dark, quiet transit center, another fellow wanted to talk. Maybe it is Duluth, and people are more willing to interact with strangers here than in Washington DC, but I don’t know. It wasn’t anything serious; just his gripes and concerns. I could have brushed him off, like I sometimes do, but we conversed, and maybe I helped keep away some of his loneliness in the gloom of the night. It worked for me too.
I realized that these kinds of things happen to me frequently. Some bundled up woman on the bus will engage me in talk; on the street with 6 or 7 people around, a young girl will stop me to ask for help with directions. An old guy (my age, actually,) will come over to me in a coffee shop, where I’m writing with pen in my notebook. He’ll compliment me on the fact I’m still writing in longhand, and we’ll have a short but philosophical discussion of surprising frankness.
Maybe it is the teacher in me. I always try to be positive and supportive, while still holding my opinions in such conversations, like I am with my students, whose lives I may be affecting in ways I can’t guess and may never know.
I seem to be some kind of magnet for people. I don’t seek it out, with any kind of purpose, but others seem to see something in me. Is that the time when my light shines? I hope so. I want my affect on others to be positive like that. While it may never be something that winds up in any obituary or biography, I can carry that with me.