Serendipity

SERENDIPITY
It’s funny how things can come to you sometimes. Unexpected light can shine through years of opaque memory. One of my Friends Meeting colleagues was scheduled to give a talk about the development of his spiritual path after meeting today. He titled it “This I believe”, without an awareness of the Radio show and two volumes of like-titled international essays. What a talk it was! His life, as he eloquently and perceptively described it, touched similar points in mine all along the line.
            Prior to this, however, I had been in conversation with a Friend visiting Meeting, from Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Within that conversation, there was a moment of crystal clear revelation for me.
            It is Memorial Day weekend, when we remember heroes and tragedies brought on by war. Uncharacteristically, I spoke, in the minutes for that after Rise of Meeting, about my own military experience. Reflecting on the military training I’d had, I opined that there had to be a better way for a young man or woman to perform service to the country without picking up a gun and killing someone.
            Part of my Quaker experience has been the importance of identifying and realizing the spiritual path I am on. And truth to tell, it has only been in recent years I was truly conscious of the fact that I am on that path.
            The Friend and I were talking about that. I told him how, during the campus unrest during the late sixties, at which time I was in the National Guard and also attending the University of Minnesota, that our unit was anticipating being called up for riot duty on the campus. I told him how I was ready to put my military career on the line, to not participate in any action that would have me looking across my fixed bayonet at a friend. Luckily things never came to that.
            I told the Friend that during my six years of active reserve, we were called out only once; 1967, I think it was, to perform riot duty in North Minneapolis. Neighbors there, possibly inspired by other activities going on elsewhere in the USA, reacted one hot summer night and burned two local businesses to the ground. When we responded to the Governor’s call up, we moved into the area, to the derision and laughter of the mixed population. (It was a bit of a surprise, later, to read that we had been called out for a race riot, when in fact, it had been a poverty riot. Locals were more than upset by the treatment children were getting from the proprietors of a couple of absentee-owned businesses. And the active, non-threatening crowd that surrounded us was a mixture of races, and they were more in a party mood.
            Still, we had to go through the motions, I told him. The next day, as local women were hauling out Kool Aid and refreshments for us in the hot sun, I was assigned to a corner as a road guard. I had a clip of eight cartridges in my M-1, and my bayonet fixed. Yes, there had been some fear the night before, but that had abated by daylight, and boredom was beginning to set in.
            I told the Friend that at that time in my life, I had no notion of anything serious in life for me. I was drifting, emotionally, intellectually, and most importantly, spiritually. So I stated to tell him a story I had told to others many times. It was familiar, and I was unprepared for its consequences. I told him how a young black kid walked up to me as I stood there, sweating in the sun.
            “You gonna stick me with that?” he asked me.
            “Kid,” I told him, “I don’t want to stick anybody.”
            At that moment of telling, this morning, I was flushed with a wave of intense emotion. I had to hold back tears. It was the sudden realization that the event I was describing was my very first conscious step onto my spiritual path. I had realized I was not here on earth to be an agent of violence. It was the first major, real-life, no-foolin’-around time that I was morally involved with my life.
            So like I say, I can (and frequently am) surprised at moral junctures in my life. It was a good morning today.