Saturday, February 19, 2011

old age

"It's hard," the elderly Quaker Nancy told me on the peace picket line this morning. "There are no younger people coming in -- people in their 70's. It's hard to be constantly in the midst of failing health and death." She was speaking of the retirement community she and her husband Bob live in.

Nancy had a beautiful smile and Bob excused himself because he had ear flaps covering his ears in the biting wind. "The hearing aids don't work well with the flaps," he said.

Constantly living among those who are frail and failing, no longer among a mixture of ages and energies ... I don't know, but I can imagine that an infirm environment would increase infirmity ... sort of like catching someone else's cold. How long could anyone hold out ... or want to?

Nancy held a red-and-white striped flag with a peace symbol against a blue background where the stars might have been on an American flag. She was bundled and toasty and flashed her beautiful smile generously. She and Bob had gone to a Quaker meeting at the suggestion of Bob's boss many years ago. "He told Bob he might like it, so we went and we stayed," Nancy said.

Nancy waved to the passing cars and didn't join in when the conversation around her segued into the kind of liberal plaints that can be heard among those who dislike war, want health care for all, and are against cutting social services. Her quiet was not disapproving. It was just quiet. Bob said he was never quite sure what anyone was doing on a peace picket line in the first place, but he supposed it didn't do any harm. He seemed pleased when I told him my own feeling -- that if it got people to think (not agree, just think), then it was probably worth something.

We all stayed until noon, an icy wind bustling around our bright red noses, and then disbanded. It was a lively and enlivening morning and I hope I see Nancy and Bob again.


  1. Interesting, have been thinking about the difference between Friends Meeting and the Zen hierarchical organization in the context of the corruption scandals affecting Zen sanghas. Have been a Quaker Buddhist for 40 years, and Friends seem immune to these troubles perhaps because they don't have ministers, attract people focused on outward action from inward stillness rather than adherents attracted to the grandiosity of enlightenment pursuits, and since the 1600s have had equality between women and men in Meeting. Whatever it is Zen could look to Friends--the wisest people I've ever met have been Quakers, not Buddhist teachers--for guidance on how to become a well functioning moral sangha.