Middle School Meeting for Worship via Zoom last week was a first for me in now 37 years of Quaker education. It had all the hallmarks of that sacred space that are so familiar to me: the clear sense of intention and respect from students entering silence together, the power of collective reflection in real time, and the gift of thoughtful and varied sharing of young people thinking about their lives and the people in them. It was a gift to experience this with our Middle School students and their teachers.
The unexpected experience was what it would mean to me to see all of those students and teachers from spaces in their homes during Meeting. Midway through the Meeting, I had this image in my mind of the Meetinghouse suddenly vastly expanded to connect all of these varied rooms in our homes. With the various alignment of angles reflected through our cameras, this expanded Meetinghouse had an almost cubist feel to it. But it also created a beautiful new intimacy in this sharing of family spaces, of seeing the love and intention of homes glimpsed in the background, the nuzzling of a family dog alongside a sixth grader. The paradox of our being apart bringing us closer, underlines that there is always close connection in the realm of the spirit, no matter the distance.
This meaningful connection of home and school was vividly made for me early in my teaching career. I was a middle school teacher in my first year of teaching at Moses Brown School, a Friends school in Providence, Rhode Island. There were three brothers at the school, the King boys—Toby, Eric and Andrew, grades 8, 6 and 3. I knew them well at school as a boisterous trio, full of energy, some good-hearted mischief and playfulness about them. Their parents were planning to be away during spring break and asked if I would stay with the boys at their home for the week.
Being with the boys at home opened a whole new world of knowing them and their family. Seeing their home, the den with floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with books, the family photos from various decades found throughout the house, the care evident in each child’s bedroom and clear reflection of things that mattered to them not just now, but from their youngest days as well. I grew to appreciate their younger selves—an aspect of their identity that still lived very close to the surface, and does in children of all ages.
Even more moving, was how the boys treated each other with their parents away. The two older boys would climb into Andrew’s bed with him at bedtime to read to him and give him that gentle send off to sleep, knowing that he would be missing his parents. All three boys helped to prepare and clean up after meals, secretly but clearly proud to show me their competence. The absence of their parents brought out a sweetness of spirit that touched me. I never saw those brothers the same way again at school, knowing that they carried the love of their home and family and the presence of their younger selves with them each day. It changed the way I looked at and thought of all my students.
This period of connecting with each other from a distance is bringing us into each other’s homes, students into teachers’ and teachers into students’. We are seeing each other more wholly in this closeness. May we recognize this gift that engenders a deeper level of care and appreciation for each other. The greatest treasure of the AFS community is its people and I am grateful for that treasure each day.
All the best,