Day 7 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Live to Blog from Quaker Meeting

This morning, at 9:00 AM, Clemencia and I joined about 16 other members and attenders of Sandy Spring Friends Meeting (SSFM) for Meeting for Worship via Zoom. Yesterday I mentioned this was going to happen and I promised a report on it today. It was a great experience and we are both glad we were there. If you visit the SSFM website you’ll find a link to information on how to join Meeting for Worship via Zoom…in case you are curious.

Meetinghouse at Sandy Spring, Maryland

Sandy Spring Friends Meeting is located in Sandy Spring, Maryland. We have three Meetings for Worship per week – 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM on Sunday and on Thursday evening. All three of these have moved to Zoom for now.

One of the coolest things on our campus is a huge Tulip Tree (lireodendron). In the photo, you can see it peeking out behind the Meetinghouse on the left side. However, to really appreciate the size of the tree, you need to see it in comparison to something else…like me!

A Notable Tulip Tree in the graveyard at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting behind the Meetinghouse. I’m that speck of a person at the right of trunk at the very bottom.

About eight years ago Clemencia took a picture of me beside the tree. I’m that little speck of a person standing right at the base of the tree waving my hand. If you don’t see me well, I get it. But you can take Clemencia’s word on it that it’s me (wearing an Iowa Hawkeye shirt, by the way). Since that time the tree has continued to grow and I’ve continued to shrink. It is my understanding, from people who know much more about these things than I do, that the tulip tree you see here is one of the oldest and tallest in Maryland. One friend at Sandy Spring Meeting told me it is 2nd or 3rd largest (or was that oldest?) tulip tree in the state. One fact I do know for sure is that it has a circumference of 250 feet and is distinguished as a “Notable Tulip Tree” by the Montgomery County Department of Planning. However you size it up, it is a spectacular tree and worth seeing the next time you drive through Sandy Spring, Maryland.

Quakers (also commonly known as Friends) have been in Maryland since 1658, but the first record of Quakers in Sandy Spring appears in 1753. Today Sandy Spring Friends Meeting has several hundred members and attenders and it is likely one of the largest unprogrammed Quaker meetings in the U.S. The Meetinghouse was built in 1817. To the best of my knowledge, Friends have been gathering for Meeting for Worship in this simple, beautiful Meetinghouse every week since then. Until today.

Today’s Zoom Meeting for Worship (MfW) included 17 people. That number is low for a typical 9:00 AM MfW but it was a good group for a first Zoom MfW. Mike Bucci (not the pro wrestler but the retired teacher), a Ffriend with whom I have served on Ministry & Counsel committee, served as the clerk for today’s MfW. As clerk he started the MfW and closed the Meeting. Two Friends living in Italy heard about our Zoom meeting and joined us for worship. From them we also received first hand accounts of the difficulty of life in Italy with COVID-19. The 9:00 AM MfW is known as a quiet meeting, which means there are usually not many people who feel led to speak. Today there were only three.

Clemencia and I were glad we attended the Zoom MfW this morning. It was tempting to immediately get busy with the myriad things we are trying to get done but we decided pause and participate. It was a break we needed. Silence in an unprogrammed Quaker meeting is not really quiet. Even on Zoom there are some external noises – a purring cat on an attender’s lap, the Zoom operator making coffee in the background believing his microphone was muted, etc. But that is not the noise I’m talking about. It is the internal sound of the heart, mind, and spirit that you can only hear in the midst of sustained silence. The sound of that silence is amplified when you are listening with others, whether it is in the Meetinghouse or on Zoom.

For me, today’s silence was particularly noisy. I found myself deeply pondering this question: How do I balance my commitment to the greater good of our society (community) with the need to be prudent about my own health and keep “social distance” to help stop the spread of the virus? A clear answer is yet to emerge for me. I appreciate that Sandy Spring Friends Meeting is offering these Zoom Meetings for Worship. Because my brilliant epidemiologist spouse saw what was coming weeks ago, we had been practicing “social distancing” before it actually became a thing. Zoom lets us reconnect to our spiritual community as well as our friends.

Sock Offensive Update: Bert (left) and Ernie (right) attended Meeting for Worship today. Nobody seemed to notice but the cat looked at me suspiciously. Of course, cats look at everybody suspiciously so maybe I’m just projecting.

Remember, Clemencia and I are hosting another BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour on Thursday, March 26th at 5:00 PM Eastern. The Zoom connection can be found below my signature. If you join us this week you might even get to meet my friend Mike Bucci, who is far more interesting than the pro wrestler of the same name.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to take time away from the chaos of COVID-19 to listen to the noise of silence. Don’t worry. For the near future you can count on the chaos still being there when you’ve finished listening.

Tom

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