Thoughts on Community

By Annemarie Adsen

My Godson, Teddy,  and I have been discussing Pluto.   He turned six in November.  Each year for his birthday, I give him a gift certificate for Boswell Books.  As a means of keeping in touch, we send homespun videos back and forth.  In a recent video he informed me  that he had chosen a book about the planets.   He went on to declare that, “Pluto isn’t a planet.”  His tone was matter of fact, bordering on the authoritative.  I felt myself bristling. 

I recall some years back, hearing this very statement on the news.  It shook me, “What?  How can you just make such a proclamation?”  I was indignant on Pluto’s behalf.  The story seemed to die as quickly as it had sprung up.   Rather than research it further, I chose denial.  Now this little kid was stirring the pot.

In my reply video, I explained that in school we had learned that Pluto was a little cold planet way far away.  Even so, it belonged to our solar system.  I take great exception to this downgrading.  I informed him that I would gladly volunteer to represent Pluto in court.  I freely admitted that I wasn’t a lawyer and I know very little about the planets.  I felt qualified on entirely different grounds.   I know about the importance of unity.  We must all stick together. Community is essential.

Having admitted my bias, I told him that I would not be obstinate.  I was willing to listen to the opinions of the scientists.  I requested that he supply me with further facts.  I assured him that if the scientists were in agreement about Pluto, then I would accept the truth. 

In his next video, I was to learn that Pluto is now considered a “dwarf planet.”  This irked me, “Just because Pluto is small, we turn our collective backs on it?”  He showed me an instructive illustration.  Pluto fit nicely within the borders of the U.S.  My indignation rose, “This is worse than I thought.  What kind of people are capable of abandoning a baby planet?”  Next he gave me the definition of dwarf planet.  It’s mass is so small that it lacks the gravitational pull necessary to keep debris from its orbit.  “Pluto needs us more than ever!”

Then he showed me something astonishing.  In the Kuiper Belt, Pluto’s neighborhood, there are three other dwarf planets.  And Pluto is accompanied by five bitty moons.  I felt myself relax.  This changed everything.  I am now at peace.  Pluto is not alone. It is part of a community.

Pluto and I have some things in common.  For many years I felt distant from others.  I am clearly different than your average American.  For example, the pursuit of fancy things has never been alluring to me.  If I’m going to chase anything, it’s going to be an insect. 

When I moved into my house, I immediately set about ripping out sod.  I replaced it with plants, many of which are native to Wisconsin.  Their nectar and leaves support all the life stages of insect development.  Birds including hummers often visit as well.

My next door neighbor calls me, “the neighborhood color.”  Other neighbors have made similar quips.  I get along wonderfully with them.  Their comments are not mean spirited.  They do, however, point to differences that they see between me and the rest of society.  They have caused me to ponder, “I actually don’t want to be like most Americans.   I am happy as I am.  Am I eccentric?”

There are other things that people notice.  Holes in my clothing for instance, “Annemarie, it might be time to buy a new T-shirt.”  They don’t understand.  I hate shopping.  Casting my eyes upon all that merchandise causes me to feel depressed.  I wonder, “Who buys all this stuff?  And why?   Do they believe that they need it?  Has all the advertising convinced them that they themselves have no value unless they possess it?”  I was once told that I am an advertiser’s nightmare.   No doubt, salespeople find me equally vexing, for I am satisfied with what I have.

The other reason that I don’t like to buy stuff is that I am one of those tree hugging, freaky, liberal types.  I find it next to impossible to throw anything out.  I think of the burgeoning landfills.  Naturally, I bring things to second hand stores.  The things that I hold onto are not fit for donation.  You can’t donate what were once simple t-shirts, because they now have taken on a decidedly risqué appearance.  So I just keep wearing them, albeit in the garden, not around town.

At some point I made my way to the Quaker meeting house.  As a religion, Quakerism aligns well with my values and beliefs.   Aside from that, there were other things that I noticed.

In the church that my mother forced us to attend as children, I could not have told you the names of any of the other attenders.  Looking back on it, this is astounding.  We went there EVERY Sunday.  There was no emphasis placed on becoming acquainted.   Imagine my surprise when I saw you wearing name tags and introducing yourselves after meeting. I felt the love that you had for one another.  You wanted to be known and seemed eager to get to know me.  I felt that you were a community.

As I became more involved with meeting, I was to learn about individual Quakers.  Does everyone know that we have among us an entomologist?!?   A formally trained one, with letters after her name and everything!  I took notice of that right off, “Wait, I am not the only one who loves bugs?!?”

The more time that I spent with you, I came to realize that Quakers share some of my other quirks.  It is sometimes difficult for you to discard “perfectly good” stuff, which is quite obviously no longer perfectly good.  Some of you have forgone trips to the hardware store. You instead search your basements for an item which you have been saving since the Nixon administration.  You cobble together something ingenious.   I applaud you!  It is my suspicion, that some of you may even wear hole riddled t-shirts in your gardens. 

I was a latecomer to technology.  I still am not enamored with it.  I freely admit that there are definite advantages to email.  It is quick and nearly effortless.  These are some of the very reasons that email lacks soul. While I welcome the convenience that “shooting off” an email affords, it’s a hands down looser when compared to “real” mail. 

When contemplating sending a note, I give thought to the person and situation.  What note is appropriate?   The Post Office puts out an abundance of beautiful stamps.   I look through my assortment and try to pick a stamp which will help demonstrate the feeling I am attempting to convey.  I do the same with return address labels.  Sometimes I add stickers and a corny word or two on the envelope.  Other people roll their eyes and comment, “Annemarie, NOBODY sends SNAIL mail anymore.”  I find the derisive appellation to be somewhat irritating.  It would be straight up offensive, if it weren’t for the fact that I find the slow moving mollusks adorable. 

Quakers have proven the nay sayers wrong.  You, too, send notes via the beloved United States Postal Service.  You have taken the time to put pen to paper.  You have addressed envelopes and affixed stamps.  You have dropped these items into a receptacle. 

Spirit orchestrates and days later, your notes appear in my mailbox, just when I need them the most.  I marvel that in my hand I hold the same physical object that you thoughtfully prepared.  I study the handwriting that is yours alone.   You often employ a form of written communication which, I am given to understand, is dying out in the modern day.  This presents me with no problem.   Owing to the fact that I am a middle aged woman, I am able to decipher cursive.   Precisely because it takes time, energy and thought to communicate in this fashion, the care and concern you have tried to express shines through.  You brighten my day and touch my heart.

From time to time, I speak casually with a neighbor’s son.  Awhile back, he called me over.  It was obvious that he was anxious to talk.   He began, “I know a lady.  She’s real nice.  I like her, but she’s different.  I don’t know how to explain it.  You are like her…just different.”  His expression was pensive.   He went on, “She’s a Quaker.  My Dad just told me that you are Quaker.”  In his mind, he was connecting dots.  

He’s right, I am different.  I dare say that you, Friends, are a similar kind of different.  This makes us not so different after all.  Since finding you, I no longer feel so far from others.   Like Pluto, I now travel with Friends.  I have found my tribe.  I am part of our beautiful Quaker community.