Everything but the beans

20160212_161513.jpgNumber two, Helper. Number 3, Achiever, 6 Supporter and 1 Perfectionist. Our Area Meeting (of Quakers) was having its annual gathering at Glenthorne, the Quaker Guest House in Grasmere in the Lake District and was looking at the Enneagram. Our Area Meeting (AM) is Hardshaw and Mann. You know where that is, don’t you? No, well, here, let me help you. It’s ‘Hart’, as in deer and ‘Shaw’, as in glade and there is an island in our meeting. ‘Got it? Clearer now?’ Hope so!

It’s been a couple of years since the last time we had gathered together. There were new faces, as well as familiar ones and a few in the middle, so we needed time to get to know one another. I got a lift up there with Val and I learned about her love of rugby league, driving habits and running up Machu Pichu, because she could. Later, I said hello to Michael, who’d served in the ‘Merch’, the merchant navy as a ‘lecky’. My dad was in the merchant navy too. He was a stranger who appeared and disappeared every year till I was about six when he got his shore legs. While listening to Michael, holding a mug of lemon and ginger, I recalled my dad had written a novel in long hand. It was about three lads from Liverpool who went to sea. I’d started reading it in my mid-20s and not got very far. It was my dad. But now I wanted to. Where was it? Oh, yes, my sister had rescued it and taken it to hers when we had to move mum out of her house. Michael told stories about trips to South America, to India and Africa; stories of murder and spice and of quarantine with malaria in the South China seas.

My natural granddad was called Albert Martin. His mum, Eleanor Henry, had come over from the Isle of Mann with her husband, their young son, James, and her brother, Willard, a painter and decorator. Like many seaman, the husband did a runner and never came back. There is a family story that someone knocked on the door one day of Albert’s house when he was a grown man to tell him he had been left some property in Canada. He would have to go there to claim it. Albert closed the door on him, telling his daughter, Lilly, ‘He wanted nothing to do with me when he was alive. I want nothing to do with him, now he’s dead.’

And I’ve been reading ‘Behind the Scenes in the Museum’ by Kate Atkinson. Who are we? What makes us who we are or how we turn out? What threads run in families that bind us together and hurl us apart? My family’s stories weave in and out of this book too, you know. Yours too.

And the children? I’d felt sad, believing that there would be no children present. None were able to go from my Local Meeting. But there were two! A girl and a boy aged about 4 and 6. Their mum had been to Quaker Summer School as a child and wanted hers to have the same rich experience. How can we make this happen? My own two boys had missed out because, yes, they were quiet but mainly because they hadn’t made friends to go with someone. Reading aloud the Tabular Statement recently, our archivist, Ian, told us there were 18 children in our AM. 18! I knew of 8 in our Local Meeting, so where were the others? Well, it seems seven are in Southport, leaving 3 more to discover. It would be great to get them all together at a gathering. I’d willingly help run a session or even help to devise a separate children’s programme during the weekend gathering. Or we could alternate our own annual gathering with joining in with neighbouring AM Gatherings, where more children are present and the path towards Summer School simpler and desirable.

I do love Swarthmore Hall, near Ulverston but looking round me in the crisp afternoon air, I thought how majestic the scenery surrounding Grasmere is. On Friday afternoon, I took a walk up the Langdale track and peaked at a cairn, looking across at the snowcapped ridges. During the return, I stopped. Silence. Quietness. No thing. I closed my eyes. I felt held. I wondered about recording the silence on my phone but better if you experience it for yourself.

And on Saturday, I spent our free time in the company of friends from my local meeting. We ambled conversationally into the village and ate homemade soup on homespun tables followed by enormous warm scones and clotted cream. Two of us returned to watch France play Ireland in the Six Nations on TV.

On Sunday morning, I noticed the ripples of the stream from the stepping stones at Goodie Bridge. Like gravitational waves, just discovered. Now, we can hear back to the Big Bang and perhaps before then. Now, we can hear what’s heading our way. This wave caught happened about 1 billion years ago when two black holes collided. ‘You don’t want to be near a black hole when it collides with another’, my physicist son told me. ‘Righto!’

I enjoyed the enneagram sessions, especially the circle dancing, though I don’t take it too seriously. I learned just enough to satisfy my curiosity. I feel respect for those who do. I feel it can be a useful tool for looking at how you live your life, if delivered sensitively and critically. But it doesn’t speak to me. It’s up there between my star sign (Aries) and Chinese Year animaI (Pig/Boar). See, now that I’ve told you, you know practically all there is to know about me. But I feel concern for children and young people, who are told they fit into their own square or round hole, arrive classified and are glad. Maybe, they’re right. Yet, we all have our gifts, don’t we, be it helping, like me or writing or weaving; running, smiling or cooking? We can take our lifetime to discover what they are, coming across new ones as we grow older. That’s what’s so marvellous about Quakers, especially Equipping for Ministry (EfM). Opportunities occur, helping you to find your voice. And once you find your gifts, share them! How dare you not to!

This is not to say being a Quaker is all marvellous, as we know. We’re human too and able to learn and grow, if we’re open to the Light, and willing to ask for and receive the support of friends. Not many of us can do it on our own. What would be the point of that?

‘So, what number are you?’, asked a friend, her eye twinkling, I was sure. ‘I’d say I’m a 2,’ I said. ‘Yes, a 2. A great big number 2, for sure. I see myself as a helper.’ Just then, I passed the salt and pepper to someone struggling to reach it over the bowls and plates on the table. ‘See, it’s just something I do naturally, without thinking. I help. It’s what I am.’ ‘Funny, I’ve never thought of you as a helper.’ ‘No, me neither.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘I’d say you were more of an optimist.’ ‘An optimist, really? Well, that’s a nice place to be.’ Well, I feel I am now. I feel I’ve recovered my sense of optimism, although I would prefer to call it realism. It takes a lot of ‘self’ work and it is still happening. But we can all be optimistic, can’t we? I don’t want or seek a number. Hope so!

Anyway, look at the time?! Enough of this pishpash! I need to crack on. So much to do. Better get a move on. I’ve got so much work to do. Look at the dust on that skirting. How did that get there? It’ll only take a minute to get the brush and pan and sweep it up and then I’ll get underway.