By Mary Imgrund
Driving back to my house from Ryan’s at two in the morning this particular day was heavy with melancholy as we had intended to see a movie that night, but decided against, instead choosing to lounge in his basement and watch Let’s Scare Jessica to Death in near silence. He used to be more talkative; I used to be less whiney. I sipped on the heavy, 40 ounce bottle of St. Ives beer that he bought because of the art-deco label plastered on the front and felt the cold condensation run across my fingers slowly like a shiver as he turned down Quaker Meeting Road. We passed the Quaker meeting house and cemetery that still stood half a mile from my parents’ house, defiantly resisting modernization, its well-manicured lawn was a welcome sight in an area spotted with run-down trailers and rusted chain link fences. Only a touch of mint moss grew between the smooth stone’s curves. The Quakers still hold service there on occasion, and though I’ve never been inside, I can imagine the uncomfortable benches provide some sense of comfort to the people who still practice this all but extinct religion. The road is lined with miniature boulders of varying sizes though not haphazardly. Ryan pointed across the street to a little red pump encircled by a small stone wall mimicking the design of the meeting house and asked if I remembered drinking there with his friend Josh.
Two summers ago, I was fresh out of my freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh and thanks to my less than wise decisions, was on Academic Probation. The shock of my meteoric fall from grace and the improbability of being able to afford an apartment in Pittsburgh prompted my parents to have me take a year at a community college, which in turn prompted my entire circle of friends to cut off communications. I realized when looking through my phone that there was not a single person I could call. Then I tried Ryan. We hadn’t spoken in about a year, and our friendship seemed to be beyond repair at that point, but he did answer and agreed to come visit me for a short time. A few days later he asked if he and his friend Josh could visit because the woods of Wellsville, Pennsylvania are perfumed by dewy grass and wild flowers on summer nights and the air here is cleansing by the moonlight, while the navy sky is dark in a benevolent way that will hide your secrets but not your demons and every star in the sky is specifically visible. Being lazier than sin, we drove from my house down the road to that little well and sat on the stone wall, cool against our skin. Josh was three years older than us and had a tumultuous, romantic past with Ryan, but it was nice to meet a person, a brand new person, who I didn’t have to explain myself to. He pulled two bottles of cheap, flavored vodka from his tattered backpack, neither of which tasted the way they were meant to. The “sweet tea” bottle smelled rancid and tasted more like a mixture of nail polish remover, lemon juice, and plain sugared syrup; I couldn’t even begin to remember what the other bottle was supposed to taste like. Nevertheless, we sat and talked and laughed, our voices mixing with the sounds of the crickets and frogs to form a soft, warm roar that cushioned rather than lanced the silence. We decided to walk through the cemetery, the wet grass melting beneath our feet and revel in the stately headstones from generations past. All were very simple in their design: clean straight lines or softly arching stones had names deeply carved into their faces that resisted bowing to the passing of time.
According to the Quakers’ website, which shocked me to realize that they do in fact attempt to recruit people to their system of belief via the internet like any good organized religion does, they believe that a “direct, unmediated communion with the Divine” is possible and that “a commitment to living lives that outwardly attest to this inward experience” is advisable. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I like to believe that there are forces beyond human perception that push us in varying directions, and perhaps it is possible to be more in tune with that power. The idea of a communion with the divine is subjective, I would argue, though one must first decide what constitutes “divine” and furthermore what a communion would actually feel like, though I’m sure a sense of some grand emotion is a good indicator. A sinner though I am in their eyes, perhaps I was a little more divine that night walking on their grounds, sobbing at times amongst the sacred dead, lamenting that there were very few things about myself that would be worth remembering.
The Warrington Meeting House, as it is officially called, was erected in 1769 to replace an even earlier log cabin built in 1745, and built with natural, uncoarsed field stone in a traditional Quaker fashion. Practical. Its aesthetic is meant to portray the values of the people who built it: equality, simplicity, and plainness, though it is still remarkably breathtaking. Quakers, or The Religious Society of Friends, were a nonconformist group of Christians originally living in England in the 17th century who are still famous for their peace-loving demeanor. I can’t help but think that their gentle presence has placed a sort of white magic on these woods which would otherwise be reminiscent of the movie The Blair Witch Project. I’ve never jumped at a foreign sound, even though a distant clang of metal on metal can sometimes be heard from somewhere in the forest.
Back in the car, lost in memory, Ryan and I approached a field, now used as a junk yard, which is unceremoniously packed with tires and the cracked, rusted frames of old Volkswagen vans and he smiled again and asked if I remembered walking this stretch back in high school, almost three years prior, right before he was to move to Philadelphia to attend the Tyler School of Art. I had completely forgotten that night, but it all came back in an instant.
We decided to walk from my house to the Quaker house that particular August night around midnight and the bugs were out in droves. The fireflies however, were a welcome sight. Clustered around the trees, it looked as if the stars themselves had been trapped in the dark silhouettes, torn down from the sky to be amongst the humans for a night, frantically twinkling to become accustomed to their strange new neighbors; we walked in the clouds to the unassuming stone wall. Once there, we tried to pump water out, first him then myself only to realize that the possibly 250-year-old well had dried up, not surprisingly. Nothing ever lasts forever. Smoke from our cigarettes rose like incense into the overgrown trees as we realized that we were going our separate ways for the time being.
The Quakers call themselves “Friends.” The idea that there exists a peer group ready to welcome you into their circle is certainly appealing; everyone likes friends, after all. The funny thing about friendship is that with substantial effort from both parties, it can be maintained for a lifetime. Though friendships change, they can be kept provided that it’s mutually beneficial to all parties, to put it in the most unaffected way, but even the friendly Quakers have their spats. There are four different branches of Quakerism operating in America currently, and the primary cause for this rift is their pedagogy during services; some practice formatless, silent prayer while others prefer to be led by a pastor, similar to Protestantism. Silence can be terrifying, even maddening, but I’ve always liked the feeling of not having to fill it with meaningless babble in order to find comfort. Like the wooden benches the Quakers sit upon for hours, silence is the hard means through which a deeper peace can be found, and it might even be good for the spine too. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind it when Ryan and I don’t gossip like we used to, we can be still and I can let my guard down.
Shortly after passing the junk yard, Ryan and I parked in my driveway, and continued sipping on our beers, the instantaneous effects of nostalgia lifted our spirits faster than the alcohol ever could. We both suffer from a need for fulfillment yet a decidedly apathetic uncertainty as to how to achieve that. Ryan makes music and paints, and I’m not even sure what I do. Quakers, too, at the basis of their albeit conservative way of living base it around that search for meaning through their perceived Holy Spirit on a personal level, and through I can see why that would quench some people’s thirst, I don’t think I could ever be satisfied, and that’s a little frightening. I want too much, maybe. I want to make things that ground me to this world, to leave a mark validating my existence shouting from the mountain that I was here and I felt things and perhaps others could find some sort of meaning in that shouting. Disappointment has thusly taught me how to hate myself. However, to the Quakers, they don’t judge themselves based on each other or even to their past or future self, but live very internal lives. They reside primarily inside their own spirits. Isolate that from the religion, and I think I’ve found a good model for what to do when that creeping feeling of being dirt on someone else’s boot inches up my spine. A Quaker would be more at peace when their plans for college are drastically changed; a Quaker would know that a friendship can last if you want it to; a Quaker wouldn’t feel melancholy thinking of past mistakes. Funnily enough, while writing this, there is a chance that I have unknowingly become the world’s worst Quaker, stealing their insistence on peacefulness. I don’t think they’ll mind.
“Quaker Meetinghouse Architecture.” Quaker Meetinghouse Architecture. New York Landmarks
Conservancy, Oct. 1996. Web.
“Warrington Meeting House.” Waymarking. N.p., n.d. Web.
“What Do Quakers Believe?” Quaker Information Center. The Quaker Information Center, 26
May 2011. Web.
Mary Imgrund is a senior studying English, American Studies, and writing. She is president of Sigma Tau Delta and has been published in their national literary magazine, The Rectangle. She served on the Nonfiction, Poetry, and Art reading boards, and worked as a copy editor for this issue. Her short story won Best Fiction for the 2014-2015 issue.