Last Friday, July 20th, 2018 I read original stories to the talented youth at Friends Music Camp, at Earlham College. I’ve been doing this for 28 years (or maybe only 27; starting to get fuzzy). Many of the stories are about Quakers, with bits of history and witness; others are autobiographical, from my pre-Quaker youth; some are strictly fiction.
I read four stories this time, and as we’re on the brink of the Dog Days of late summer, I’m going to offer these stories here, in the same sequence as at Camp.
Each year I aim to bring a new story for our session. That’s what we’ll start with. This story, like many, is essentially true. The second story will be up tomorrow (Friday, July 27).
Talking with the Trees
It was the fall of 1966, I was a teacher at a new experimental Quaker school, called Friends World College. We were based on Long Island, east of New York City, in a cluster of converted houses on an abandoned Air Force base.
The College founder believed in studying problems, like poverty and the environment, rather than traditional subjects like math and biology. He also believed in study travel, going to places where problems and subjects of current importance were alive and vivid.
I was new and young in this educational world, not long out of college, coming to it after work in the southern civil rights movement, knowing basically nothing about teaching college. But I knew how to drive, and that was enough at that point.
One exception to our trek through a basic set of worldly “problems” like war, was a presentation on the much more conventional young adult “problem” of finding some sense of direction and meaning in life. It was by an elder Quaker writer named Milton Mayer.
The morning he came, our Dean, a retired English professor named Norman Whitney, after silence and a brief introduction, turned to him and said, “Milton, Mayer why don’t thee tell us what is on thy heart, and what is on thy mind.”
Mayer looked us over, and we looked at him. Unusually for our proto-hippie setting, he was in a suit: gray, with a starched white shirt and bow tie. I now think he must have stopped with us while headed somewhere else, perhaps to a meeting at a foundation or to make a formal speech before a group of well-heeled big city liberals.
But he was in no hurry. Surveying us from under his heavy black brows and receding hair, his expression grew somber and finally he said:
“Well, Norman, as I sit here with all of you, I find that what is on my heart is different from what is on my mind.”
He rubbed his chin. “So I believe I’m going to tell you what is on my heart.”