It was 8:45 in the morning when we stepped out into the crispness that is uniquely Chautauquan at this time of year. Gretchen and I walked to the daily Peace gathering. On the way, I noticed an odd piece of hardware, a slotted washer laying in the street. I am a maker of things. I especially like to collect detritus and imagine how it came to be found. A few blocks later and a length of rusty hanger strap was added to my stash; a world of possibility came into view.
Soon we joined the voices in prayer, clasped hands, and completed our short time together by singing Let There Be Peace On Earth. I felt like a “Who down in Whoville” praying that we too might be on the brink of experiencing the benefit of expanding hearts in a world too full of Grinches.
Starting the season with the topic What is America’s Role in the World, was a heavy lift. We are in crisis. We are juggling a lot right now: climate change, the hearings about January 6th, a serious gun violence issue, ongoing Covid concerns, and a SCOTUS decision to irrevocably change the rights of all those for whom pregnancy is a possibility. The ink was barely dry on the Court’s decision as I walked toward the amphitheater to welcome the start of the season. I yearned for possible solutions from minds much wiser than mine.
The national struggle is real. Now, more than ever, I hear people discussing their exit strategies; an exodus from the country that claims to be the city on the hill, the beacon of hope; the model of what it means to be exceptional. Each day I have wrestled with this question: What might this country look like if this were true? What would it be like if we were exceptional? While this doesn’t make for an easy night’s sleep, it certainly has made for a week of deep contemplation and rich conversation.
Stay open, I cautioned. Look around, I reminded. Answers are everywhere.
Later Gretchen offered a closed fist saying, “I have a gift for you.” I held out my hand where she dropped a key; a key with a story, a key that once had unlocked something. Then my husband brought me what looked to be a pad from a piece of furniture that he found in the street; lost while moving in, or perhaps, moving out. And when I arrived back at Quaker House, Bhante had left an avocado pit for me in the sink. Three gifts in one day, three people who had understood things important to me. Each had a lesson; a key that opened a door to the unknown, a felt pad that added a layer of protection against the damage done by constant friction and the ever-intriguing gifts of the avocado pit. Avo pits can be sprouted and grown into a producing tree. They can also be boiled to yield the loveliest peachy-pink brew that successfully dyes fabric or can be distilled into ink. The rich color staining all that it touches.
I kept the washer and the key in my pocket all week and listened for what they might have to share, but it is the avocado pit that informed me the most. America itself is this seed, this pit, with so much beauty and so much potential packed inside. If we are willing to truly be exceptional then we will face and wrestle with our truest past, grow into our fullest potential so that we can provide for future generations and like the avocado pit, mark the places where we make contact with exceptional beauty.