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Orchard Work

November, 2000

Last week I decided I needed the option of locking the room I stay in at the Lucretia Mott House. It has an old door and needed an old fashioned skeleton key. I didn't know if it would even work and while I'm loath to spend unnecessary money, I set off on a lunch hour to find one that might fit. I ended up on 13th Street between Sansom and Market--a busy, bustling section of Center City Philadelphia--at a window in an otherwise blank wall, similar to a ticket booth in a subway station with the word "keys" over it. It gave the only light to room no more than three by five and twelve feet high. Surrounded by keys, a forty-ish man inside began joyfully giving me a discourse on varieties of skeleton keys all the while searching here and there, standing on his chair to reach keys over his head, and pulling keys out from various boxes and nooks and crannies. His ebullient approach to keys was boggling in a genial way; my cynical side wondered just how much this bit of entertainment was ultimately going to cost. He handed me several keys and told me to see if any of them worked. He ended by saying "All these are four dollars each. Just bring the ones you don't need back when you get a chance." No money changed hands; he didn't even feel the need to get assurance that I would return. A small kindness perhaps, but one that gave me pause.

I wonder what it would look like if I took all the small kindnesses given me by strangers and friends--ones I realized and ones I received unknowingly--and strung them together. They would make a garland of sustenance. Could I polish them and pile them in a bowl in the middle of the table like apples? Perhaps I could make a pie and put it in the freezer for those moments when the world feels cold, and fruit feels far out of season. Do I spend enough time in the orchard picking fruit for the people around me? Do I give the best apple I can find, without hoarding it for myself. I'd like to say, "Yes, I always do that," but folks who know me would recognize the taint of revisionist history.

I was reminded just yesterday that one of the things I like best about Friends' faith is the concept that we are a community without a laity. Each of us has direct access to God. Our relationship with the Divine has no need of an intermediary nor do we need interpretation of the ever unfolding Truth in our lives. It is an awareness that puts me in phenomenal privilege and burdens me with an immense responsibility. What grace it gives my life. What direction and focus and responsibility comes with it. It requires me to see the sacred not only in what comes into my life, but in what I put out into others. The recognition that there is indeed "that of God" in my companions means that each interaction with them is a divine interaction.

We each have different gifts; there are an infinite variety of ways to seek the presence of God in our lives. Each of us, though, carries the power to give joy and comfort to others--to both experience the divine in others and allow that Light in our self to shine. Whatever our life's work, whatever our ministry may be, we each work in God's orchard picking fruit for each other.

There were ten thousand thousand
fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or
spiked with stubble
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
--Robert Frost
The time will come, as in Frost's poem, that I am tired and my feet hurt from standing on the wobbly ladder. That time will surely come. But my Welsh grandmother use to see some act of kindness or beauty in the world around her and murmur mostly to herself, "Lucky, there is." I am lucky to be in the orchard; grateful to partake.

All contents of this page -- Copyright 2000 Carl Williams, All Rights Reserved