Listening at Summer Sessions
by Yana Landowne
The first thing I noticed is that NYYM is filled with dynamic individuals. Like modern art in a museum, there is depth, beauty, inspiration, and intricate worlds in each person one gets a chance to connect with.
The drama I experienced revolved around my impression of a separation between young friends and older ones. The week began with a thoughtful presentation by young adult Friends about a year of exploration and points that they would like addressed. (You can read their report at bit.ly/YAFreport.) I was impressed by their clarity, inclusion, longing for community, and thoughtfulness. The room was silent. I wanted to jump up and celebrate them for their visionary work and beautiful perspective, but that was not the reaction in the room. My heart sank. What was this world I had entered?
I proceeded to attend all the business meetings to try to get a sense on what was going on here. And I heard a lot. I also heard what was not being spoken.
In Meeting for Discernment, there was pain expressed around not feeling a spiritual home and looking at what membership means to us and how do we make people feel welcome, beyond just being friendly. I noticed that there are a lot of unspoken rules and ways that people feel judged or put down, even when others may not have that intention. I noticed how some messages were sometimes unintentionally suppressed. There was a lot of passion and thoughtfulness. The room listened deeply, and was moved.
Experiencing Barbra Spring’s Memorial Celebration and her wisdom, in a beautiful church with chilled water offered as we left, also moved me.
In the penultimate business meeting there was a moment that metaphorically encapsulated the age separation in NYYM. Outdoors the kids sang “River.” They had arrived and needed to wait till it was their moment. Indoors we were reading the Epistle. Outdoors sounded almost like a protest: Old River keep moving. The young people were inviting us to join them, wanting to join our journey, and calling out to be heard. I wept in the doorway. How could we not let them surge in or rush out to join them? What was more important than having them feel loved, appreciated, and empowered? The room was focused on listening but not hearing what was right there.
That afternoon we held a rushed Threshing Session to brainstorm steps to divest from fossil fuels and find funding for a Youth and Young Adult Field Secretary. It felt dismissive. There was despair in the room. When it was over, the Nurture Working Group and the Aging Concerns Committee held a joint committee meeting to create doable actions.
I raised my hand to be on a mentorship working group, and again to help design a workshop on mentorship for Powell House, and again to help write up a message to acknowledge the young Friends’ requests. Many other hands rose as well. There was a real sense in the room of action needing to be taken, and that we couldn’t allow the yearly meeting to end without having young people feel heard.
On the last night after everything was finished, ice cream devoured, I got a joyride on a golf cart to the fire and was reminded of my last giant Quaker gathering: FGC Gathering in 1985. That week and the friends I made there changed my life. I grew through conversation, connection, focused spiritual clarity, and by giving many new friends punk haircuts.
On the last day, I found myself moving from chair to chair in the sunglow of the room like a cat appreciating the light of all of you and knowing that I would return.