The Meeting is a liberal Meeting in an urban setting about an hour's drive from our house. Although we've attended on and off for two or three years, I can't seem to get comfortable. In fact, I feel like a foreigner in their midst (much as I do amongst other bloggers). When they speak, they speak of events and assumptions with which I cannot identify. Their metaphors and illustrations are all about large crowds of people, about pavement, tall buildings and busy schedules. They are urbane and I am provincial. They speak of organic food co-ops and of flowers struggling through cracks in the sidewalk. I live a short walk from the nearest farm amidst a riot of flowers, grasses, and trees against which our sidewalks struggle to survive. Theirs is a world of street traffic and fancy restaurants, of parks and shops and traffic- and mine is a world of vineyards and orchards, of greasy spoons and tractors.
The meeting is full of professional women and men who speak casually of things that I know cost more money than I earn in a year. Most significantly to me, they do not seem to realize that their meetings, their retreats, their conferences, and their vacations are not accessible for most people on earth. Why should they know? We're as mysterious to them as they are to us. Their city is a very isolated urban area in the midst of vast stretches of rural landscape. While there is much reason for those of us in the country to travel to the city, there is little reason for them to venture far afield. No one comes to my village. They pass through it. "You live where? Oh, yes, I think I drove through there once!"
Funny that there should be so much difference between their home and mine. Travel for any more than half an hour in any direction from the city, and you're in the countryside where we don't have therapists, gurus, yoga instructors, and chemical sensitivities. We have family doctors, schoolteachers, exercise videos, and headaches. Life moves at a different pace. Don't get me wrong. We are just as busy but the business has a different flavor. There's no rush hour traffic where I live and we don't have quite so many sirens. We have a noon whistle and the church bells play hymns for the entire village to hear.
You'd think that such differences wouldn't matter. It isn't as though I'm a complete hick. I have lived in cities and I have plenty of friendships with folks from all walks of life. So why do I feel so insecure and off when I attend that urban Meeting? After Meeting for Worship, my husband and children go off to enjoy the hospitality hour. I wander off on my own and look at the brochures and booklets. Sometimes I make a show of speaking happily to my children or husband so that people can see that I am not completely sour and unsociable. I make an art of moving between my family, the front hall and the cloak room in a manner calculated to appear to look purposeful although its only true purpose is avoiding conversation with anyone.
I'm terrible at small talk. Awful. I have no interest in discussing nothing in particular--but one can't launch into deep conversations with strangers unless one knows the rules. "Hello. Nice day isn't it? I wonder if Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a sexual relationship?" or "Thank you for your message in meeting today. What do you think about process philosophy? Postmodernism? Semiotics? Star Trek?" Right. People who are good at talking to other people about the everyday things of life and who know how to laugh and share a few words over coffee cake don't realize what a gift that is. I might as well be walking around with a name tag that reads, "Tedious Insufferable Nerd."
I can hear that the city folks share so many of my values, my politics, and my beliefs but for some reason when I am amongst them, I find myself craving home and the people who live there. I think part of the problem is that I don't know the rules of city small talk. (You city folk may not think you have rules but you do!) I overhear the conversations and am just baffled. What are they talking about? I may as well be in a foreign land. They mention streets and projects and committees and events with which I am completely unfamiliar. And I just feel lost.
I think of Dad's country churches peopled by elderly ladies with snowy heads of tight curls and big red-faced, jovial men who clap each other on the shoulder with work-roughened hand. "Well, how the hell have you been!" I think of green bean casseroles eaten in slightly musty church basements with folks who wear "slacks" and sit on "davenports" and whose families have lived in those villages for "pritti-near ta two hunnert years." I know how to behave with these people. I know to speak fondly of my grandparents and assure folks that they are doing well. I know to laugh with the ladies about how loud the little boys are and how there is always laundry. I know to mention the weather and how beautiful it is but shouldn't we have a bit more rain? And yes the kids are growing fast and no, it doesn't seem as if we need another traffic light in town. I know to talk about the festivals and the road work and the colors of the leaves this fall and whether or not I think the snow is any deeper this year or if the raspberries ripened early.
One would think I'd feel more at home talking to people who share my beliefs, politics, and educational background as so many people in the city do. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed great conversations both online and in person with "city folks." The deep conversations, the academic, intellectual, and passionate conversations are almost always with you folks from more urbane settings and/or with folks like me who are country-bred but university-influenced. And I do get lonesome here in the country. No one wants to hear me talk about process philosophy and feminism here in the country any more than they do in the city. In fact, I'm pretty much a puzzle to the folks around here. They are kind to me, but they laugh at me too. That's OK. At least here I'm home.