Those four words were there to greet me when I entered the main building of Friends Central School in Philadelphia last Saturday. I paused, just for a moment, took a breath, and let the words sink in. The summer offered me little time for still and quiet moments set aside for solitude and contemplation, so I wanted to bask in this one.
It was a summer of movement. I moved my family out of a house in New York and moved them into Pennsylvania. It took four weekends and four Uhaul trucks to move five kids, a spouse, a cat, and ten fish. Phew! Then, just a few hours after bringing my second son Eliot and my oldest daughter Yuna to the first gathering of the Japanese language school that meets at Friends Central, I moved Justin, my eldest son, out of the house in Pennsylvania, and into a college dormitory back in New York.
This bit of Quaker wisdom, Let Your Life Speak, could not have arrived at a better moment. That very morning, I found myself wondering what words I had to speak to my son, at this rite of passage, leaving home, going to college. What should I say to him in the four-hour car ride? For every eighteen years of his life I have tried to let my life speak the life I have felt called to live—a life that embodies the values of honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion.
These are the values I have hoped to impart in my children. Should that be the topic of our conversation?
Perhaps submitting to Quaker wisdom imparted during the brief visit to Friends Central, most of the ride went in silence.
And when we arrived at the dorm and he told me he had forgotten to bring any sheets, blankets, pillows or a trash can for his desk (even though all those items were on the packing list I printed out and handed to him days before), it was clear (once again) that my life had not quite spoken loud enough to Justin, (or maybe he did not hear what my life was speaking because of the earbuds). I did not say what I wanted to say in that moment. Instead, I responded to his irresponsibility with the most compassion I could muster and went shopping. And when it came time to choose a trash can I spent a little extra and got the one with a lid, out of respect for his roommate.
See you on Sunday.
Chris J. Antal