by Jenny Lumsden
Mark and I were married at Bear Creek in November of 2014. It was a small and unassuming wedding. There were no bridesmaids or over the top decorations, no ring bearers or songs sung in between readings. It was held in a simple, if not rather shorter than usual span of silence, with simple but meaningful vows being exchanged. It was perfect and simple and lovely.
Mark and I wanted nothing more than the companionship of our all-encompassing family, friends and Friends with a capital F for our day so we asked that no gifts be given and instead donations be made to our local food bank. Which is why we were incredibly surprised to receive a beautifully and carefully wrapped package from Burt and Birdie Kisling, members of Bear Creek. Burt and Birdie explained it wasn’t a wedding gift, it was a welcome to Bear Creek gift as Mark and I, after many months of being attendees, had petitioned for and become members not too long before.
Birdie Kisling’s family were founding members of Bear Creek. Mark and I have spent many Sunday potlucks being enthralled by her wonderful stories of how the founding families helped to build the Meeting House, about family reunions and Sunday’s filled with mulberry eating and purple toes, and even moving the actual building with logs! They rolled it slowly, slowly to where it stands today.
Birdie’s family were not only founding members but continue to be active members and staunch supporters of both Bear Creek and Scattergood, and I would be remise if I didn’t say that Burt and Birdie play an integral part of relaying the important history of the Bear Creek community for those of us who are new to the community. Why just last week Birdie said to Osa, “Osa, I remember the day you were born in that house.” Can you imagine that!? Really and truly beautiful, living history verbally being handed to us each and every Sunday, along with the best hugs anyone could ever get, okay I may be a bit biased here.
All who entered Bear Creek the day of our wedding said they felt the holiness of the place and they felt love too. I believe this comes directly from the over one hundred years of those who have entered Bear Creek, humbly sitting in silence with one another, each with their own desire to be of service to one another and the greater good. One of these people was Birdie’s Aunt Amy.
When we opened the gift from Burt and Birdie we were in awe of the clear, gracefully molded relish dish. It was exquisite in its pared down and unadorned beauty. It was very much like the Quaker faith with it’s unassuming and clean lines, simple but quietly beautiful. Along with the relish tray was a hand penned letter from Birdie. Here I must intercede and say how I adored getting that hand written letter! Each letter created by the hand of the one who thoughtfully crafted the words they would write. The letter was as much a gift as the relish tray.
Birdie’s curling words gently unfolded the story of the relish tray. She explained that the dish was not just a gift to say welcome it was actually a piece of Bear Creek history as it has once belonged to Amy Standing, one incredibly forward thinking and brave woman who had been born a Standing and a Quaker and was Birdie’s Aunt.
Birdie’s letter told of how her Aunt Amy had found love later in life (much like Mark and I) and so had no children of her own, and therefore when she died all her belongings went to her nieces and nephews. The letter also spoke of Amy’s extraordinary life before Amy was married.
As I read out loud about Amy to Mark I kept interrupting myself to say to him over and over, can you believe it? A woman in that time! How brave! How incredible! And sometimes I simply muttered the word, wow.
Amy Standing was incredibly brave and progressive for her time. She went to college, she became a dietician at a hospital, she served as a dietician for the conscientious objectors serving their time during World War II, she provided for herself and in the times of need she helped to provide for her family as well. She greatly adored and loved her nieces and nephews, always making sure they each had a Christmas present and never forgetting to celebrate their birthdays. She was a person who served.
When I first read the letter I was touched by Aunt Amy’s great love for others. I was also struck by her life of service. She served others in the hospital as a dietician, helping them by feeding them in the best possible way and by teaching them to feed themselves better too, leading her patients to better health and a better quality of life.
I thought about Aunt Amy for a long time after I read the letter. Her life spoke to me quietly from the past and yet insistently too. Something about her, about her life, kept teasing the edges of my mind. There was something I perceived in her story but I lacked the words to express it.
After a few days it came to me, a simple truth. Aunt Amy was kind, she was giving, she was loving, and she was obviously smart, but Aunt Amy was also very brave. She was a brave woman who went to college when not many women did, she was a brave woman who found a job and supported herself in a time when it was hard for woman to do so, and she helped to feed those who were taking a stand against war and in doing so showing her solidarity with those conscientious objectors, bravely living into her Quaker upbringing and beliefs. And then later in life, after having been of great service to her family and those who needed her she was brave when she entered into love and marriage. Amy was quite a rebel for her time actually. She was her own authentic person first, following her own internal star, a difficult thing for anyone to do, in any time really.
As my mind rests on this thought it makes me think of Bear Creek and Quakers in general. Everyone finds their own way to their heart’s true spiritual calling and authenticity; and each person’s journey is sacred and their own. However, I am reminded of my families’ and friend’s reactions to entering Bear Creek, to sitting in expectant silence, and to sharing a humble meal to celebrate our wedding. I think what they felt in the space Bear Creek offers is a genuine desire to be of service to each other and to the greater good and the world. I think what each person felt when they entered was the gift of being able to strip away all outside influences, the pomp, the glitter and noise of the over-culture and actually engage and see what was there in that moment.
I believe each person who attended our wedding also received a gift from Bear Creek that day. They got to feel what the core of living as a Quaker is really about; service to others, kindness, humility and mostly and always love, deep love for each other and the gift of the Light in everyone.
Amy’s relish dish is safely displayed where we can see it and be reminded of what it means to be a Quaker, what it means to live an authentic life, what it means to “let our lives speak.” When I see it I can feel the history in it, and I think I can feel its original owner as well.
So often in a world that values loud ways we think that to be important, to make a lasting impression on the world and those around us, that what we do must be something big and showy and world changing. But that is not the way most of us live, that is not where most heroes or mentors are found, that is not where love is most often, both given and received. Heroes are in the shadows fixing meals and caring for the sick, they are striving for equality by quietly entering the world each day as who they are, determined and unapologetically living into their core beliefs.
True greatness of character is found in actually serving others in big and small ways each day, something that Amy Standing did throughout her life. That could be the gift of feeding a fellow pacifist or the gift of a present to one of her young nieces or nephews, or decades later through a relish dish gifted over with a small note that contained a big story of someone who quietly changed the world around them and left a legacy of service and love that would inspire others, some she would never meet.
Amy’s relish dish is one of my connections to Bear Creek’s past. It is also a reminder that living a Quaker life means living a life of service. It is a touchstone with which to measure each day by, and reminds me to be brave and to reach for and live a life that resounds with the lessons that Amy quietly taught those around her. Amy Standing lived what others may see as an ordinary life, but she lived it in an extraordinary way, and with extraordinary love.