The Quaker Alphabet Blog Project in 2014 aims to encourage a post a fortnight about some aspect of Quakerism in alphabetical order. No doubt I will eventually rebel and start posting out of order, but as it happens this time I want to write about Busy-ness and that happens to fit in nicely with needing to do a B post. Lucky me. Meanwhile, sit back and prepare for an incoherent babble about how unfair life is. I may inadvertently be channelling a teenager.
It seems appropriate to talk about being Busy because it is the beginning of another artificially induced time segment, known as a year, at which point there is enormous upheaval in Quaker meetings up and down the country. This upheaval is caused not by shifting tides or phases of the moon, nor by reaction to New Year’s Honours or the publication of secret papers. It is instead caused by the fact that almost the entire Society of Friends changes roles and responsibilities, and does a kind of sideways shuffle. December is a frantic blur of last minute nominations for jobs:
“EBL – we really need an Assistant Treasurer! It won’t mean much more work.”
“Well, alright, I’ll do what I can…I am taking on clerking too so…”
“Great! The Treasurer is going to New Zealand for 3 months. You’ll manage won’t you? Thanks again!”
Then January sees the traditional floundering of people trying to pick up their new roles (probably the same role they did 3 years ago and to which they have now returned on what I like to call the Quaker Merry-Go-Round of Jobs). So as I have also agreed to work on the clerking team I found myself yesterday planning an agenda for our first business meeting of the year.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am happy to do my bit. I am happy to clerk because I have done it before and it was OK most of the time (see the pretty Merry-Go-Round). Everyone helps out with wording things and another Friend will be handling the correspondence and notices, which is the bit I find hardest. But, and there had to be one, I am painfully aware I have just spent a couple of hours pulling everything together and being thankful I booked an extra day’s leave after all.
Along with many other church and community groups up and down the country, the Society of Friends is a dwindling population with a fast-growing list of Jobs That Must Be Done. There are increasing regulations and costs around insurance, risk assessments, CRB checks, financial probity and goodness only knows what else. At the same time I find other members of the meeting saying things like “I’m really sorry I have to give up doing X Job, but now I’m in my nineties I do find it a little difficult.”
I’m quite serious. I have replaced someone in her nineties because she felt it was getting a bit much. And she feels terrible at letting people down.
Sometimes I think Quakers live to such ripe old ages not because they are (broadly speaking) affluent and middle class, but because they simply don’t have time to die or don’t wish to inconvenience other people by doing so before their agreed term of office ends.
I find myself asking “is it all, when you get right down to it – actually necessary?” I am not comfortable about putting such expectations on older Friends or on younger ones, like me, who feel unable to use long work hours as an excuse when the alternative is that dear old Prue, who was 93 last week, will feel obligated to carry on if I say no.
Sometimes at meeting we talk about SQUIFs. What can I say, it’s a Quaker thing. It means Single Quaker in the Family. There are particular pressures on those who participate in a meeting but whose family do not. We have a debate about whether we get more or less of their time as a result.
One camp thinks we get less, because they need to find time to spend with the family apart from meeting, and have to balance the demands of meeting with competing demands of partner, children, siblings, parents etc who don’t quite understand what this strange “meeting” is all about.
On the other hand, some feel we get more, because being a Quaker Couple, for example, means that both partners can’t devote all their attention to meeting as they still have to do other, more worldly activities, such as working, childcare, shopping etc. In addition having a Quaker couple means the meeting is more constrained in the permutations and combinations of roles it can work with. For example, Sigoth and I would not both be asked to serve on the clerking team at the same time to prevent us appearing to have “taken over”. I suspect we will cox and box through roles as a result in a Chuckle Brothers fashion (“to me, to you, to me!”) as we take It in turns to carry out various jobs and possibly get jammed in doorways with hilarious consequences as a result.
Either way I feel quite bleak about the future of these roles. Not only do we now have the situation where it is unlikely that a couple can afford to have one partner at home full time, or even part-time, by choice; also we are faced with people working for longer as pensions contract. Whereas I once thought I would retire at 60, still vigorous and able to volunteer whole-heartedly, now I will have to work for longer and be less fit when I do retire. And that’s assuming I ever get that far, given that my father died in his sixties while still working to support the family.
In fact, “bleak” barely scratches the surface. Perhaps I chose the wrong B word for this post.
So let’s Brighten up and count some Blessings!
- It is likely I will live longer and be healthier than previous generations.
- I should be able to retire by 70, leaving me a good 20 years of voluntary happiness ahead (based on Prue).
- If the worst problem I have to face is how much time I can give to meeting, then I am pretty fortunate.
- If no one clerks the meeting, I suspect no one will die. Or even be maimed. Or possibly, whisper it, even notice.
While none of this addresses the underlying problem facing our and other societies and groups, I think today I’ll let the world manage without me. It will sort itself out or it will not; I will do what I can and not what I can’t, and hope for the wisdom to know which is which.
Looks like I may have to move on to C for Catastrophising (and why I really should stop) in the next post.
Saying “No” – how do you do it? Or don’t you? If the latter, please join your local Quaker meeting!