Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Alice in QuakerLand

“Why doesn’t one of us in this room take in a foster child?” asked a member of our Quaker discussion group. "There are so many of them in need."

About 12 of us meet in a circle early Sunday mornings, and while the discussion is lively, and at times intense, it can become vague and philosophical.

But the question posed by the Friend was refreshingly, and troublingly, concrete.

But it wasn’t concrete enough for me. I decided to put the question in the middle of the room.

“Right there is a little girl,” I said pointing to the empty carpeted patch before us. “She was there when we came in this morning,” I explained. “We found a note pinned to her, introducing her as two-year-old ‘Alice.’ She has been left with us to deal with. We’ve been chosen, the note said, because we are ‘good people.' At the end of our meeting, the note continued, Alice will have no one to look after her but us."

At first a couple of people tried to ignore “Alice,” but a few of us felt compelled to acknowledge her imaginary presence. At one point, I suggested that Alice might be understanding what we were saying about her and her uncertain future. "We might keep that in mind." At another point I felt the need to address her directly and reassure her imaginary presence of our love for her and our feeling responsible for her safety and well being.

Someone said that, in the manner of Quakers, of course we would form a committee to decide what to do. It might take weeks.  A couple of others said we had a responsibility — indeed a legal obligation — to hand Alice over to the child welfare authorities.

I suggested that we might take turns looking after her until we could develop a plan. I offered to take her the first week. “Imagine what a wonderful group of parents we’d all make,” I exuded.

But another person said that having such a large group look after Alice would be the worse thing we could do. “She needs a family; everyone knows that.”

One young, single man, who desperately wants a family, said he would be happy to take Alice, but his offer went nowhere in the swirl of differing ideas.

As our hour and a half together ended, our focus seemed less on Alice and more on our own reactions to her. Someone said we should continue the discussion next Sunday.

As it turned out, we all took “Alice” home with us for the week. Next week, at 8:30 a.m. at our meetinghouse, I hope we all bring her back. She has much to teach us.

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