Emily Sander, “loving wife, mother, grandmother, social worker. artist, tennis player and much more,” * a much-beloved member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, died on June 5th; her memorial was Monday. FMC’s capacious meetinghouse overflowed; those of us unable to squeeze inside sat on rented chairs outside.
Clerk of FMC’s Memorials Committee and knowing that centering at Emily’s memorial would probably be difficult for me, I spent meeting for worship the day before remembering her. And, as Emily’s beloved John Woolman would say: “. . . in calmness of mind went forward . . . ”
Here’s where I was; here’s where I got:
In the early months of 2007, when a weekly meals-and-sharing for the formerly incarcerated at FMC was being discussed, I’d offered to meet with anyone who might have concerns. One of those meetings was with Emily. After carefully listening to me, she smiled—oh, how I’ll miss that radiant smile—and thanked me. She understood more, now, for which she was grateful, she told me. If memory serves, and it seldom does, it would probably be inaccurate to report that Emily gave the Wednesday night sharing circle her blessing. But she did not stand in the way. And in April of 2007, Meeting approved these circles, still going strong.
A coda to that story: When a couple of the men from the circle began attending meeting for worship, Emily, as always, sought them out and graciously welcomed them. And continued to do so!
In 2007, I’d attributed Emily’s change of heart to both the rightness of the action and, to my shame, that I’d done such a stupendous job explaining it to her!
But, the week before her memorial, I rethought that. Twice, that week, in The Boston Globe and on NPR, the results of a recent study were discussed. This study revealed, basically, how almost-impossible it is for humans to shift our thinking. Indeed, the more facts we’re given which question our cherished, long-held views, the more strongly we hold onto what we believe!
So in the midst of assisting her amazing family to arrange for Emily’s memorial, I contemplated this gentle, gracious woman in a new light. Emily did shift her thinking. She did let go of whatever was of concern. How extraordinary!
Sitting in worship on Sunday, I had a “great opening” (George Fox). I think that this month’s blogging on shame and how marbled our emotions truly are informed this opening: If Emily’s ability to change her thinking was, in fact, very rare, then maybe I ought to also contemplate the rest of us, the stubbornly I-know-what-I know folks, differently. With—gasp!—compassion?
What a gift! Thank you, Emily Jones Sander, April 15, 1931—June 5, 2010
[* from the beautiful pamphlet distributed at Emily’s memorial.]