Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. Find my latest entry below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!
As a people, can we change? As a person, have I changed? These are the questions that occupy my mind as a trudge, gathering oysters through swampy marshlands outside of Savannah, Georgia. I don’t know that the person I was 10 years ago would recognize the person I am today. I have always been one of those people who felt more comfortable in the water than on land. Walking I was always a clumsy awkward animal, like a newborn giraffe who has yet to grasp the concept of up and down despite that fact his first act in the world was to fall 10 feet from his mother’s body. In the water up and down are immaterial. On the surface the only directions that matter are front, back, and side-to-side. Beneath that boundary that separates those aqueous and aerial dimensions exist a place of absolute freedom. Where front, back, side-to-side, even up and down to a certain extent are any direction we choose them to be; our only limitations be that of our imagination and need to breathe. I guess that is the appeal of scuba diving in that it removes at least one of those limitations. The problem was I was not a scuba diver. While I could imagine what it must be like to travel under the surface of a crystal sea, to experience that unrestricted freedom found there, to look off into the distance to a world of infinite blue, I could never imagine myself being that person. It is similar to the effect of Bipolar Disorder.
Many bipolar people exist in a world that is characterized by either being high or low. When I was high I thought the world was perfect, I was perfect, and I would never feel sad again. When I was low my life was characterized by a distinguished absence of joy. Both states shared the commonality of being absolutes. As if one can either be wet or dry but never damp; too hot or too cold but never comfortable. It never occurred to me that there was any other way to “be.” I just assumed that scuba diving was for a different kind of person, a person who isn’t me. It would take me years to figure out that those people weren’t those people until they did what they do.
That is how I made the decision to learn to dive. Some things happened in my life which I am not sure I’m ready to talk about here yet, a result of which left me with some time on my hands. “Time on my hands” is a phrase which here means “bored beyond belief.” So having nothing better to do I decided to take some diving lessons and go for my initial certification. The classroom learning was relatively easy. The pool test too was not overly challenging, but then the instructor brought us out to what was once and old granite quarry in the middle of Pennsylvania. It was horrible. Most people don’t realize that the combined weight of the gear on your back can be in excess of 50 lbs. Nor do they realize what that feels like to swim with. I certainly didn’t. The dream of crystal blue womblike conditions were replaced by pitch black and freezing cold darkness, and the thrill of unconstructed freedom of movement was replaced by overwhelming dread and claustrophobia. Afterwards I told my Dad on the way home, “I’m glad I did this, but I am never going to do it again.” That being said a door was cracked open and it was then I began to realize that there was more to my world than the room I was in. So here I am, more than a month into my journey, doing things that 10 years ago were inconceivable to me.
So I am back to that question: Have I changed or am I just starting to discover who I really am?
Over all I would characterize Savannah as a level and friendly city. Busy though not rushed; calm though not sedate. Of palms, they have abundance .Of vacant lots, they have few. Shipping containers roll off busy ports north of town bringing life and traffic.
I was able to attend worship at Savannah Monthly Meeting. It is a small unprogrammed meeting in a house they rent from the Church next door. Like some other meetings I have visited recently nobody from this one is actually from Savannah originally. It seems to me that Quakers in cities like this are able to find each other and form meetings in their homes. Then a critical mass is reached and they are able to move to other buildings to accommodate their growing numbers.
Today in attendance there were about a dozen Friends sitting in waiting around a coffee table draped with a handmade quilt. I don’t think I caught the symbology behind it, but I got the sense that it was important to the group. It left me wondering about what symbolism reflects in Quakerism as a whole or is that too an individual’s approach which mirrors that of our personal relationship with God? In terms of demographics there seems to be a somewhat unfortunate general theme I have been noticing along the way where the meeting is mostly dominated by light skin older-than-me people, mostly identifying as female. I am wondering if the lack of male presence has something to do with the effects of perceived masculinity or whether other individuals don’t need this as much as I do.
Dwelling on these questions when I got back to the campground, I decided to take a walk to clear my head. I don’t know if I was distracted by my questions or something totally different, as a detour around a puddle that led to an extra mile of walking through the jungle-like marshland. So each step into the woods means another step one has to take out and sometimes it’s only when we are completely lost that we can see a clear path. Mine was a stream that I knew when followed would lead me back to where I belonged. Along the way we may get dirty and wet, scraped and bruised but with some hard work we may also discover a patch of oysters, along with good friends to show us how to start a fire with which to cook.