"'In my old leather breeches and my shaggy, shaggy locks/
I am walking in the glory of the light,' said Fox."
I thought Philadelphia Quakers lived at the core of the world. I thought we were more enlightened, close to the center of anything that mattered. In time, the world would listen to us. The world would change.
In third grade at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, where I was a 'lifer,' Mrs. Cadbury taught us about the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten, apparently the first monotheist in the ancient world. She had kept us in some suspense before his unveiling; Akhenaten was a relief after the weirdness of half-jackal Anubius, the god of embalming, or Isis, who was married to her own brother. Isis--not a nice girl, in a similar way in which the Barbie doll, (which my mother wouldn't allow in the house), wasn't a nice girl. And third graders didn't like the idea of a religion that found god in the process of sucking dead people's brains out through their noses.
Akhenaten made me less anxious about the state of humanity; even back at the dawn of thought, before central heating and daily baths, progress had been made. People like us had gotten somewhere. Reason and light--Monotheism, my third grade mind embraced, okay, maybe only a sun god, now known to be a big old fireball, but one god closer to our state of enlightenment.
We Quakers had grown farther than any other group: away from superstition, pitying those who relied on crucifixes and florid rituals that lingered on bloodshed, to me suggestive of half-naked ancestors suffering noisome panic each time the sun went down...We got our lunch delivered to the classroom every day on a steam cart by a lady in a white uniform.
The way my father put it was that over generations, our family had evolved. But my friend Mary, whose family was Episcopalian, had a pretty, carved crucifix in her bedroom. I asked my mother if I could have one. Vulgar, she said. We don't do that.