It was all very serious, this business of silence in Meeting for Worship. I knew it was serious from an early age. Why else would they prop up a dead body to gaze down at us every week from the Facing Bench?
The large, plain meeting room at Germantown Monthly Meeting was a tank of beige light. Long windows on three sides allowed glimmers of green and sky, distantly, from outside. Each side had a high double door, and during meeting they were never locked. Our family attended every First Day, AKA Sunday, where we sat in the same place every week on a long, dark wood bench with green cushions. It felt good to twist the buttons on these cushions. My mother could stop me with barely a hiss, barely a movement of her hand. Her dagger eyes were enough.
The Elders, or Weighty Friends, sat on the Facing Benches, which were raised at the end of the room where in a liturgical church, an altar would have been. There was no decoration except for an austere spoked wood medallion set into the ceiling, so faces were important. Every so often, someone rose to speak. The diffuse sound of gathering limbs and clothing served as the speaker's preface, so many people were already looking before the speaker said a word. They uttered brief, important things about life and God. I didn't understand, but important things weren't supposed to be simple.
At Christmastime a mitten tree was put in the aisle between the two Facing Benches. The mittens were brightly colored, and they would go to poor children. The Elders on either side looked very serious.
Dr. McPhedren was deceased, I was convinced, because he never moved. His pale, bald head rested against the back of the dark bench. His eyes were closed. Weighty in life, so in death. He was there to remind us that Meeting for Worship is a grave matter.