The Hour Of Man
I wrote down the quotation below in my composition pad some years back before the time of personal computers, and although my research on the man who made the statement, Harold Maine, did not yield any results, I still find his words relevant today. Please see note below.*
I want to see the radio and television turned off for an hour a week, the paper and magazines laid aside, the car locked safely in the garage, the bridge table folded, the liquor bottle corked, and the sedatives kept tightly in their packages. I want to see production and consumption forgotten for this hour. Politics must be forgotten, national and international. The hour that I propose could be called The Hour of Man. During this hour man could ask himself and his neighbor just what purpose they are serving on earth, what life is, what a man or woman can rightly ask of life as well as what they must give in return. If that man is working and struggling for what he really wants, is it worth the price he pays in personal suffering? Neighbors would learn to listen intently to neighbors. In only that way will the eye turn inward. In other people’s souls they could see the undistorted image of their own soul. As they helped others they would help themselves.
It was the summer of 1967. I had just completed my freshman year of college and took a job as a counselor for a boys camp in South Yarmouth, Mass. The nation was fighting an undeclared war in Viet Nam to stop the spread of communism and preserve our freedom (at least that is what we were told). And Black citizens were preparing to fight a war in the major urban confines of this nation to gain those same freedoms which we were fighting to protect overseas.
None of this made any sense to an idealistic young man of nineteen. I had not yet taken up the cause of my people and my student deferment would protect me from Viet Nam for at least another year before the lottery system took affect. I was teaching tennis and fencing, swimming in the lake, playing capture the flag, and exploring the culture of Boston and the surrounding areas.
One Sunday morning, I joined a group of fellow counselors to attend a Quaker meeting on the Cape before heading off to explore the dunes. I had never been to a Quaker meeting but it was my plan to attend a different religious service each week as part of my search for God. I walked into an unadorned meeting hall filled with folding chairs placed in rows for the congregation and two chairs in the front. There were no stained glass windows, no pulpit, no lectern, no crosses or pictures of Jesus, none of the symbols I had come to identify with religion. About five minutes before the meeting began an elderly couple entered and took the two seats at the front of the hall.
Exactly on the hour the elder gentleman stood and said, “Let each of us now reflect upon this past week.” He then sat down. No sermon, no hymns, or deacons passing around collection plates. Just silence. I looked around at the fifty or so peoples seated in the congregation. Each seemed to be in private meditation reflecting as asked on their life of the last week. I kept waiting for something to happen, for someone to start preaching, but my expectations were met with total silence.
About twenty minutes into the hour, a man from the congregation stood and began to talk. He was dressed in a military uniform decorated with ribbons and metals. He was a veteran of WW II and Korea. He was crying. He had just lost his son in Viet Nam and could not understand why we were fighting this war. “My son died for no reason, fighting for no cause,” he said.
He spoke for a few minutes during which time he had the complete attention and compassion of every person in that hall. He shared his grief with total strangers and was received as if he were a lifelong friend. Another ten minutes of silence passed before a young man stood and addressed the congregation. He had been struggling with his conscience as to whether or not he would go to Canada to avoid the draft. He had decided during the meeting that he did not want his parents to bear the pain he had just witnessed. He then walked over to the man who had spoken earlier and the two embraced in a flood of tears.
For the remainder of the hour everyone returned once again to silent reflection, although now no doubt influenced by what they had just witnessed. On the hour, the elder man sitting in the front stood and said, “Let us now go forth into the week ahead with love in our hearts.” and walked out. We all followed. That was it. That one hour had changed the lives of everyone there. We had witnessed an alchemy of understanding between a military man and a draft dodger. An embrace of love and acceptance.
Afterwards, we got into the car and headed for the dunes. It was a long time before anyone spoke. It was as if the inner reflection and silence of the meeting hall had extended itself beyond those four walls. During that hour on a Sunday morning in a wooden meeting hall my quest to find God ended.
*Note: It has taken me a while but I recently learned the Harold Maine was the name used by Walker Winslow, a friend and companion of Henry Miller during his time living in Big Sur, California.