I was away from the Baltimore Ethical Society April 15-17 involved in my final year as Director of the Washington Ethical Society Coming-of-Age program. That weekend, in the mountains northwest of Frederick, Maryland, I was challenged and inspired. On this occasion, the challenge came from nature. While nine teenagers for whom I was responsible spent a solo night alone scattered over a mountaintop, storms intensified bringing buckets of rain, strikes of lightning, and the threat of tornados. Aided by the Catoctin Quaker Camp caretakers’ weather radar, I confirmed that we were relatively free of tornado danger, and that pulling the teens off the mountain in the dusk would be more dangerous than letting them ride it out. Anxious parents talked through their fears back at the lodge. By 10:00PM the storm subsided, leaving the teens with a long, uncomfortable, soggy night.
I began feeling inspired as we gathered the shivering campers the next morning and marched them down the mountain. Some teens were understandably angry at the fickle hand of nature. But by the time we neared the camp lodge, they were smiling at the row of parents cheering them as they slogged through the last muddy hundred yards. The discomfort and anxiety of the night before melted away during our celebratory brunch by the roaring fireplace. Relieved of my own concern and sense of responsibility, I could now more fully appreciate the fortitude, courage, and love of these nine families. Tales about the past 24 hours generated much laughter and demonstrated our human capacity for resilience and hope. While they did not have to bear the brunt of the storm, the parents were tested. It takes tremendous strength to “let go” of our child – both in life, and during the weekend. It is a challenge to allow those beautiful, fragile little creatures to face life’s challenges on their own. And it takes even more courage on the part of the teens to accept these challenges with optimism and grace.
Coming back to the BES community, I am reenergized by this inspiration. After all, in a way, we are always coming of age, myself included. Challenges confront each and every one of us, over and over again. Each challenge offers opportunities to bring out our best. They offer lessons that help us grow. Both as individuals and as a community, we in the Baltimore Ethical Society will have nights on a stormy mountain. At times some of us may feel like we are going through hell. But, as Winston Churchill counseled, “If you’re going through hell keep going.” Luckily storms pass. On the other side are helping hands.
BES has weathered 60 years of challenges, and enjoyed 60 years of fellowship and good works. The inspiration we find in community and shared values remain strong. I look forward to a summer break and returning next fall as your Leader. I will miss directing the Coming-of-Age program at WES, but I am excited to dedicate myself more fully to my role as a congregational Ethical Culture Leader.