What We Need Is Here
The title of this inspirational piece is stolen from Parker Palmer’s title of a recent blog. Parker Palmer is a Quaker, teacher and writer. I have known and been a casual friend of Palmer for a third of my life---a long time! He has addressed and written on themes that are dear to my heart---themes like community. No doubt, part of this stems from our common Quaker heritage.
Palmer’s insight has always been helpful to me. While we may have some similarities, he is sufficiently different from me and, therefore, sees things differently. To read him is like walking alongside of him and hearing him say, “Look there.” I look and see through his eyes. I am usually edified by the process.
In his recent blog Parker is actually getting the title from a poem by his friend, Wendell Berry, called “The Wild Geese.” I cannot count Berry as a friend, but maybe I can claim an acquaintance through Parker’s friendship. Twice in a short space in that poem, Wendell Berry has the line, “what we need is here.” Let’s learn from Palmer, as he reflects on the meaning of that line in his life.
Palmer begins by recounting the story of his move with his family to a Quaker study center in a Philadelphia suburb. The study center is called Pendle Hill, named after a famous hill in the north of England that plays a key role in the early history of Quakerism. I have been to that hill on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border and have climbed it more than once. And I have been to the Philadelphia study center many times and felt my heart touched every time I visit.
Palmer describes the nature of Pendle Hill. In his ten years as Dean of Studies, Parker says he learned that Wendell Berry was right in his claim that what we need is here. Palmer says, “What we need is here, if we can learn to trust and draw upon the abundance within us and between us.” This is a simple sentence, but its truth is profound. I can read it; I can understand it. But my goal is to be able to live out of the truth of that sentence.
I am intrigued that Palmer italicizes two little words: is and if. I am sure he was intentional about this. He affirms, “what we need is here…” The word, is, is italicized. That makes the word important---more important than the other words in that phrase. It is a bold claim to say what we need is already there. That is a challenge for many of us. Oddly, it is even a challenge to those of us who have much.
But the italicization of the word, is, sets us up for the rest of the sentence. What we need is here if… The little word turns the whole sentence into a conditional statement. What we need is here if something else is true. A conditional sentence always says, “it depends.” It depends on something or someone. And the remainder of that sentence tells us, in Palmer’s words, what fulfilling our present need depends on.
What we need is here “if we can learn to trust and draw upon the abundance within us and between us.” What we need is here if we can learn to trust. For many of us, this is a big hurdle. For many trust does not come easily. We do not really trust there is enough here to fulfill our needs. When we don’t trust, then usually we try to control or manipulate a situation, so we are more likely to get what we think we need. It is not easy to trust there is enough.
And if we are privileged in some way, we don’t think about “enough.” We are more likely to be concerned about getting what we “deserve.” Palmer talks about learning to deal with the fact that he was highly educated, but drawing the same small salary as the cook and housekeepers. Of course, this highlights how easily we confuse needs and wants. Clearly most of us who are privileged feel like we “deserve” more because our education sets us up to want more because of our status. When we move to that level, there typically won’t be enough.
Palmer finishes that sentence saying what we need is here if we learn to trust “the abundance within us and between us.” Perhaps it strikes you as funny that he introduces the idea of abundance here. I think I understand it because I understand our American temptation is to be so individualistic that we don’t think about having abundance within ourselves and certainly no abundance between us.
I suspect too many of us operate on a scarcity model that we really don’t trust the abundance that actually exists in community. And there you have it. This claim of Berry and Palmer is really a claim for community. If I am just by myself, what I need is not always found here---or, at least, I don’t trust that it is here. To read Palmer is to remember that humans were made to live in community and if we do, what we need is here.
There is much of modern life that is anti-communal. When that happens, typically each of us is thrown on our own. It becomes a dog-eat-dog world and the race is on. Berry and Palmer offer a different vision of the world and our lives. It is attractive to me, but I have to trust it---trust that what we need is here.