She's gorgeous in a way that words could only sully, but the way she's looking at me puts me on red alert.
"I know that look," I say, tilting my neck up and meeting her eyes. She's standing above me, and that look—that look—is a combination of confusion and curiosity, served neat with a skepticism chaser. "Let me explain."
Her arms are folded. I take it slow.
"The whole thing with Quakerism is that it's not quite like other kinds of Christianity. You can be Christian and a Quaker, but you don't have to be. An awful lot of us don't really buy into 'sin,' per se, so the whole salvation thing goes out the window—why would you need to be saved from a nonexistent problem?
That doesn't mean we don't see problems, though. No, ma'am, we see problems. We see lots of things as problems. While Christianity has the Fall and Original Sin—note the all caps—we place that degree of emphasis on destruction. Violence, particularly, is something we really, really hate. Most of us are pacifists and would rather take a bullet than send one at anyone, so war and physical conflict are generally out. The world and everything in it exists for us, so destruction of it ain't no good."
I sip from my coffee and she raises an eyebrow. I barely take a breath.
"But that's where it gets interesting, because since the world exists for us, it's a gift, and gifts are beautiful. Thus, since the world is something to be protected, it's something to be cherished. So while many of us might not believe in an afterlife, it's only because we've got something better:
right here, right now. We don't have any excuse for not making the world as lovely and beautiful as it can be. We strive for perfection, knowing that in order to strive for a harvest, we have to identify the seeds. So we do: we look for things to fix, and we look for things that are close to perfection, things that are capable of perfection, and we push everything else we can toward that perfection. Quakers were prominent abolitionists, voices in the Civil Rights movement, and anti-Vietnam war protestors. We take a spiritual issue with imperfection, and not in a utopian sense, but in a strictly humanist one: it's all within our power to create beauty, and I guess the only real sin is not to."
She's barely moved. Her eyes hang like gargoyles from dark lids, and I can't get a read on her.
But then she moves, and when she does, it's like she's a hummingbird at a feeder, her arm darting down to the table at my booth. She picks up the plate and sighs.
"So what do you want me to do?" she asks, pointing to the cheeseburger on the plate. Her gum pops like summer firecrackers.
"Just throw it on the grill for another ninety seconds or so," I say.
"And then it'll be perfect?"
I smile, if only to myself (she's not looking anymore). "Yup."
When it comes back and I take my third bite, it tastes like spit.
But a man's got to have principles.