The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world . . . — Natalie Goldberg
In the bank yesterday, two women stood – two teller stalls between them – and chatted. Loudly. I couldn’t help but smile. Both of these women I have known since I was 14, and they have both always been like this, the definition of boisterous.They also are women who have lived hard.
The woman on the left had her gray hair tugged back into a tiny pony tail, her things legs long beneath a pair of shorts that were made, I’m sure in the 1980s. Her face bore the soft crevices of nights with too little sleep and too much burden. Her eyes shone, though, with laughter.
Her friend on the right had short-cropped hair, and when she talked, her lungs filled so deep that her wind jacket whispered beneath her voice. “They know me over there,” she said. “They expect me to make trouble.” When she turned toward me, I saw the space where her front teeth had once been. She smiled huge.
Their voices echoed against the marble floors and faux-wood counters, a foil to the quieter, more formal conversations in the manager’s cubbies. They were like sunshine.
The tellers were not smiling. Their eyes were blown up to the size of a lemur’s; their mouths turned down just a bit. Noise like this does not happen in a bank. I almost frowned with them.
Then, I remembered all the times I wanted to shout for sheer love of the world. When I wanted to tell every person I met that we have a tractor on the farm now. When the grief poured so hard from my spirit that I wanted to sob with sorrow to the clerk at the dollar store. When I wanted to grab the arm of the old man crossing the drugstore parking lot and help him look up and see the rainbow.
Of course, the intimacy of breath-laden conversations sits perfectly at moments. But so does bigness of voice. When someone wants to speak their life with a throaty, rich goodness like the voice of Odetta – whether that voice carry anger or exuberance, mourning or triumph – sometimes, we need to be slower to shout them down, slower to try to ameliorate, slower to fix, slower to silence. Slower to make ourselves comfortable again. And quicker to keen with them, our voices echoing out. Because to speak with such volume is to speak of how we care.
There are places where a voice needs to carry all the breath behind it. Where boisterous is perfect. Where two women need to shout joy to one another across space. Dancing across marble for all the love of the world.
When do you need to speak with all the breath in your body?