Strength in Softness. Silence in Speech

These were the words that came to me after I thought about Julie and Linford

When we were in college, she made baskets of copper wire.  I saw her work once at what must have been a craft show in our gymnasium, and since that day – despite having known her for more than 20 years, despite having known her as professional, mother, wife – her baskets are what come to mind more than any of the other things I know about her.  In fact, those spirals of glinting, peach wire leap to the space of vision behind my eyes whenever I think of her.

I admire her for that work. For much more, too, but something about a young woman taking a utilitarian object and turning it end to end into both art and craft has stuck with me.

So yesterday, when the lesson in Kelly Rae Roberts’ class was to pick two people I admire and write down all the ways I appreciate them, am drawn to them, feel them speaking to me, Julie was one of the people I picked.

Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine was the other, which surprised me because I expected I would choose Karin, the lead singer in the band, the voice, the obvious choice for a woman who finds herself an artist in a world not built for us.  But it was her husband, the other pair in that duo of gusto glory that I chose.  I sat with that revelation a bit at first. Then, I realized that it was his letters to their mailing list that draw me close, help me see in profound and gentle ways. Almost as much as their music, I love those letters.

Then, my lists of admiration spun out, dozens of words of why I love them – everything from fashion to languid, lean body types so different than my own.  Then, as the sparkly dust around the frenzy of getting the words down settled into sunlit patterns, I saw it.

Both Julie and Linford are strong but soft. They both speak and appreciate silence. They are both godly without the brusqueness of aggressive righteousness.

The world says we must fight, strive, hustle for what we want. We are taught as humans – men and women – that we must be strong most but feign tenderness. Life seems to say speak, shout really, all the time, to be heard.

I am so tired of my passion, my strength, my speech requiring so very much bigness.  It is deceptive to appear strong every moment, to always, every minute work, to shout, “Look at me. Over here. I’m doing something you should see.”

Strength can be – usually is – a quiet thing, a breakable thing, a soft-fingered, fern-like thing.  Truth when spoken well is not loud but a whisper, a gentle hush that reaches the ears that need it.  Righteousness in its purest form is small, precious, glimpsed not brazen and pronounced on a t-shirt.

Linford and Julie remind me of these things.  They show me that we can live true and beautiful in our art and our lives without so much shouting and posturing.

They remind me that sometimes our most lasting gifts to the world are not the ones we would expect. Instead, they may be quiet letters and gleaming, wire bowls that glint light into the darkness even years later.

I cannot recommend Kelly Rae Roberts’ “Hello Soul, Hello Mixed Media Mantras” class enough.  It is challenging me, cracking me, grounding me in new ways that I know will change my writing and my life.