Tonight I had dinner with my friend, Tara, who writes “I Might Need a Nap.” There ain’t nothing in this world that two fishbowl margaritas (both mine!) and a three-hour talk can’t fix. Well, maybe not full on fix but at least make a far sight better.
Pardon me, gentle readers–it seems that tequila makes me talk like Ellie Mae Clampett. I shall clutch my pearls at myself forthwith.
We have known each other since Governor’s Honors in 1985 and we both ended up at Wesleyan College. We talked about raising kids, the fish tacos in Hawaii, ICU waiting room chairs, Jesus, cheer moms, first husbands, high grass snakes, The Young and the Restless, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and churches that rely on PowerPoint. We talked until my voice gave out.
I wrote this haiku once when I lost my voice:I croak, squeak then try to speak. My little one asks, “Mom, are you leaving your voice?”
Word were new to Vivi at the time and she got “losing” and “leaving” mixed up…but dang if she didn’t hit on something. I don’t mind the periodic losing of my voice–I’ve usually run it into the ground through excessive use, not neglect. Losing my voice gives me a reason to hush, to rest, to listen.
But leaving my voice? Oh, I’ve done that too. Those are the times that make me sad when I look back. The times I didn’t speak up for myself. The times I didn’t ask for what I needed. The times I left a question unasked. The times I witnessed injustice and didn’t say anything. Or the times I saw injustice and ONLY said something about how wrong it was but didn’t do anything to fix it. Those are times when I left my voice.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, Tara pressed a small gift into my hand. She said, “We’re both red clay girls and I thought of you because this is made from red clay.” I looked at the small medallion under the street light and thought at first that it was an alien head (might have been the two margaritas talking…and just for the record, I was walking back to my hotel on the other side of the parking lot). Tara works with an organization called Bare Bulb Coffee. It’s a coffee shop/community center/art gallery/church/social service organization with a Quiche of the Day and an actual plan for righting some of the wrongs in the world. Nikki Collins McMillan is the Ministry Director and Head Percolator…and another Wesleyan Woman.
The shape on the medallion and the name of Bare Bulb Coffee both hearken back to the coffee farmers who grow the fair-trade beans used by Bare Bulb. Tara told me, “In the homes in that region, you walk into their houses and there’ll be a string with a bare light bulb hanging down.” I croaked, “Oh yeah! My Grandmama Eunice had one of those over the dining room table!” Tara replied, “No…that’s the thing. There’s no electricity wired to the houses. It’s just a string. The bare bulb is a symbol of hope.”
On the Wesleyan College seal, the official motto of the college reads Scientia Et Pietas–”knowledge and responsibility.” Tara and Nikki have taken their knowledge and translated it into service to those among us who are underserved. I can’t think of two better examples of Wesleyan alumnae who are making a difference in this world. They’re using their voices and that gives me hope.
Also on the Wesleyan College seal, the seated figure of Wisdom holds forth a laurel crown. Above her, a ribbon bears the words “Niminum ne crede colori.” The phrase is from Virgil and I was told back then that it meant “put not your faith in outward appearances.” I’ve always interpreted this as “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but tonight when I looked up the translation again, it turns out that Virgil addressed this line to a lovely youth. The words in their full context mean: ”Oh, handsome child, trust not too much in your youthful color.” So I guess that’s more of a “pretty is as pretty does” or “looks won’t last, honey.”
These women? Nikki and Tara? They are women I first met when we were all handsome children glowing with youthful color. They’ve grown older and wiser. They give me hope. They make me proud. They make me want to do more with my voice.