It was the spring of 1995 and me and my fourth period Art II classmates were in our usual spot: huddled around an antiquated transistor radio eavesdropping on the cell phone calls of passersby on the four lane road that fronted our school. (Yes, that was really a thing, and yes, if you were in Montgomery in 1995 I probably listened in on your conversation and you should be ashamed of yourself. At least one of us needs to be.)
We’d huddle close and giggle at salespeople relaying meeting results to bosses or wives tiffed at their husbands or drivers reporting their ETA’s to higher-ups, all the while busy working with charcoal or clay or oil pastel and dreaming up the lives of those behind the conversations. Our teacher, Ms. Thompson, would tisk at us, and on occasion even come over and flip “the durn thing” off…but mostly she went about her business while listening in just like the rest of us, mesmerized at those whose lives we glimpsed for forty seconds to a minute and a half, dependent on whether or not their owners hit the traffic light. They were mere moments, frozen in time, impacting the lives of the hearers, creating that second, that moment, that memory.
Because they came close enough for us to listen. If only for a moment, they let us in. Let’s forget the part where they didn’t give us permission to be there…
But You Didn’t
Fast forward to the last unit of Art II: Picasso and Cubism. We huddled around once again, this time over the posters and art books Ms. Thompson spread across the vast expanse of art room work tables. “See here how he used color to convey feeling,” or “Look how he used the minimum amount of shape to represent human form.”
“I could do that,” came the growly voice, chalk full of gravel from its recent transition into the deeper register.
Snickers all around, except from Ms. Thompson, who looked him straight in the eye.
“Yes, but you didn’t,” she said.
I think about her response all the time. First off, it was a masterful assertion of authority from a woman who probably should have “thrown the durn thing away” a long time ago… But mostly I think about it because it was true: he didn’t, and his right-then attitude revealed that he never might. Paint a Picasso? Nah, that’s not what I mean… Create and invite from a place of vulnerability and humility and emotional content—that’s what I mean.
We Art II classmates didn’t understand the science. I have no clue what kind of radio it was, or what kind of cell service our victims were so unlucky as to have chosen—no clue on any of the metrics of the whole durn thing—but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it. I don’t know and don’t want to know how or why it worked, I just want to remember the place, the time, the feelings. It’s what Stephen King calls magic—the almost indescribable connection between the storyteller and the listener, the artist and the viewer, the writer and the reader.
Why Don’t You?
People tell me all the time they want to write. Most of them say it sort of quietly—not like they’re ashamed necessarily but like it’s an impossibility. “Why don’t you?” I ask, bracing for the likely myriad of excuses I’ve grown accustomed to.
Church: speak! Only you reveal the part of the larger story God is weaving in and through your life; only you reveal and reflect the specific way the Trinity shines through you. Keep quiet and rob us of the light you bring to the party. Even the writer of Hebrews tells us at the end of Chapter 11 that the heavenly communion of saints is incomplete without us when he says (just after the hall of fame) “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” We, each one of the elect, await the fullness and perfect community with Christ and each other in heaven. But until that perfect day, we can practice—as flawed and bumbling as it will be—in the sharing of ourselves with one another for the purpose of the building up of the kingdom. So say it, write it, paint it, play it, sing it, bake it…no matter…just do it. (Hmmm…nice tag line…maybe someone should trademark that.)
Yes, somebody’s probably already doing it or done it—said what you want to say, painted what you want to paint—but nobody’s done it in the way YOU will do it. Side benefit of relational union with Christ—no one can ever rob you of your unique expression of His love and care in your life. So if the transistor is stuck on the station that says, “Why would you do that? It’s already been done by people with far more talent!” then THROW THE DURN THING AWAY.
Come close enough for us to listen, let us in, and watch both of us be changed.
About the Author:
Holly Mackle writes and gardens in Birmingham, Alabama. She is wife to David and mama of two flower-sneaking bitties. She is the editor of engagingmotherhood.com, an author of the collaborative study for new moms, Engaging Motherhood: Heart Preparation for a Holy Calling (2016), and author of the family advent devotional, Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room (2016). Holly blogs life and tomatoes and diggingsuburbia and is the humorist for joegardener.com.