“Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move.”
Starting back to university after several years away, I find myself in an awkward social position. I am too old to be a typical university student and too young to be classified as an older, returning student. In addition to the issue of age, I am now married and the mother of a young child. As much as I want to be able to focus exclusively on my renewed studies, I also hope to find a few close friends among my new classmates.
Providence rewards my hope with a friend in the design studio, who is both my peer in age and who is also in a committed relationship.
Joan is from the Coast and was reared in an academic family. Thus, she is well bred and well spoken. We share artistic and intellectual exchanges full of wit and humor. And, because some of my time away from university was spent studying in the region of Joan’s upbringing, we share certain place references, which are not shared with anyone else in the art department. The commonalities that are part of our friendship also extend, to a certain degree, to our individual aesthetic preferences.
A number of semesters, a few dinner parties and several outings later, Joan and I find ourselves together in yet another class, when a new woman, Sarah, in her early forties joins our class.
Although completely untrained as an artist or designer, Sarah has been working as a paid, freelance graphic designer in the community. In terms of temperament, she is hesitant and quite insecure about her innate gifts as a designer and draughtsman, even though she clearly has the hand of a skilled, untrained draughtsman with an eye for design. Sarah creates simple, pleasing brochures which include her own drawings. Her return to school for more training is spurred on by a handful of clients who have been requesting more advanced work from her. She hopes that some additional training will help her grow her confidence and her innate artistic skills.
As the content of Sarah’s portfolio becomes known within the department, the rift between fine art and commercial art is laid bare. And, socially, a certain amount of distancing occurs between Sarah and the main body of traditional students.
For an already insecure soul, this not-so-subtle distancing can be acutely painful. In an attempt to close the growing space around this woman, I offer Sarah several olive-branch conversations, remembering how I felt when I first returned to university with no real sense of place. But, what I do not anticipate is the painful, under-the-breath verbal sniping that Joan is soon engaging in, as Joan and I sit working next to one another in the same class as Sarah.
My intellect understands that in many respects these women are experiential worlds apart, yet my heart is injured with each uncharitable statement, about Sarah or her work, issuing from Joan’s mouth. Finally, after two weeks of silence toward Joan’s uncharitable speech, I turn to face her—knowing that my stand may cost me a precious friendship.
“Open your heart, Joan,” I murmur emphatically. It is all that I can think to say. And, with this one statement, the verbal sniping comes to a complete stop.
For several weeks, there is a quiet between Joan and myself as I cocoon myself in my studio work and wonder how everything is going to work itself out. Then, as we near the end of semester, I learn that Joan has extended not only an olive branch, but an entire olive bough to Sarah. After several weeks of getting to know one another and finding common ground, Joan has committed to looking after Sarah’s family pets while Sarah is on vacation with her family.
Words have weight, meaning and impact, whether words are directed toward us, at a situation, coming from us toward someone else or being applied by us to an external set of circumstances. Choosing our words with care shapes the manner in which we enter into a dialogue with the world around us—to mend relationships, take down barriers or change the course of someone’s life. All of us need to continue the practice choosing our words with an ear to our hearts and supreme care.