So I wrote recently about the red road to Galilee. I don’t know why the road has to be red, but apparently it is. I was thinking about that redness and all the things that red can be and mean. And I was thinking about some of the amazing conversations that took place after my Galilee post.
These were conversations that happened face to face or over the phone or via email, but not in the comments section, which I appreciate, because things like what we said to each other don’t belong there.
One said to me, in the dusky and dim downstairs hallway at church, as she took my hand, I wanted to tell you that I know what you mean and that I’ve been where you are. She told me about being married for 49 years, about the hard, hard work that goes into building something like that.
Another sent me a message and said she would walk that red road with me, that I am brave, that I was brave long before I knew her.
Another said that I say the things that she can’t.
And another talked about her experiences of growing toward and away, of how people change.
Did you read the Red Tent by Anita Diamant? Its from the perspective of Dinah, a pretty minor character in the Old Testament. And its about all sorts of biblical things, but its also all about all sorts of red things.
(Side note, I’ve decided I don’t know how, when or why to use an apostrophe for “its” so I am just not going to try anymore).
There is a tent in the book where the women go to give birth and when they have their menses. And the women sit in the tent and they exchange news and gossip, but they also impart wisdom and advice.
I have my own sort of red tent, I’ve realized. And you are all welcome to come in and sit a spell, get out of the heat, tell me where you’ve been and all you know. I wish that I could ask women like my grandma to come in, that I could get her some cold Vernors from the two liter in her fridge that is littered with magnets and colored pictures and cutouts from the newspaper. I would serve it to her in one of the glasses that she has in her cupboard, one with geese on it. I wish she could tell me what it was to be married to my grandpa, that she could tell me about her own red road.
But I can’t. She’s traveled in time backward over the entire arc of her life, and she no longer remembers what it was to be in the tent. A lesson, and a painful one.
My own daughter can come into the tent now, she has reached menarche. She can listen as the older women talk and she can form ideas about what the world is and how we live in it, how we carry it in our arms like shopping bags and purses and toddlers.
I listened to a girl from Youth Radio talk about being a reporter on NPR last night as we braved the scary roads to use Kohl’s cash that had to be spent or expire. She talked about being ten and being a girl and being stood in the corner and told to be silent. But she says that they’d lost her already, because even at ten she knew that people were not made to be silent.
And I thought, yes. Yes.
That is why I write.
I was recently named a Precentor for choir. A Precentor is one who sings first. I will sing it out for you, our truths, yes, our, because you have told me that what I am saying belongs to, reflects, all of us.
That is why I tell the truth even if I can only tell it here, even if I pretend like everything is ok all the time and without reading what I write you’d never guess, never know, right where I am.
Because we are not made to be silent.
In the tent we are not silent. We laugh and make outrageous jokes, we swap stories. We learn from each other about how we should be, what we can be, and we somehow learn to share the burden of all we carry, lost hope, lost love, lost babies. Because when we speak we spread it out among each other; every woman takes a corner of the massive parchment scroll that is our history, and thus we bear it together.
Diamant says that if you want to know a woman, first you ask her about her mother.
She says that the other reason women want daughters is to keep their memories alive. She says that when the chain between mothers and daughters is broken and our words passed to the keeping of men, that they cannot understand or know.
And she says that in the red tent the truth is known, that the women give thanks for repose and restoration, for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs and that life costs blood.
So I step back and imagine then, how the red tent surrounded us a few weeks ago when we talked about husbands and tooth brushes and sassy girl children. I can see the heavy red fabric as it wooshed down around us as we all stood in the kitchen and told the truth.
I imagine the dimly lit parish hall with its soaring vaulted ceiling and the dark night outside the windows, the clink of cutlery and muted conversations from tables filled with the people we were feeding. And a tent they could not see, and the words they could not hear.
My husband says that when my sister or my mother and I are together he can’t even understand what language we are speaking. That we sound like chickens in a hen house. I imagine that he cannot make out the words because the fabric of our tent is just as thick as it needs to be to protect such things.
Not that we don’t love and appreciate the men we have in our lives, but that the sisterhood of the tent is something bigger.
And because it begins with red, which is turning out to be a deeply symbolic color for me. Because red is a road and red is blood and red is sacrifice and love, but the real kind, the hard kind. Most of the time it isn’t all hearts and flowers and Valentines. Most of the time it is the pain that is bringing forth something new, something redeemed, something washed clean in the bright and sparkling flow of love.
Its all combined, all one, do you see? We are one, travelers together, resting in the tent.
“If you sit on the bank of a river, you see only a small part of its surface. And yet, the water before your eyes is proof of unknowable depths. My heart brims with thanks for the kindness you have shown me by sitting on the bank of this river, by visiting the echoes of my name.