She sat between the two younger women, crowned with a head full of white curls, the glory of her ninety years radiating from the stage. I sat at a distance, unable to see much but the head of poet Luci Shaw from my seat in the auditorium. I focused instead on her words as a river of memories born out of her friendship with Madeleine L'Engle flooded the room.
Luci and Madeleine were dear friends, co-writers, and traveling companions for decades until Madeleine's death in 2007. The two younger women sitting beside Luci were Madeleine's grand-daughters, and together the three of them conjured Madeleine's image for us. She shimmered like an apparition in our presence as the three women put flesh and bones and thought and feeling to their memory of her.
Hearing Luci speak was like sitting across the kitchen table from a great-aunt and listening to her reminisce, although this "great aunt" possessed the command of language and sharp inner eye of an accomplished poet. Each story carried with it a single image that burrowed into me—the straw Luci lifted to the dry lips of Madeleine's son Bion moments before he died, Madeleine's competitive spirit rising like a ship across from her table tennis opponents, Luci dancing at the wedding of the granddaughter beside her, feeling as much a part of Madeleine's family as any blood relative.
They shared decades of friendship as well as a co-writing relationship, writing multiple books together, with Luci also editing and publishing some of Madeleine's work. Walking on Water, one of the most underlined and well-loved books on my bookshelf, was written by Madeleine at Luci's request and encouragement. Luci is part of the legacy that is L’Engle’s body of work.
Listening to the women who loved the real-life L’Engle reminisce, reminded me that the work of the artist is not, and cannot be done in isolation. She was a brilliant writer, yes. But she was also a grief-stricken mother, a loving grandmother, a loyal friend. I came away from the conversation and my own experiences with her work aware of my own deep longing to live an undivided life alongside a bosom friend—one who understands me in all of my complexities as a wife, mother, teacher, and writer—one who recognizes and calls out the work buried inside me.
From my seat in the audience, I glanced down at the few notes I’d taken and scribbled one last sentence, “Who is my Madeleine?” What I meant to write was “Who is my Luci?” Who is the friend who will receive all of me? The one who can call out my deep work, who could conjure the image of me to others with such clarity. Later, when I read through my notes, I realized I had it right the first time—my subconscious realized the distinction before I did. I have longed for a friend like Luci to come alongside me when the longing is best fulfilled by becoming a Luci to others.
If I’m honest, being a message bearer, an image maker, and a prophetic voice in the life of a friend has not been a high priority for me. I would prefer to work alone, to isolate, to become whole with only a pen and paper and write myself into being. The past few years have birthed formative friendships with a few fellow artists, and I see where their wisdom and experience have informed my life and work for the better. But, it is slow, quiet growth. Like all good things, these relationships take time. Sharing the fullness of life, our weaknesses, and our work begins with a trickle here, a small stream there, in what may eventually become a great river of memories like the experiences Luci and Madeleine shared.
Before the conversation ended, Luci mentioned that she wrote a poem about Madeleine called “To the Edge.” When I returned home, an online search for the poem came up empty, however I stumbled across a book the two women wrote together called Friends for the Journey. I couldn’t think of a more fitting name for the kind of deep friendships every artist needs for a flourishing creative life. The journey of the artist is not solitary. We need one another to walk us home.
Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer with an MFA in creative nonfiction. She writes regularly online and has written for Dayspring’s (in)courage, The Write Life, Fathom Magazine, and In Touch Ministries Magazine (both online and in print). When not writing, she teaches college writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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