The harrowing screams in the distance pierced my ears.
I flung the door open and stood in the archway staring at the sword above my bed. It hung like a painting, gifted to me by Michaela, my friend, mentor, and confidant. It was a memento of the battles I had faced to get to this country. But I never dreamed I would ever have to use it again.
My bed sank as I climbed onto it and gently lifted the sword from the wall. I slowly slid it out of its leather casing. The reflection in the blade revealed my bronze skin and a long braided hair, my shoulders heavy with the weight of the chaos outside my walls. I examined the craftsmanship, touching the blade to test its ability to perform. It cut my finger. A small drop of blood escaped and fell to the white linens.
I slipped the weighty sword back into its leather sheath and strapped it to my back. I turned to see Michaela in the doorway, ready to join me in the battle that awaited us both…
“What do you think about for the five hours that I paint you?” my friend Michelle asked as she pulled me out of my fantasy and back into her studio.
She twirled her paintbrush shifting from her canvas to me. I refocused on her, hesitant. And then I told her that I had a story in my head that I was daydreaming about. She asked me to share. I was caught off guard. Someone was asking me to share my secret, intimate tales that had never left my lips. But then, I did the unthinkable, I told her my story. She became engrossed in my words and I realized that speaking them gave me a sense of liberation. She told me to write it down. I wasn’t a writer, but I did and it became a 400-page novel.
It was the encouraging words of my friend that started me down the path of writing and as fellow artists, we’ve walked along side each other. Many times, my friend walked a few steps ahead of me. That edge allowed her to guide me through the bleak times when I wanted to give up or when people pressured me to “just get a real job”. But she had seen the Promised Land and helped me stay the course.
Now when I sit for her painting class, my mind may wonder to one of my stories, but mostly, I’m listening as Michelle so eloquently teaches not only painting, but the philosophy behind creating a masterpiece. She often reminds students to be aware of what they are holding in their minds during the process of painting. They know to keep their palettes clean and avoid muddy color, but often, the challenge lies in avoiding muddy thoughts like, “I hope I don’t mess this up” or “I’m frustrated”. She further explains that, we all, as artists, go through a gamut of emotions while creating; if those thoughts and beliefs about what you are doing are muddy with negativity, your art will reflect that. Her words of wisdom lift me up and help me press forward.
As the old proverb goes, as iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. This is what my friend Michelle is to me and we take up our swords and fight the battle together.
Painting by Michelle Dunaway