I have a soft spot for bluegrass. I played in an Appalachian ensemble in college, and ever since then have found comfort in the music’s brash harmonies and communal energy. As I stroll down the main street of a small town in North Carolina with a good friend, I feel my heart stir at the sound of a female vocalist singing a couple blocks away. We wander toward the music and perch atop a brick wall at the courthouse, where a bluegrass station is featuring some local bands.
The scene feels as humble as I’d want a small town to feel. Elderly couples line the courthouse yard in lawn chairs; a little boy dances freely in front of the stage. A German Shepherd wags his tail eagerly as he sits, tied up to the band’s amp. The crowd isn’t particularly large but listens intently to the two women singing.
They wear t-shirts and jeans and appear to be at least sixty-five years old. One woman plays guitar and sings while the other adds vocal harmony. They have a quiet, yet strong presence that fills the courtyard lawn. In between songs, they tell us that they have been playing together for forty years. In a world where relationships often feel temporal and fleeting, their friendship is a wonder to behold. I glance over at my friend and feel a longing that one day, we will share the same careless beauty of aged women who’ve shown up for each other and sought to make the world feel a little less broken.
As they step forward to sing another song, “Women to Match Our Mountains,” they explain that it was one they were asked to sing at a women’s conference in the 80’s. Prior to 1989, Buncombe’s County motto was “Men to Match Our Mountains.” They glow with pride as they recount the motto’s change to include women in its current form: “People to Match Our Mountains.”
I feel deeply connected to both of them as they recount progress made by women who have gone before me.
As I wonder about the frailty of their bodies matched with the inviting strength of their femininity, I find myself tearing up. I often forget that the fight for women’s words and presence to hold weight has gone on long before I was born. These women stand as an embodiment of brave women who have gone before me, risking their voice in the face of potential mockery, accusation, and belittlement.
I begin to let myself dream about what my life could look like in thirty years if I refuse to stay small and continue to advocate for a day when all people are valued and empowered to live into their giftings and glory—particularly those who have historically been marginalized. I think of times in my life when I’ve minimized or shied away from the truth as I let the accusation that I was too intense or cared too much silence me. As I listen to their music and glance toward my friend, the women before me give me hope to press on and remind me that I’m not alone.
As they leave the stage, an all-male band follows in their stead. The crowd at the courthouse triples in size and the air on the lawn shifts. The men sing songs about meatballs, a cat that will never die, and an old song that contains numerous racial slurs. The audience seems to come alive in the invitation to disconnect from the reality of the world we find ourselves in. Truth, it seems, has never captivated or won the hearts of the masses. I feel my own heart sink as the beauty and hope around me seems to fade. I long for the presence of the strong men and women in my life who stand with me against the kind of masculinity that can make women feel small.
Perhaps truth, at times, is too much for all of us to bear. Perhaps we survive the evil of this world one meatball song at a time. But maybe, with each meatball song, social media “like,” or watched reel, we step nearer to a numbness that keeps us from truly coming alive to our pain and the pain of those around us. Perhaps it’s our fear to connect with reality that truly keeps us at odds with one another as we live out of our woundedness, rather than out of freedom. And perhaps, if we risk coming alive together, we create room for understanding, grief, and hope, the rivers from which true change can flow. I think of the potential harmony that is created when men and women empower one another and work together for the beauty of the world. I long to be bold enough to show up with the people around me, fiercely guarding and nurturing my hope for life and goodness on this side of Heaven.