Balcony People, Revisited
a writing prompt for you
Welcome to Writing in Company. Each week I share some words and a writing prompt, meant to be jumping-off points for you to write about what matters. Use the prompts however you like—to journal, to draft thoughts for your own writing project, as meditation or prayer ideas, or for another creative endeavor. You can always look back through the archive for more ideas. Grab your pen and paper, and let your words loose on the page.
I first shared this prompt idea two years ago, when my list of subscribers was much smaller. Some writing prompts lend themselves to regular revisiting, and this is one.
This week the church marks All Saints' Day. We give thanks for those who have mothered and fathered us in faith. We recognize the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and mark the lives of those who have died recently, entrusting them to God, as they join the company of saints.
The great Baptist preacher Carlyle Marney described the way we each have voices that shape us, making us who we are, for better or worse.1 Using the metaphor of a house, he spoke about the time we spend with the voices who inhabit our dark cellars. From way down deep, they speak to us. They come from recent generations, or from those long past. They are voices we didn't choose, but they are connected to us through our history, culture, or gene pool. From the cellar we each have, where the trash is kept, they recite scripts full of oughts and shoulds, thou shalt nots, expectations, shame, judgment, and critique. They are the underground powers that shape us. And we keep listening to them, following the scripts they hand to us, when it might be time to set those scripts aside and come up from the cellar with a blessing for what we have learned from them.
In contrast, Marney describes another set of voices—the voices of our balcony people. These are voices we have chosen to speak to us, to mentor and shape us. They are heroes and teachers, living or dead. They are our cloud of witnesses. They are the antidote to the voices from our cellar. Marney said of his balcony people, "They shout and beckon and cheer me on, and encourage and shape, and call me out." They are on our side, even when we are wrong. They are present to us, even if they are long gone. They correct us when we need it, and because we have chosen their guidance, we might just listen. They remind us that we are beloved.
We all have our own balcony people. They are the ones who make us who we are. Our trusted ones. Our saints. The ones we look up to, who are watching and cheering as we make your way. All Saints is a time to pause and give thanks for them.
I started this week praying for one of my balcony people, as her family accompanies her on a hospice journey. She taught hundreds of children Sunday School, taught me to drink iced tea, and fed my sisters and me pounds of snickerdoodles, apple strudel, and lifelong love. My writing about her includes memories of holidays, birthdays, and ordinary days—always with food, hospitality, and a sweet Southern accent from a true steel magnolia.
I’ll end the week writing with my soul sisters, from my writing group of bereaved mothers. They already fill a whole balcony for me, and because there is so much talking and laughter, it will need to be a balcony off to the side where they won’t bother all the other people with their shenanigans. I’ve learned from their grief, from their resilience, from their wondrous words, and the unexpected gift of their love these last twenty-one years.
a writing prompt
Who is in your balcony? What voices, from those living or dead, encourage and support, shape and nurture, challenge and call out the best in you?
Marney said, "If you are together, your balcony crowd is holding you together."
Write a list of your own balcony people. Choose one, and write more about them, with thanksgiving.
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a November webinar on writing and grief
For an hour on November 16th, I’ll be in conversation with Teri Ott, the editor and publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook about using writing as a way to carry grief. There will be some writing time, too. Whether you are in a new season of grief, are long-acquainted, or want to add to your toolbox of spiritual practices, you are welcome. There is a minimal cost for individuals or groups to help support the faithful work of the Outlook.
Find out more and register here:
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