• Aarik Danielsen

Voices Carry

Sometimes luxury arrives in less obvious ways.


As a baseball fanatic who leaves his heart in San Francisco, with the Giants, each April through October, I revel in the luxury of familiar, finely-tuned voices.


The Giants’ deep broadcast bench features a minted Hall of Famer in Jon Miller, and at least two whose voices will carry through hallowed space by retirement. Former ballplayers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow call the lion’s share of 162 games, consoling me half the year simply by sounding like themselves.


Krukow, a California kid and longtime righty hurler, looses rippling waves of cool and color. Kuiper owns his history as a glove-first infielder from Wisconsin; he pronounces each word with unforced Midwestern wisdom—and you still can’t get anything by him.


One voice rings untrue without the other, a call lacking its response. Together they sound out calm and companionship; give voice to poetry as kinetic energy; and prompt me to expel my breath, sounding a sigh long enough to carry from the middle of Missouri and splash down in the waters of San Francisco Bay.

 
We remember our first encounters with impressive voices; I still recall Mariah Carey climbing her own ladder to heaven, outdoing Babel’s tower using only her voice.
 

The voices we let into our lives matter. We lend people our ears, their tones shaping and reshaping us. We remember our first encounters with impressive voices; I still recall Mariah Carey climbing her own ladder to heaven, outdoing Babel’s tower using only her voice. Or Bono smoldering through the verses of “With or Without You,” only to find a falsetto gorgeous enough to rouse the angels.


But voices that breach the everyday bounce around the heart’s walls, reorienting us to what matters.


Surely, singing voices break up life’s deadest air. I pay them precious attention. Dawes bandleader Taylor Goldsmith warms up, and I instinctively sit up straight to listen close. Wisdom follows.


Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sounds like sun streaking clouds; Hope Sandoval, like a warm rain. Sixpence None the Richer pixie queen Leigh Nash sings the lightness of being; and through his saxophone, John Coltrane wordlessly expresses God’s love fanned to flame.


Sometimes voices sound suited for each other; each half of the couple forming Shovels and Rope sings what sounds like the harmony part, uncovering melody in the spaces between. And certain words should come from one voice alone—I never want to hear someone string together “Woo, baby / take me” unless it’s Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker.


 
James Baldwin seared the American soul—sometimes softly, sometimes in crescendo—in a tone kinder than America deserved.
 

I know the true voices of certain writers. Scott Cairns turns phrases of awe and delivers adoration’s cadences with the slightest hint of a rasp. James Baldwin seared the American soul—sometimes softly, sometimes in crescendo—in a tone kinder than America deserved.


Others I only imagine, hearing what the page implies. Brennan Manning’s tone is tender, always at the cusp of breaking in two. Franz Wright rushes to squeeze in all his anxiety and awe before the next breath comes. If you know otherwise, please don’t tell me.


And I wonder what you imagine when you hear my words—a tenor, baritone, or something between. Do they form a whispered prayer or a man on the verge of exploding into praise? Hear what your ears tell you.


 
Where would I be without the voices of trusted friends? They quietly interrupt, on divine authority. Or they sound like the wind at the very moment it shifts.
 

Where would I be without the voices of trusted friends? They quietly interrupt, on divine authority. Or they sound like the wind at the very moment it shifts. Some stir me; most soften me enough to experience the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.


My wife enunciates my name for the 10,000th time and somehow fulfills it; my best friend says it again and bends it into an admonition, a siren’s song, a blanket over the heart all at once.


Bonhoeffer told me the Christ in another’s words speaks louder and truer than the Christ in my own heart. And I believe him. But allow me to add something to the sentiment: the joy and fear, music and freedom in my friends’ words sets a microphone before me. I must hear it all to hold any hope of sounding an echo.


Our natural instruments are so easily misused. With our voices, we sow doubt, reaping what breaks a man in half. A friend sounds off on social media, and we hear strains which sound right in our ears. So we form choirs of support, not knowing what impulses we might encourage.


I wonder how much time we shave from another person’s life (or our own), lacking understanding of what voices do. Maybe 25 minutes with a cheap joke; a few days or a week over needless criticism or a negative sermon spoken into the mirror; matching years for years of verbal abuse.


 
Be a voice which corrects without shame, which coaxes out someone’s true self. And ask yourself which voices you’ll heed—who earns the right to change your mind?
 

Be a voice which corrects without shame, which coaxes out someone’s true self. And ask yourself which voices you’ll heed—who earns the right to change your mind? To interrupt your double-down or call you blinking into the light of what God says about you?


A song swells up from within the story of “Les Miserables,” telling us that “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Perhaps seeking out the sweetest, clearest voices—ones which really sing—and taking them in as harmony is something like hearing the voice of God.


When my end nears, I pray for fortune enough to choose the last voices I hear. My wife whispering peace. Or Mary Oliver read in whatever timbre my son grows into.

Absent these possibilities, do not arrive at my bedside bearing the vinyl recording of a gospel choir, though the Holy Spirit speaks through the crackle. Don’t place the needle on an esteemed pianist delivering a Beethoven sonata, even if their two hands create currents to carry me away into heaven.


Honor me with familiar voices. Maybe even some long-gone ninth inning when Krukow and Kuiper called the Giants all the way home. Let them call me home too. Any ordinary Wednesday game will do; not necessarily a World Series winner or dramatic walk-off. Just a crisp evening when two friends perched beneath the bright lights and formed a cloud of witnesses, one voice carrying after another.




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