I first met Jilli Nel when she came to Suite 100 — where I have my office — to help Penny Thieme, founder and director of the VALA Community of artists, hang a show. The immediate kinship that I felt seemed to radiate from Jilli to those around her. I know that others feel that spirit. I did not come to her circle alone but I nonetheless drifted there. She seems to exude effortless compassion.
I only know snippets of her story as a human, dwelling on this earth, bearing a child, living, yearning, loving, coming to America, getting caught in a quagmire of pain. But the fragment I know draws me still closer to her. She does not merely exist: she lives. She does not just overcome: she rises above. While others wear their pain openly, Jilli cloaks hers in a shimmer of light, and grace, and glory.
I stood beside her, briefly, tonight, at an opening of her work at Images Gallery as this month’s featured artist. In her lilting voice she called me one of her angels, and though I have done precious little for her, and less that truly helped her, I feel she meant it. She seems to appreciate the small act of coming to Overland Park to wish her well, as though I had done something monumental and unselfish; as though I had not sat on a bench in the back of the Gallery with Dana Cole’s arms around my shoulders, briefly, publicly caught in my own personal misery, a sad distraction from Jilli’s shining moment.
I am no one’s angel.
When I said goodbye to Jilli, to come next door and ask for a table for one at the Lemongrass, Jilli said, We must do coffee! and I replied, not without some humor, that if I must then I probably wouldn’t. She released a peal of musical laughter and hugged me, saying So true, my angel! Then let us aspire to have coffee! And what we aspire to do, we will do!
Ah, Jilli. I aspire to be worthy of your friendship. Will I, then, be worthy?
Visit Jilli Nel’s website by clicking here.