To Begin Is To Fail

The first time I felt the sickening haunt of failure, I was eleven years old.   I was in math class.  The teacher, Mrs. Burnett, was young and irritable.  She sported a short pixie haircut (it was 1981) and two front teeth that pushed inward, giving her a strange (and not, it seemed to me, entirely coincidental) fanged look.

At this point in my life, I never did homework.  I don’t know exactly why, but I know I did not do it.  This unfortunate habit translated to As in English, Bs in History, and, usually, Cs in Science and Math.   I just moved forward.  I didn’t see a way out of or through the airy state of perplexity that would descend over me like a caul when Math or Science began to happen around me.  I would always figure out enough not to get every single problem or question wrong, and that seemed sufficient.  Barely– but sufficient.

One afternoon, during our post-lunch rest period, when we could be reading or working on homework (you know which one I was doing)  Mrs. Burnett called me over to her desk.  Because she never did this, I felt a tiny thrill being singled out in such a way.   Was I going to be in a spelling bee?  I would win.  I knew it.

“Ann,” she said portentously, looking up at me over her enormous early-80s pale pink glasses frames, “we are three weeks away from our next quarterly report cards, and I thought I should let you know that at this point, you are failing math.”  That was all she said.  She just sat there, looking at me, while I felt my face go hot with a rage and humiliation I had no way of understanding.  She did not offer me any kind of solution or recourse.  Neither, needless to say, did she offer me any kind of comfort, or reassurance.   She let me walk back to my desk, alone, the other kids’ eyes bright with the questions they would hit me with the minute class ended:  “What did you do?  Did you get in trouble?”

When I got to my desk, I did the only thing I felt capable of doing, which was to bend forward and balance my forehead on its edge, so as to hide my red face dripping tears onto the floor.   There was nothing else to do.   I couldn’t even think about who might be looking at me– all that mattered was not to see myself being seen.   I could pretend for a while.  I was alone…a mark had been attached to me.  The mark was the letter F.  I was smart and it didn’t matter because I was dumb at the same time.  I was dumber than I was smart.

I can feel that feeling as though Mrs. Burnett spoke those words to me to me only an hour ago.  It has been almost thirty-three years.

In 2010, my former business (and everything else) partner and I decided that we needed to continue on as wholly separate entities.  I had been learning hoopdance with him for four wonderful years, but now it was time to make our way, each on our own.  I was nervous, but excited.   A whole new world was ready for me–and I, in my sunny, optimistic way, felt ready for it.

I spent the next three years honing my skills as a movement artist.  I was fortunate enough to be able to rent out my house in North Carolina and spend some time in New York, where I drank in every art event that came my way and spent hours daily exploring movement in my apartment-studio, taking notes on every new discovery and painstakingly translating each new insight into concepts and exercises for my weekly classes and weekend workshops.  I then traveled for two years, teaching these new ideas, which– I always take care to note– were built on the rock-solid foundation of my former teacher and partner’s immense and immensely insightful body of work.

I found my own vision.  I would provide an online resource for all the hoopers and hoopers-to-be out there in the world who didn’t have what I had– weekly access to a passionately dedicated hoop teacher who made dancing with the hoop comprehensible, interesting, and possible.  There are many, many excellent hoopdance tutorials already out there, but not much in the way of a singly-focused hoop curriculum, a clear and consistent structure on which an understanding of hoop and body, and their unique union, might be amplified and expanded in an ongoing and simplifying way.

For the first and only time in my life I had found a project that absorbed me utterly, satisfied my need to do work that adds something good to people’s lives, engaged me on every imaginable creative and intellectual level, and seemed fascinating and meaningful enough to do forever.

I tapped all my most talented friends, spent almost all the savings I possessed in this world, and at the end of three years I had the website of my dreams.  Beautiful, organic-feeling, functional, and…just…exactly right. Exactly as I wanted it– to be an invitation to people, not a blingy, blinking horsefly buzzing in people’s faces with the false urgency of BUY NOW, YOU MUST BUY NOW.  Because my experience has been that those who need the hoop, find it.  Or it finds them.  Us.

Just over two weeks ago, I finally launched the site. I enjoyed about 48 hours of post-partum euphoria before it began to dawn on me that I was staring down another years-long marathon of work,  for which I had no education, no preparation, no formal training, and no intuitive advantage.   I’m talking about the work of marketing.

I started to realize this because in the first week after launching the site I sold only three classes.

Three.

That’s three, total.

At the same time I was realizing this, several year-end bills were coming due.  I had to again dip into my vastly depleted savings to cover these bills (property tax, homeowners’ insurance, car insurance, and last year’s taxes, to name a few).  The very same week, I received a letter from my health insurance company informing me that my premiums were (for no stated reason) going to double starting January 1.  Suddenly, I was going to be one of the millions of Americans navigating (and thanking god for) the new options now available to us through the Affordable Care Act.

Within the same few days, I bounced a check and had to cover it with funds transferred from my business account.  Then, I got a call from my bank telling me my business account was about to be overdrawn (a check was coming in from workshop space rental) if I didn’t get funds in by 2pm that day.  I scrambled, panicking, transferring funds back from personal to business and then covering my ass with more transfers from my fast-dwindling Paypal account.  Then, I got a call from the cable company–somehow, I hadn’t received the last two bills (having just switched over everything to online billing) and I was now in arrears, past due for two months (how did I not realize this?!) and in danger of having my home internet connection suspended.  Put it on a credit card.  Move forward.

During this same span of ten or so days, I had only one student show up to my introductory hoop class for two weeks in a row.  The first week, I thought it was a fluke–that can always happen when you have a new, ongoing, drop-in class.  But the following week the single student who showed up was a dear friend, and she gently broke it to me that there were perhaps reasons other than luck that people were not showing up to the class.  It was the same feedback I had always gotten–I like to use words, sometimes too many of them–but this time I had to see and acknowledge the bigger picture, which was that, in planning the class lessons, I had entirely failed to take into account the actual, defining needs of beginning hoopers–the most important of which is to find an immediate, physical, and personal connection to the hoop, outside ideas, outside the neocortex, outside language…outside words.

In my zeal to simplify the techniques of hoopdance for my prospective students through a unique conceptual framework, I had spectacularly failed to take into account the single most significant feature of a class for new hoopers, which is to offer them a reason to hoop.   A way to connect to this big, awkward, even comically bizarre object.  The only hope I have ever had in dedicating my life to this bizarre object is that others might happen to find the joy and freedom through dance that I was able to find through this most unlikely of portals.  

And I had failed.

To be forty-three.  To start a business on your own.  To put everything–literally everything you have in the world– into it.  To have trusted your own judgment so far past what you could have reasonably earned through experience.  To feel the cold, terrifying whistle of the endless space beneath us, of the bottom that has already dropped out, because it is not there and never has been there to catch us.   This is what the ghost of failure feels like, as it sweeps past and breathes its icy breath down the back of your neck, where you haven’t tightened a scarf because you didn’t think you needed one.  It was warm this morning, years ago, when you left the house.

To begin something is to be willing to endure this stomach-turning, gooseflesh-making, face-searing feeling, not just once, and not just a couple of times, but over and over and over again, day after day.  I hadn’t remembered this.  I hadn’t had time.  In my eager rush, I had forgotten what it felt like to be a beginner.  To fail again, and again, and again.  And to keep trying.

So I just might have something to offer my students at the next class, after all.

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Digging Deep

After my father died, there was a year of pure incomprehension—a novocained horror that no word or thought possessed enough truth to penetrate. Through the spiraling cord of the dun-colored dorm room telephone I heard my mother say:  He’s gone, and my childhood, which was everything I had known up until that moment, simply disappeared over a cliff.  I had no idea I would never see it again.

When grief finally descended, its enormity enveloped me entirely. I was 19.  To try to speak of what I felt was beyond imagining.  To speak of it would be to open my throat to the emptiness I now knew to be swinging beneath all things at all times.  To speak of it would be to acknowledge my father’s unbeing.  It would be like throwing dirt into his grave, on top of him, tossing dirt into his face.  To speak of it was to give my permission that he no longer be.  This was the thing that was unthinkable.

Those long years of my twenties, when I lived in a young adult’s body with the mind of a teenager and the gravid heart of a bitter old woman, there were exactly two occasions on which words comforted me.  The first happened about a year after my father’s death.  I was visiting his church, the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  It was a new year service, in which the joys and sorrows of the past year were invited to be shared and acknowledged.  In this room there were faces I had known almost all my life.  I wanted to stand and witness.  I hadn’t known about the annual ritual and had nothing prepared.  I stood and my voice shattered out in a crazed jangle.  My deep, involuntary sobs rang against the walls like a fire alarm. One of my father’s dearest friends ran over and threw her arms around me from behind my chair, rocking me until I could become quiet.  It took awhile.

Moments after the service ended, a woman I had never seen before came right up to me, took me by the shoulders, and looked straight into my eyes.  “After my father died,” she said, “It took me ten years to speak of him without crying.”  She enfolded me in a warm, tight hug.  I struggled for the breath to thank her.  I don’t know who she was and I never saw her again.

Several years later, I was working for The Sun Magazine in Chapel Hill.  Sometimes, when I came to pick up manuscripts, I would sit in the back of the office and read back issues.  Once I happened upon an essay written by my friend and boss, editor Sy Safransky.  He spoke movingly about both his fragmented and troubled relationship with his forbidding, traditional Jewish father, and the utter shock and desperate sorrow he felt when the old man died.   The essay ended with an old saying that my memory says came from the Persians:  “You have to dig deep to bury your daddy.”  Even the ancient ones had known my sadness.

This week—twenty-four years after my dad’s death—I have been in Bali, at a hoopdance retreat I help facilitate each year.  And though every hoop gathering is special, something different is possible here.  I feel it now.

The container, the metaphysical phenomenon of energetic space, that spirals out of our gathering here is strong and gentle enough to allow the long-buried water table of my grief to move and flow again, tasting as pure as it did the day it first poured through me.  There is no real logic or sensible explanation in this.  It somehow comes from the land, from the gods in this land, from the deeply gentle people who live in this enchanted place, and from the dreams and love my fellow hoopers bring and surround me with here.

Looking at it from a practical standpoint, there is no good reason to travel to Bali—or, really, anywhere.  In many ways our world is imploding.  There are many more things in life that would seem, from many or even most perspectives, to be much more pressingly important to attend to.  You won’t find me arguing on that front.

But when it comes to the art of healing, there is mystery, unpredictability, strangeness, and the containment of radically divergent truths.  I don’t even fully understand what is happening to me here, or how.  I do know that for a long time I have felt that the terrible, sickening shadow left by my father’s disappearance from this world, which felt wrong on all imaginable levels, has hung too heavily over the light of his being, which lit the world for fifty wonderful years.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt an obscure but overpowering sadness when I see a man dining alone at a restaurant.  Especially, somehow, if it’s a man who seems to find pleasure in his meal, in his single glass of wine.  As a waitress I had to hold back tears a few times over the years, serving men like this in my section.

Tonight, as I received a reflexology treatment on my danced-out feet, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye an intersection in my old hometown, and the shiny black exterior of a bar and grill my dad was particularly fond of.  It was one of the places we’d hit for dinner when my brother and I spent the night with him, a couple of times a week for some ten years.  And suddenly it struck me…the other five nights a week.  My dad was the man eating alone in the restaurant.  Enjoying his meal, certainly, enjoying his one glass of white wine.   But alone.

As I lay on the table, my tears falling into the bowl of flowers beneath my face, I decided that tonight I would roll up to the heavy door of First Street Bar and Grill, and pull it open.  I would see a handsome, blue-eyed man, about fifty years old maybe, sitting alone at the bar with a salad and a basket of bread, the top button of his white starched dress shirt undone, his blue striped tie slightly loosened.  His light brown hair going a little gray at the temples.  His bright, intelligent, open expression.  And I decided I would walk in, sit down next to him, order myself a large ginger ale—with lime—and turn to him, and start a conversation.

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Mama Dora

Under the soft circle of light from her living room lamp
Mama Dora would slowly scratch my scalp and back
as I leaned against her knees, watching Hee Haw.
The little dun ottoman held the center of the simple room,
as though settled in the knowledge that it was enough,
backed by the solid ship of the brown nubbly couch.

I could drink my own sweet tea, poured heavily
from the caramel-colored enamel pitcher into a glass glass,
and I could eat a peanut butter and jelly on Bunny bread
even hours after supper
just by asking for it– or cereal–
the miracle of cereal at night.

At bedtime she would sit in front of her vanity,
a wedding gift, bought new in 1925
and pull the dark combs from the flat fold of shining white hair–
the long silk shock of it.
I could touch it.

When it was time to climb into bed I was beside her, holding her,
and my parents knew– I was too little
to sleep alone away from home.  They hoped she would hold me.
Her warm dry body covered in a clean cotton nightdress, and her hands
so soft I had to press them into my face
and smell them.

It is late on a summer night, my father has not yet carried me, heavy,
from the sweet clasp of Mama Dora
to the cold, cold bed of the Oldsmobile.
Everything has not yet happened.
The world made up of everything you feel
before judgment.

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To Draw a Circle

It’s a stunningly Carolina blue afternoon, the day between Christmas and my birthday, and I’ve been lucky enough to grab an hour’s hoop practice in the parking lot beneath the huge blue water tower.  The mild, sweet climate (so unlike New York at the moment!) and a couple days’ rest with family made my movement feel intensely fresh and alive.

This past weekend with my brilliant colleagues in the New York Flow Show–some of the most dynamic engines of the flow arts community–reattuned my awareness to the uniqueness of the community we share.  As implausible as it may seem, there is something about spinning things that brings you together into a particular spherespace where time unfolds at a pleasantly navigable pace and the world of things makes a new kind of sense.  It’s a special community space that not only reflects inclusivity–the capacity to contain all–in its very iconography (the circle, the sphere) but also embodies this principle in ways that amaze me as they emerge, and inspire me to keep reaching within myself to practice the arts most important to our survival as human beings: patience and tolerance.

This month, a soul-warpingly horrific event changed all of us. The morning after the shooting, my first very conscious thought–before I even remembered where I was or what had happened–was a vision of the principal flying through the air, her hands raised and utterly empty, trying to take down the gunman.

The same newly-sharp crack that then divided the nation also runs through the spin community.  We certainly don’t all see the same path towards preserving our security and humanity as we move into the next era.  The days and weeks following the shooting, some of us discovered for the first time–thanks to social media–how different our visions really are.  And yet, we were able (if not all the time, then the dramatically vast majority of it) to share our different views, to speak openly and I would even say nakedly to one another about our divergent beliefs.   Whoever needs the hoop, finds the hoop.  And that could be anyone.

Every holiday, I sit down–as many of you do–for delicious meals and warm laughs with family and old friends who might have voted or even heartily campaigned opposite me in every election of our lives.   The circle of the year swings around, fittingly, with the containment of opposites–not only possible, but sometimes all the sweeter.  Because if we lose the capacity to break bread with those we can’t agree with, then the world–by which we always mean the world of humanity–is lost too.

I was raised Presbyterian until I was 7.  At that point my dad joined the Unitarian Church.  The Unitarians can be awfully short on dogma–which was particularly true in this fledgling congregation in 1977 in North Carolina–so for quite some time I had no idea what this church represented or believed.  I just drew pictures, sang songs, and played with the other kids.  But one Sunday school lesson sticks with me:  we were learning about all the major religious symbols the world over.  There was the cross, of course, and the Om, the Star of David, and the Star and Crescent.  Containing them all was the Unitarian symbol:  the Circle of Oneness.  I remember thinking at the time, “Yeah!  THAT’S what I believe!  The Circle of Oneness.”  It was the only one that made them all count.

I’m lucky that my life led me back to the circle.  Because I truly do honor and feel expressions of faith all around me, everywhere I go.  I do believe that each of us deserves some respite from wrestling with the tyranny of our own thoughts, and that that place of rest must be of one’s own choosing.

And there are always those who are trying to draw the circle ever wider.  Enlarging the common space.  May I remember how much has been sacrificed, by how many, in the quest to preserve political and spiritual civility.   May I practice what I can, on any scale, no matter how small.

Atmospheric

by Grace Rockafellow

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Forgiveness in Three Parts

I grew up thinking of myself as a forgiving person.  The truth of that reflects much more about my dumb luck, that the universe chose for me two parents who never once failed me in any meaningful way, than it does about my forgiving capacities.  What it really meant was that when the moment came when I could not forgive–which is the moment to bow down and call on the true power of forgiveness–I found myself insufficient to the task.

I met my failing with the newly discovered tool of my movement practice.  Physically listening to my hoop for hours each day had changed my relationship to my embodied experience of time.  That time slowed to the speed of the hoop, and allowed me to observe my emotions as they arose, and simply move with them in their unfolding.

For a long time, all I could notice was my inability to forgive–also known as anger.  That took up all the time and space I had inside.  Honestly, there wasn’t much to move with.  So I watched that feeling, and sat with the understanding that I, the forgiving, kind, and just Ann Humphreys, was facing my limits.  It was not only that I could not open my heart.  It was that I could not even try.

Then, somehow, a process rose out of that practice of observation.  In retrospect it seemed to have had three parts.  I do not suggest that forgiveness is a simple or easy undertaking.  However, I do feel that somehow through my movement practice I have been gifted by an insight as to how to prepare for the possibility of forgiveness, should it someday arrive.  And taking those preparatory steps might be, in and of itself, enough.  Because I believe forgiveness to be a form of grace–a beneficence meted out to us, one by one, by a suddenly and unexpectedly kind hand of chance.

Part 1:  Humility

At the same time I hit my forgiveness wall, I was also trying to “catch myself out” in my movement practice.  It started out as noticing that the moments I would lose contact with the hoop were the selfsame moments in which I would find myself on some kind of mental ego-loop, be it blame, self-justification, or one of their equally attractive cousins.  I started to notice how the focus of my subconscious mind seemed to be bizarrely and intensely on telling myself I had never made a mistake.  When I delved into this more deeply I discovered the sharp sorrow that I was unconsciously protecting myself from–the empathetic awareness of the pains and disappointments I had caused.

And the more I became aware of this, the more I became aware of my own oblivion, which seemed to regularly allow me to…actually…make…mistakes.  This was not about self-recrimination.  It was the simple act of recognizing that, at times, I had acted inconsiderately because I had, in fact, not been considering anything, or anyone, outside myself.   I was unaware.  I had not meant to.  I did not do it on purpose.  I had made a mistake.

As it became more and more evident to me that I was blind to myself and acted out of impulses that I might never come to understand fully, it began to break into my awareness, like little dashes of light, that the person I could not forgive might, too, have made a mistake.  Acted in error.  Acted in a way that did not reflect intent.

The Latin root word of humility means “soil, earth.”  It means we are all on the same level.  No one better, no one worse.  No human body is buried any higher than another.

This was the first step.

Part 2:   Wishing No Harm

I didn’t realize that there had been a first step until I completed it.  It just happened.  But with that sliver of objective distance, I began to see that there was something there I could work with.  Motion had occurred.  The interior space was no longer clogged absolutely full of my judgment.  Because I had had to make room for my own possible mistakes.

But what I felt was not forgiveness.  It was not opening.  There was no generosity in it.  I simply had counted myself among ye who shall be judged.  There was no bridge towards the person I could not forgive–I did not see any reason for there to be, even though a huge part of our lives overlapped.

However, because of this overlap, I was often confronted with my desire to see this person fail–and, because of our shared community, I was also confronted with the ugliness of my wish.  I can’t possibly know, but it is hard not to sometimes wonder if all of our wishes for revenge really reflect what we wish on ourselves–the punishment we, in some deep, inaccessible and  unacknowledged place, feel we are deserving of–and that this is what makes those feelings so particularly intolerable.

Regardless, at some point that sensation of ugliness began to feel unwelcome.  And it somehow occurred to me that I had a secret option:  I did not have to rush to re-embrace this person, but I could still, from afar, aim to intend no harm.  Instead of indulging my exhausted appetite for visions of their downfall and my triumph (all very carefully tucked below all rational radars), I could instead, patiently search for the quieter spaces in my heart that wished for nothing to happen–places that were content to be left alone, that could allow to live and let live.  To wish no harm.  It’s harder than it sounds.

That part took up a good couple of years.  In my movement practice I would allow my attention to return to the spots in my heart that were heavy with that ugliness.   And I would focus, find, and feel places that genuinely wished for nothing to happen.  No opening, no friendship, but also no damning or schadenfreude.  Those places were there.  But I had to look for them.

And the longer I looked for them, the more often I found them.  Places that wanted nothing.  Places that had no agenda, no dog in the fight.  And just keeping company with them.  I think when it comes to forgiveness we might feel tempted to give up before we start because we expect too much of ourselves.  We think if we aren’t capable of turning the other cheek, why try for anything short of that?  But I’ve come to believe that sometimes forgiveness might only occur if it is allowed to do so very, very slowly.

To wish no harm.  To wish no harm.

Harder than it sounds, but not as hard as you might think.

Part 3:  Grace

In the course of human events, it becomes necessary to acknowledge that certain gifts only befall us when we make no specific effort.   The poet Sylvia Plath described “a gift, a love-gift/ Utterly unasked for.”   Once in a very long while, something essential may drop from the sky and into our lap.  Though a sworn secular–I might even call myself a scienceist–I identify such moments by the name grace…also my mother’s name.

Years into Step Two I wasn’t wishing for grace.  I wasn’t looking for a ready way to move beyond where I was–I had no reason to.  Everything was moving along as it had been…no harm no foul, to borrow a phrase from college basketball.  In other words, no motivation to move the forgiveness process forward was going to come from inside me.

But if the gift of grace is to arrive, it will– even in a clumsy or a terrible package.  What actually happened was something terrible.  I received news that the father of the person I could not forgive had inexplicably vanished.  Having lost my own father over twenty years before, the very first phrase to pop into my mind was “something you would not wish on your worst enemy.”  For the first time in all my life, I really felt the meaning of those words.  Where there had been first anger, and then nothing, there appeared in my heart a gash–the smallest and most rudimentary kind of opening.  And within five minutes, I had written to her–our first communication in five years.   Two months later, this photo was taken.

(And her dad came home, too).

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Two Whole Feet

I’m 48 hours housebound, looking out into the bruise-colored sky that has followed the hurricane.  Sirens cycle through the air every half hour.  Earlier, the holy rounds of Aum came gently through my walls, reminding me that I am not the only one caught in the wheel—there’s always some human voice, somewhere, devoted to that task.

And it’s true that barely going out of doors for a few days can cause one to live and re-live the same day again and again, until it is indistinguishable from one long day.  And it’s true that not just with every year but with every hour, time spills ever more surely outward, in all directions, like an upended bucket.  When did this start, exactly?  Once it proceeded, steadily and orderly, like blood in the veins—now it leaks all over and loses form, as if it did not even mind bleeding all over itself.

And it doesn’t.

I’m sure it’s also true that I notice this in a different way because I don’t have children.  Children would sop up all that spilled time in one afternoon.  For this reason, I both don’t miss them, and do.

Something is happening to my body.  And I know what it is.  I know because my body and I have long conversations, of an evening.  I’ve learned to listen closely, and I hear.  From my body I’ve learned that I’m standing precisely in the middle of life.  And in recognizing this I also see that my body has begun, in its slow way, to die.

Is it a terrible thing, to say that my body sings to me a song of death?  And that I find that song very beautiful?  My toes sing to me from farther away than they once did.  The distance between us is shocking, awe-inspiring.  I’m still at the controls, but they are experiencing a world I know less and less about.  A feeling closes around them like wool, deafening them to sensation, to themselves in space.  In my movement practice I patiently sink down into them, offering my undivided attention—surely they’ll rush back to me, like grateful children to a busy parent.  But they don’t.

With time flying past me on all sides, I lower my hips, bending my knees.  It’s as though my entire carriage is shrink-wrapped from within, holding a different form than the one I’m asking for.  Over the last several weeks, every time I get to my right ankle, it reliably pops.

Strangely, at first, this reassured me somehow.  See?  I have a real body!  It was as though my ankle had never done anything before, and look, now it had!  I applauded its originality—there was a specific sensation of crunchiness, spread like a wing over the curve on the top of my foot.  This was somehow the result, I could feel, of a slipped connection through the fourth toe and the heel.  Sinking down low enough into the foot could realign these separated parts into a whole again.  I did this over and over, hearing the crunch every time, becoming less and less sanguine as I did.

Because this certainly meant breakdown—a flat tire that can’t, actually, be replaced—how do you dance on a foot that can’t feel itself?  Is fighting itself?  Fighting its own engineering?  How do you dance with that?

Order moves inexorably towards disorder.  I remember the smack of plain sense this fact made to me when it hit my brain some thirty years ago, despite not really comprehending it.  It didn’t seem plausible, for example, that I would encounter this most inescapably in my own body.  And now that I am, my face relaxes as though for the first time.  Because I can feel now what half the world already knows:  that the body dies.  Whatever we believe or feel we know about the soul–or whatever is called the soul—the body dies.

And as it dies it sings of everything it has been through. I hear that song and dance to it, no matter how small it is.  And tonight, as I moved with the song, my ankle suddenly landed back into the way it used to feel.  And I danced again on two whole feet.

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These Are the First Days of Fall

This morning, I awoke early to cool breeze and clouds.  Took my mutt for a quick walk, threading through the quiet side streets solidly staked down by old wrought iron and filigreed brown stone.  One tree pressed up a full six inches past the sidewalk, its rootwork bulging through the four corners some planners allotted it long ago, when its tiny frame still held only the potential to become a tree.

Telltale whips of cold wind announced the arrival of rain, the skies suddenly evacuating more water than it seemed possible they could contain.  Vincent and I ducked into my car in the back lot, so beyond-belief lucky to have this unimaginable luxury.   We tootled down to an almost-out-of-walking-distance coffee shop, retrieving a strong coffee for my hardworking house guest, and a decaf for me–my body having finally said no to caffeine this year.  It was a long, and satisfying, love.

This year, I have seen the body of my beloved companion—which I remember so well as the shiny, fat, black-brown sausage of puppyhood—whittled down closer to his skeleton, shocking me with the edges he has always contained.  Tiny licks of white dot his beautiful dark coat.  He sighs, heavy with contentment.  But I notice how seldom he wants to chase the ball, or the stick, or play with other dogs of any age.  He is more circumspect, analyzing his situation for some time before choosing to act.  None of the young dog’s heedless, joyful catapult into the world.  Still, he enjoys his walk.

My own body, too, shocks me, though I’ve always known–haven’t I?–what living in the world does to the human form.   The sturdy joints I have relied on for everything begin to complain, lightly–they must be tired of having to serve so many needs, so much work and use.  My body becomes miserly, hoarding its reserves of water to serve heart and lungs rather than every inch of skin–then carelessly dumping out all that precious hydration in sweat the moment I emerge into the sun, which seems to pierce the sky like a blade…

Last summer when I visited proud and beautiful Finland, my hosts and I stood in their lovely yard, surveying the fairy-tale-like purity of the land around us.   Ilkka, a brawny Finn who cooked for us every night, looked at me evenly and spoke for the first time what I had felt deep in my brain for a while:  “I feel the sun getting hotter.”

The gods will hurl their thunderbolts, but slowly– as one unbroken beam, shining down with life-giving and life-altering force, just a little more every day.

I don’t know how to live in the world as it’s burning.  And I am burning too.  It’s all just happening too slowly, somehow, to actually do anything about.

 

 

 

 

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