Happiness is doing one thing, fully and with singularity. When you are holding the baby, you are just holding the baby, conscious perhaps of the regulation going on between your two bodies, but not much else. When you are reorganizing the bookshelf, you are reorganizing the bookshelf, when you are reading Woolf you are reading Woolf, and so on. It is when we fragment, try to multi-task every moment of our lives, that an overall malaise and exhaustion from constant juggling occurs. This is commonly known as stress.
Unfortunately for me, lately, when I am holding the baby, I am not just holding the baby. Sure, I’m aware of her body adjusting to mine and vice versa, and in that one moment I am content. But then my mind is off, sorting through the horrific dreams that have been besetting me, the to-do list that only grows in its complication and impossibility, the difficult nexus of emotions surrounding this time of my life and this time of year. On Sunday I was standing in the circle we create around the altar, waiting to receive communion, my hands an open cradle for the host. However, my mind could not mimic this openness to religious experience, and I stood there with waves of overwhelm about my life situation crashing on my head, feeling that I might just drown from it then and there. Then I took the bread, I drank the cup, and I chose to swim.
It is that level of being unable to put aside the constant stream of troubling thoughts and feelings that has led my body to revolt against the amount of stress I am putting it under. I have developed painful sores in my mouth, swollen lymph nodes, and a neck so tight you could use it as a nutcracker. I woke up yesterday from a string of nightmares that involved self-mutilation, cannibalism, and mermaid-hunting to find a text from my nanny calling out sick, and an email from my bank announcing my latest overdraft. I think I have figured out why the colors of Christmas are green and red — you bleed green the entire season.
In the midst of this period of stress, painful endings, and fear of the unknown, I performed in the Student Showcase at my dance studio this past Saturday. I had not performed dance in 3 years, and it seemed an unlikely time to take on such a challenge — already overtaxed, I was nervous, tired, and horrified that I had to wear tight spandex pants in public (as you all know, I have a pants aversion. I tried to get the group to at least wear sparkly hotpants over the workout pants of choice, but they weren’t game). However, it was a wonderful experience, full of joy and life. Dance is a huge part of my life — if I could, I would take class every single day, for 3 hours per day. As life stands I get there 3 times a week, for one hour each, but it is a glorious hour for me, a time to let go, move my aching bones and pretend I’m Harry Shum Jr. I have wrangled a few friends to come to class with me, but for the most part, this is a part of my life that I do on my own, albeit with the whole set of amazing dance friends that I have made over the years. The Showcase was a chance to let my non-dancer friends and family come see what I am up to all the time, without the pressure of having to shake it themselves. I invited a few friends directly, but felt too shy about the whole thing to make a big deal out of it. I am grateful that a few good friends and my loving husband came anyway, as it really added to my experience to have their smiling faces in the audience.
The person I was most excited about seeing me dance was my daughter. As I previously established, Olive loves to dance, a fact that brings me an unending amount of glee. I was hoping she would make it through my whole performance without crying or falling asleep, so she could share in the moment of her first dance performance. Indeed, she adored every minute of it. I wonder what it was like for her, to see the Mama she usually sees catering to her every need in a much different role, careening around the floor with strangers, jumping and twisting and spinning. I hope it was inspiring to her. After I performed I went and sat with her, and she gave the other pieces her full attention, as if this was the best entertainment she could possibly imagine on a Saturday evening. At the very end, when I went down for the final bow, she stood on her dad’s knees and clapped, then picked me out of the crowd of dancers and held her arms up in her incredibly charming way of saying “Pick me up, Mama!”, which she does so vehemently that her chubby cheeks are squeezed together. It was lovely to have her there, and, most of all, extremely important for me to have a joyous accomplishment at this time in my life of difficult endings and stress about the future.
I have been slowly cleaning out my office, and as I do so, I’ve found a whole bunch of whimsical artwork I’ve done over the years: skulls, owls, cupcakes, angels, monsters, teacups, and the like. Within that horde I found one I did at a time in my life when I felt I needed to choose between two important things. It was made up of mostly swirls and dotted pathways, and it said in big letters, “Tethering between a whirlpool and falcon”. That was the phrase that had come to me, when I was trying to make that tough decision, and what I ended up choosing was… both the whirlpool AND the falcon, neither perfectly as I wanted them to be, but rather as I could have them, in their imperfect reality. In my tethering, I simply expanded to hold them both, sky and sea, and though it hurt I see now that it was the right choice. I hope I can bring that into my current transformation, allowing myself to become larger in the midst of it, not closing down and shutting the door on my past or becoming a small, bitter person as I look to my future with cold practicality. I want to take my time in the tethering, and see if a new way arises, one which my current mind, so full of all the urgencies of this season, cannot fathom yet. I want Kierkegaard’s purity of heart to will one thing, but I want that one thing to be ever expanding, allowing me to be here, now here, now, here.