My mother is a dancer, an embodiment of grace. To me, that sublime union of strength and flexibility. When she danced, an invisible surge coursed through her limbs, transmuting her shy and quiet self into an energy that extended, reached out, till the rest of us were touched. I followed her on to the dance floor, hands on barre, spine erect and knees bent. She gave my body a way to speak, even if my voice could not. She showed me how training could make movement look effortless and that there is power in that illusion.
She was my teacher on the dance floor. But off stage and out of the studio, she also knew what it meant to let feelings flow through the body. It was her tears. I didn’t want that lesson. It wasn’t one I could choose to warm-up for, stretch through, stop when the music ended. It had a life of its own and spoke through mom as she mourned the loss of loved ones; carried the burden of guilt for her children’s suffering; as she grieved choices made and the shifting of her own identity through divorce, aging and illness. Her resilience broke me down till I saw the strength of tears and the courage it takes to not hide them.
But I was a reluctant student. She says I never cried as a child, or very rarely. The truth is I did, but only when alone at night, with just the pillow to hold my tears. I’m sure I eventually confessed this to her, but did I ever let on to my thinking? “I can’t grow up and marry. When will I cry?”
Thankfully, mom invited me to dance.
Now 79, she is still a dancer, though Parkinson’s disease makes it hard for her to remember this. Tremors chase away feelings, muscle memories, of grace. But I see it. She still dances with the duet of will and surrender, knowing what she can and can’t control, finding the inner stillness inside the current of nervous activity. Perhaps she has always been showing me that life is really a dance between dichotomies; or more likely, a sort of circular round where everyone, everything, is a part of the choreography.