SWELTERING HEAT

I rushed into the car rental place, bringing the heat outside into the air-conditioned room. “I need to keep my rental car for another week,” I explained to the man behind the counter.

“Ah, Allison,” the man said walking towards the customer service desk. I was a little startled. I didn’t realize Gary (the tag on his shirt said his name was Gary) knew my name.

Of course, I had been in several times the previous week. My old beat up Subaru was on its last legs and was in the shop. For the last several years I had been commuting to graduate school in Chicago. My car and I were both weary of the eight-hour round-trip. I was now finishing the last few weeks of my summer fieldwork assignment in Chicago and was desperate for transportation. I had come in the first time the previous week asking for a good rate on a rental car. My budget didn’t allow much room for the unexpected and it certainly didn’t allow for extensive rentals of expensive cars.  I came in needing a cheap car for a few days. Simple enough.

But then the mechanics working on my Subaru reported they were having problems and it was going to take more time and cost more money…so I went back to the rental car place a second time to see if I could keep the car longer. And to negotiate the cost below their normal rate, somehow trying to make it fit within my precariously unbalanced budget. Now the mechanics were saying my Subaru still wasn’t done and probably wouldn’t be done until next week. So I was back again. Good grief. Gary didn’t seem particularly happy to see me.

“I need to keep my rental car for another week,” I said again. “But I don’t need it the whole week. How about I keep it on your lot and only actually rent it from midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday and from midnight Wednesday to midnight Thursday?”

I figured that way I could get to Chicago on Tuesday and Thursday as needed without having to pay for a full week’s rental. I had no idea who was going to give me a ride to and from the rental car place at midnight or how I’d get around the rest of the week; I was just trying to focus on one thing at a time. Like expensive rental cars, planning and prevention were luxuries I could not afford. The demands for my time, attention and money kept hitting faster than my limited resources could keep up. The best I could do was triage and try to tend to whatever problem was screaming the loudest at any given moment.

“If you still need the car, why don’t you just keep it for the week?” Gary sounded slightly annoyed. I probably would be too if I saw myself from a well-planned, well-ordered perspective based in a world of plenty.

“Because I can’t afford a whole week’s rental,” I said bluntly. I was way beyond shame.

Gary held my gaze for a moment as if considering. “Your car is in the shop, right?” he asked. I nodded yes. “Didn’t they tell you it was going to be ready last week?” he probed.

I nodded again. “Yes, but I guess they’re having some problems with it.”

“What kind of problems?” he asked.

Good grief….I don’t know! Problem problems. The kind of problems mechanics have when they work on cars. How was I supposed to know?  “I’m not sure,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. Gary was still looking at me.

“Maybe you should have your husband call and talk to them about your car,” he suggested.  Great idea Gary, but that leads us to yet another problem.

“I don’t have a husband,” I said flatly.

“Well, then your boyfriend,” he said, shaking his head, exasperated and gesturing, obviously annoyed by details that were beside the point. Clearly, his point was I should ask whatever man was in my life to talk to the mechanic.

“Look,” I said, suddenly embarrassed. “There is no one to make that call. I mean, there was someone…” Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel the need to explain? “I was married. But then we separated and then we divorced. And then he died. Suddenly and unexpectedly…”

And then suddenly and unexpectedly, I started crying. “He died last Christmas Eve!” And then I started wailing. “I still can’t believe he died on Christmas Eve! He left our kids standing on his porch, knocking on his door, looking forward to having Christmas with him…they were still in his driveway waiting when the police came and hauled his dead body out the door!” By then, Gary seemed embarrassed too. Poor Gary.

“Well, maybe your Dad could call and talk to the mechanic,” he said quietly. He no longer sounded annoyed; his tone was beginning to twinge with compassion.

Oh boy, I could feel it coming… is he ever going to be sorry he said that! I involuntarily rested my elbows on the counter and held my head in my hands while great sobs wracked through my whole body.  “Daddy’s dead too!” I cried. “He died the year before! They’re both dead and I’m trying to finish graduate school in Chicago while I live and work and raise my kids here in Indiana!” I was beyond embarrassed. I was pathetic.

Gary must have been afraid to say anything else because he waited in silence until I regained some composure. He handed me the tissue box from his desk and asked quietly, “Allison, where is your car and what kind of car is it?” I told him and he looked up the number in the phone book. He dialed the shop and said, “This is Mr. Ballard calling about the Subaru that my wife brought in last week. I’ve been on a business trip and just got home and discovered the car is still not ready for pick up. I had understood it was supposed to have been ready last week. I’m not happy to find that she’s still driving a rental car. I need an update on the Subaru’s status and need to know when it’s going to be finished.”

Go Gary! The conversation went back and forth on the phone. Mechanical banter appeared to be a language my new husband could speak.  “Okay,” I heard him say. “So she should be able to pick it up this afternoon? Great! And if you have any problems, could you please call me at this number? Thank you. Goodbye.”

Gary got off the phone and handed me his business card. “Allison, if your car isn’t ready for you this afternoon, give me a call.” He came around the counter and awkwardly patted me on the back.  “It’s okay,” he said reassuringly. “Everything is going to be okay.”

I resisted the impulse to bury my head in his chest. Instead, I mumbled thank you and walked out of the cool air conditioning, back into the sweltering heat.

THE PINK APRON

The pink apron tied just like my Japanese-style taiko drumming costume. I wrapped the apron around my naked torso. “The only pink taiko coat I’ll ever wear,” I thought as I tossed my purse, water bottle and clothing into the bottom of the empty locker. My stainless steel water bottle clanked against the metal as it landed. The sound caused me to pause and take notice. I thought maybe I should hang my clothes up, but decided it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to be here long enough for my T-shirt to wrinkle. I turned, opened the curtain and walked out into the empty waiting room.

I ignored the pile of magazines and directed my attention to the TV. A woman was flipping houses, talking about how painting interior walls in neutral colors shows off beautiful woodwork and makes a house easier to sell. I thought of my own house. The blue living room, the yellow striped kitchen, the purple office, green music room, orange foyer and hallway…the bathroom that ended up Pepto Bismol pink. (Not necessarily the color I was trying for.)

“If I have breast cancer, maybe I should repaint the house in neutral colors so the kids can sell it without having to put too much work into it,” I thought to myself.  If I have cancer. That appeared to be the question of the moment. This was my second mammogram in two days. The first was a routine screening. And then they called asking me to come back. So here I was, sitting in the same chair, wearing another pink taiko apron.

A nurse with laryngitis came in with an inviting smile, gestured me into the hallway, then into the screening room and to a chair. She sat next to me and handed me a piece of paper that explained I was there for a second screening due to concerns that had surfaced after the first one. It also mentioned that my insurance might need to be notified. Insurance had paid for the first screening at 100%. I hoped it would pay for this second one as well. Especially since I might be needing cash flow to buy a whole lot of paint! I told the nurse that I had not contacted my insurance company and she whispered,  “We did that for you.” She touched my arm, smiled again and said, “It’s taken care of.”

“Okay, well, so far so good,” I thought. I appeared to be in good hands. Efficient hands. Hands that wanted to manipulate my right breast into a machine that flattened it out to “get a better look.”  I stood in front of the machine I had met for the first time a few days earlier. The nurse reached in under the pink apron for my breast and became tangled in the ties. I took the apron off and threw it across the room into a nearby chair.  The nurse smiled at my willingness to be bare breasted. If that was the biggest challenge of this whole experience, I was good to go.

The nurse placed my breast onto the flat panel of the machine, then instructed me to grab onto a bar above and look up in the opposite direction as she turned a knob that pressed the breast flat between two panels. I could feel my pectoral muscles stretch taut from the odd position. “Don’t breathe,” the nurse instructed, catching me on an exhale, leaving me wishing I had held on to that last inhale a little longer!

The nurse took the picture, removed the breast and repositioned the machine that suddenly sprouted an array of knobs and dials that I hadn’t noticed. This machine could clearly be positioned many different ways, capturing breasts in a wide variety of holds. I wondered why such engineering genius didn’t include some rounded corners that would prevent these sharp edges from digging into the tender side of my upper rib cage and armpit. Ouch! To divert my attention from the discomfort, I focused instead on timing my breath to avoid being caught on another exhale. And I also focused on the photograph of a large pink ribbon hanging on a street lamp in what appeared to be a downtown venue. Must have been part of the annual breast cancer awareness campaign. I had, of course, noticed the ribbons when they were hanging. Each year, they lined the city streets for a month or so causing everyone to notice. But standing here with my breast pressed in this machine that was taking a second screening, I was more aware of the photograph of this single hanging pink ribbon than I had been when driving by an entire street full of them.

The nurse removed my breast one last time, handed my apron to me and gestured for me to sit down in the now-empty chair. We looked at the images together, the nurse pointing at the area of concern. A white circle. A single white circle. “I’m going to call this a glob,” she whispered with a smile. “That’s not a medical term by the way, but since we don’t know what it is, we’re going to call it a glob.”

“Good enough,” I thought. “Sounds like a feeble opponent. I’m not sure I can win a bout with cancer, but I’m pretty sure I can tackle a glob!”

“I’ll show these to the radiologist and we’ll see if she wants an ultrasound,” whispered the nurse.

I nodded and looked at my watch. 2:30. When I scheduled this 2:00 appointment yesterday, I explained I had to leave at 3:00. I had actually suggested coming in next week, but the scheduling nurse had said, “No, let’s get you in tomorrow. We’ll make sure and get you out of here by 3:00.” I mentioned this now to the laryngitis nurse, explaining I had to teach a taiko drumming class at a school at 3:30. The nurse didn’t ask what taiko was. She just smiled and said, “I’m sure you’ll be fine” and touched my arm again. I wasn’t sure if she meant I would be able to leave in time or that she was betting on me being able to beat the glob. I decided to wait it out. I had 30 minutes to enjoy this familiar world where my biggest concern was whether or not I would get to taiko class on time–I wasn’t giving up a single second of it.

The nurse smiled goodbye and I was ushered into an ultrasound room by a technician who introduced another machine that wanted me to take off my pink taiko apron and lie down against a support. I raised my arm above my head and felt that now-familiar stretch as the tech spread warm gel on my breast with a probe. I turned my head back around in an awkward position so I could watch the glob on the screen. I wanted to see it in action, wanted to get to know it better. Apparently it was a chameleon because on this screen it appeared as a black circle. I wondered when it had moved in and made my breast its home. I wondered it if was planning on redecorating and if so, was it going with a creative color scheme that would express its individuality or was it choosing a practical neutral décor that would have a greater resale value? The probe continued moving, capturing the glob from many angles. The glob was quite photogenic and did not appear to have a side that was noticeably better than another. It appeared glob-like from every angle. And it appeared to not have a busy schedule. It was just hanging out at 2:45 in the afternoon, not at all concerned about getting to taiko class on time.

I noted that the technician had taken about 30 photographs. Surely this was a large enough portfolio for any glob! Glancing at my watch, I began scheming exactly how I could get off the table, wipe off the gel, retrieve my clothes and escape unnoticed. And then the technician stopped. She put the probe back into its place and handed me washcloths.

“You can clean yourself up,” she said. “I’m just going to send these images off to the radiologist and we’ll have some answers for you in just a minute.”

“Should I go get dressed?” I asked, ready to put my escape plan into action, ready to get my water bottle, purse and T-shirt…ready to gather these simple items that would indicate I was a normal person in the midst of a normal day.

“No, you just sit right there,” the technician said firmly as she wheeled her rolling chair to the computer in the corner of the room.

I looked up at the wall and saw another photograph of pink ribbons; this time, they were tired around trees. I hoped these annual campaigns had raised a lot of money for breast cancer research. Enough to identify this glob and know what it was capable of doing.  I looked at my watch again and thought about my class. I needed to leave in five minutes. I suddenly felt vulnerable and was no longer willing to sit bare breasted. I put on my pink taiko apron and wondered if it was still raining outside. I imagined a bunch of pink ribbons hanging dripping wet. I wondered if they resumed their shape once the sun dried up all the rain.

I thought about what a diagnosis of cancer would mean to my family. My 23-year-old daughter’s fiancé was getting chemo and my daughter was struggling to manage not only the stress and worry that came with his diagnosis and treatment, but also to finish grad school and her thesis. My eldest was taking a much-deserved month off before starting a new job. My newly married son had moved to Colorado to start a new business. And I had just started Skype sessions with my 4-month-old grandson in Texas.

I really wasn’t interested in introducing any of them to the glob. They had already lost their dad to a heart attack and their grandfather to mesothelioma. If I had cancer, I decided I would just keep it to myself. So much for research that suggests love and support can expedite healing. I wasn’t sure that sharing cancer news with my family would change my treatment plan or improve my prognosis or reduce my symptoms. I was, however, certain it would bring chaos into their lives…unwanted chaos they could do without. I decided I would shield them as long as possible. Maybe they wouldn’t notice my long, curly hair falling out. I could always claim a sudden desire to shave my head and celebrate my ability to finally drop some unwanted pounds. And wouldn’t a good prosthetic conceal a missing breast? Maybe they would never even have to know.

The technician wheeled her chair back across the room. “The radiologist said you appear to have some fluid-filled cysts in your breast,” she explained.

“The glob has a name!” I thought. “And apparently it doesn’t live alone, but has moved in an entire family!”

“Your breast are very dense so we just wanted to make sure we knew what we were looking at.” I sat on the ultrasound table with a blank look on my face. “What does she mean I have dense breasts?” I pondered. “Have my breasts always been dense? Do other women have dense breasts? Are mine the only ones?”

The technician stood up. “This is good news,” she smiled encouragingly, somewhat confused by my stupor. “You are free to go. Make sure you come back in a year for another screening.”  She opened the door. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:00 on the dot.

I thanked the tech and left the room. I got my things out of the locker and put on clothes. I dumped the pink taiko apron in the laundry basket, walked down the hall, smiled goodbye to the nurse with laryngitis, walked outside and took a breath. A full inhale and exhale followed by another. And another. As my breath slowly resumed an even rhythm, the sky started sprinkling.  I walked across the parking lot, not minding the rain. I called my mom as I walked to my car. “Did you know that I have dense breasts?” I asked. We laughed together as I drove to taiko class. I was relieved that, at least for now, I had enough time. And I was grateful that each year pink ribbons line the city streets. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

 

BEGINNER’S MIND

I turned to see him carry it in through the front door. My family was exchanging Christmas presents at my mother’s house. My friend had gone out to his car, saying he had forgotten something. I was sitting on the couch with my back towards the front door, but turned to see him carrying in a large black case that looked like it might be housing a large instrument.

“Is that a cello?” I asked curiously as he carried it into the living room.

“Yes it is,” he said and set it down in front of me.

“You’re giving me a cello?” I asked, stunned.

“Yes, I am,” answered the man of few words.

“I’m going to play the cello?” My middle-aged mind raced, trying to make sense out of this interesting turn of events.

“If you want,” he shrugged nonchalantly.

My family watched as I struggled to unzip the case, my fine motor skills failing me in the midst of my excitement. The case finally opened to reveal a cello and bow lying in wait. Joy flooded through me and then I’m not really sure what happened.  I’m told I spent the next 20 minutes or so manhandling my new bow and picking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as my family continued opening the presents my friend brought for them…brain teaser puzzles he intentionally selected to give them something to do while I explored my new cello as he anticipated I would. I eventually laid my new instrument to rest as we continued our holiday celebration, but went to bed that night tingling with excitement…I was going to learn to play the cello!

During the two years since, I have been screeching and fingering and bowing my way through this whole new world. Once again, I am a beginner and once again, I am falling in love. I am learning scales and struggling through basic technique. I am becoming reacquainted with pitch. I am playing simple songs. I am working to develop finger agility and striving to coordinate my bow. I am frustrated and elated and inspired. And nervous.

I am about to play my very first cello performance as a member of Fort Wayne’s Terrible Orchestra! This orchestra gives adults playing beginner instruments an opportunity to play in ensemble with other beginning adults.  The name doesn’t insult me; it reassures me. It reminds me that the expectation is low…very low. So low, it’s really hard to fail!

So low, in fact, that no one laughed at me when during my first group rehearsal my bow knocked the music off the stand of the person sitting next to me. (A cello is a large instrument that I am used to playing alone or sitting next to a teacher with plenty of space around us. When playing cello as a member of an orchestra, you sit close together! So close, that spatial awareness has become yet another facet of my learning curve!) Oh, most everyone in the orchestra, including me, did indeed laugh as our song was suddenly interrupted by scattered music cascading to the floor…but no one laughed at me! Everyone realizes that such things are bound to happen when playing in a terrible orchestra.

Attending orchestra has not yet heightened my technique or finger agility or intonation or quality of sound….in fact, those things are suffering because they are no longer getting my attention. Instead, I am learning the bass cleff. I am sight reading real music that doesn’t have fingerings written under the notes. My music at home has fingerings. When I was handed music the first day of orchestra, I realized I didn’t know the notes, much less how to play them. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, but without the finger markings, my brain simply couldn’t make the transfer. As we played, I would sometimes ask the people sitting nearby, “What is that note?” They would give me a quick answer….which wasn’t particularly helpful because whatever note it was,  I didn’t know how to find it on my instrument. But my eye was able to follow along the path of music and I excitedly played open strings whenever I recognized an A or D. By the end of our first rehearsal, I was doing this fairly consistently so all the As and Ds in the song were nicely accented regardless of whether those accents were part of the composer’s vision!

The first Sunday after rehearsal I spent several hours studying my new music and identifying notes and fingerings which I carefully marked in pencil (I’ve learned it’s not good form to mark music in ink!). When I returned for my second rehearsal, I was given new music and once again I was sight reading. But this time, because of my hours of independent study, I recognized most of the notes AND knew how to play them…I just couldn’t do it fast enough. I trust that speed will come in time. For now, I celebrate my progress.

So much so that I am excited (and nervous) for my orchestral debut. I have invited a few friends and family members and will show up in my performance blacks, ready to play what I can, confident that at the very least I can accent the As and Ds….most of them anyway!

 

 

 

 

 

LAKE MICHIGAN JULY 2018

Sun. Sand. Water. Wind. Waves. I sit on a beach at Lake Michigan. I sit for hours, doing nothing in particular. I stare at water so big it meets the horizon in one expansive curved line. I position and re-position in awkward angles to catch the sun. I brush at sand that clings and dries and grates against tender, sunburned skin. I swat at flies. I shift my hat. Guzzle water. Turn my head. This is the extent of my effort. I am simply being. Here and now.

Here comes a wave….and now it is gone. There’s a shaft of light…and now it is gone. A cloud… a breeze… a thought…they ruffle by and rifle through and they are gone. What lingers is the sense that I should be doing….something. But if I sit here long enough, that too will be gone. If I sit here long enough, the impulse to take action will dissipate like the eroding beach.

I float in this new rhythm of nothingness knowing that even my sitting is an act of doing. Even as I sit, Fort Wayne Taiko moves forward. I founded the group in 1998 as a program of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective. At the time, we were the only performing taiko group in Indiana and one of the few in the midwest. I have continued directing the group since that time.

Under my direction, we have developed a group of four core drummers and a larger group of 15 practicing enthusiasts, learned repertoire and composed original music, built and acquired instruments, created youth outreach programs, presented guest artists, developed mentoring relationships with nationally/internationally renowned taiko drummers, become mentors to regional emerging groups, been recognized and celebrated by our local/state arts and funding communities, attended conferences and workshops, spent three weeks in Japan studying with Japanese taiko masters, presented original performances and played at schools, community events, corporations and the 2014 World Taiko Gathering in Los Angeles. All while I worked to make a living, maintain a household and raise kids as a single parent. No wonder I’m tired!

In my absence, Fort Wayne Taiko drummers are teaching classes, performing at festivals, learning repertoire, assessing equipment and expanding skills. Seasoned drummers are assuming new leadership roles. New drummers are learning to create energy and become their own anchors. The next wave is gaining momentum even as I sit.

I am not finished drumming. Or teaching. Or serving. I am not finished leading. Or holding vision, Or strategizing next steps. But today I simply sit. Today, that is my offering. I honor the foundation I have left in my wake by getting out of the way. I yield to sun, sand, water, wind. I resist the impulse to take action. Today I simply sit and let the next wave move through.

KNOWING I AM LOVED

The situation was bigger than both of us; neither of us knew what to do. After 7 or 8 hours of my intense abdominal pain, my mother and I both felt helpless. After 9 days in the hospital with pancreatitis, I had been released so we could get to my son’s wedding in Florida. My doctors had wanted to remove my gallbladder which was the culprit of this problem, but had to wait for my lipase level to fall from its alarmingly elevated count of 10,000 to a normal range of 70-80. The treatment while waiting was nothing by mouth…. it had been over a week since I’d had food or water.

For the past 9 days I had been hooked up to an IV that kept me fed, hydrated and soothed with pain medication. By the time my lipase count fell, there was no time for surgery. My son was getting married. In Florida. Mom and I were already two days past our scheduled arrival date. She had changed our tickets and we were out of time. I needed to get on a plane. With my lipase finally stable, my doctors had released me with cautions about what to eat and drink and a warning to schedule gallbladder surgery immediately after my return home.

My mother had picked me up from the hospital and taken me to her house for final trip preparations. We had to leave for the airport the next day at 4 am to catch our early morning flight. I moved slowly and tired easily in my compromised state, but I was moving. I was glad to be out of the hospital free from my IV umbilical cord, grateful for my mother’s help, grateful to be heading south. Together.

I still hadn’t finished packing when I felt the first stab. After weeks of this intermittent pain, I feared what was coming. I threw my remaining clothes in the suitcase and zipped it up, knowing it was likely this all-too-familiar intruder would soon demand all my attention. And so it did. My world was reduced to a raging gall bladder attack that ranted with relentless vomiting. My mother watched helplessly as I crawled to and from the toilet, in and out of the tub, changed positions on the couch, paced around the room, tried to distract myself with TV, wrapped a heating pad around my aching belly and bargained with the universe for some small morsel of relief…but nothing helped.

Exhausted, I surfed from one breath to the next, hoping for the wave to crest, needing to ride it in before 4 a.m. We needed to get on that plane. That dominant, unspoken thought hung heavy between us. We weren’t just attending the wedding as guests or beloved family members; I was supposed to officiate and last I heard, there was no firm Plan B. If I was a no-show, they would be scrambling for a last-minute alternative. Plus I wanted to be part of this blessed, once-in-a-lifetime event. We needed to get on that plane.

At some point as I tossed and turned and crawled and paced and writhed, my bare feet ended up sticking over the end of the couch right in front of my mother’s nearby chair where she held vigil. “I’ll be right back,” she said and left her wake. She came back with a reflexology book and opened it to a diagram that mapped the pressure points of the foot. Her fingers circled and prodded and pressed and pushed. They fervently kneaded, stroked and rubbed a whispered plea for deliverance. It didn’t stop my agony, but it sure felt good.

In the early morning hours, when it became clear my pain wasn’t going to subside, I encouraged my mother to go to bed. I knew we faced an early morning whether I was on that plane or not. She left my side begrudgingly and I took Benadryl hoping it would knock me out. But I was still awake several hours later when I heard her alarm go off. Still writhing, still pacing, still bargaining…but my terms had changed. I was no longer hoping to get on the plane; I just wanted to get to the emergency room. After 15 hours of wracking pain, I was ready for something stronger than Benadryl. Hook me back up to that IV!

Mom emerged from her bedroom. “How are you doing?” she asked. “Did you get any sleep?” I sat up, grabbed my belly and shook my head no.

“I can’t get on that plane,” I whispered, staring at the floor, “I need to go to the emergency room and you need to go to Florida without me.” She cried no and I looked up. “Mom, he needs one of us there. You have to go without me.”

She turned away silently and went to get dressed. I pushed myself up off the couch to go gather my things. I was going to call a friend to take me to the ER and knew I would need some basics once they admitted me. I staggered into the bedroom. There was my suitcase, zipped and ready, my clothes spread on top. A surge of determination fueled by grief rippled through me stronger than the pain. I wondered if I could get myself dressed. I threw my pajamas in a heap on the floor and managed to put on clothes. I managed to brush my teeth and wheel my suitcase into the hallway. I managed to grab my purse and water bottle. Each step was an act of faith and courage.

Mom walked out of her room and looked at me questioningly. “I’m going,” I said. “I’m not missing my son’s wedding.”  We wheeled the suitcases out to the car. The early-morning night was dark and rainy and tense. I was a blubbering, writhing mess. But we were in the car, heading to the airport. I was grateful for the wheelchair assistance Mom had arranged and ignored the accusing stares of people who appeared to assume I was able-bodied and unnecessarily taking advantage of this service. (Like I’d rather be wheeled around than up and walking on my own two feet!) Fortunately, I was too exhausted to care.

Sometime during the flight, my pain finally subsided and we landed safe and sound, albeit emotional…my frayed nervous system felt like it had survived a torture rack. When my son greeted us, Mom and I both burst into tears! I slept through much of the four-day wedding adventure, but I did indeed officiate. I got myself there, got him married and got myself home and scheduled for gall bladder surgery.

And my mother shadowed my every step. When I was hurting, writhing in pain, she rubbed my feet. It sure feels good knowing I am loved.

LANDING ON MY FEET

taylor-ann-wright-417893-unsplash

Impact was inevitable. The car was turning left in front of us and we had no time to stop. I was riding passenger on the back of the motorcycle I bought myself for my 40th birthday. (A 1982 450 Honda Nighthawk rebuilt and custom painted glitter blue with silver flames!) I did not yet trust myself on busy streets, so I had asked a friend to take me for a ride. It was a gorgeous August day. In spite of the promise I had made to my children to always wear protective gear, I skanked out of the house with no helmet, wearing a sundress, barelegged.

Time has a funny way of being distorted during crises. A moment becomes long enough for a million thoughts to scramble through one’s head. My first thought was “This is bad!” Pictures floated through my mind of my buddy and me mangled on the pavement, of my children being told I was injured or dead. It was my son’s birthday. Family and friends were meeting that evening for a celebration. My children’s Dad had died suddenly on Christmas Eve. I knew if I died in a motorcycle accident on my son’s birthday, my children would kill me. As I watched the car turning in front of us, the loudest thought in my head was a simple, resounding declaration, “This will not happen!”

My buddy swerved the bike slightly to the right so that we hit the front of the car at an angle instead of head-on. The front grill of the car was inches away and I saw the very real likelihood of my bare leg (or my head!) being crushed between the car and the bike…or between the tire and the pavement. But I also saw the hood of the car–it spread out before me like a field of opportunity.

With one swift, definitive movement, I placed my forearm down on the hood, pushed myself off from the foot peg, tucked my head and rolled. After years of taking dance classes, I could hear my dance teacher coaching me to keep my weight moving. “Momentum is your friend!” she yelled in my head. I yielded to momentum’s lead and allowed it to propel me across an endless acre of metal.

I rolled by the car’s windshield and saw the driver, a young woman with a horrified look on her face. I rolled through images of friends and family. I rolled over sweet recollections of simple moments. I rolled into the promise of future possibilities. I rolled until I felt nothing underneath me. Again, I heard my dance teacher’s voice. “Extend into yur six-pointed star!” I intuitively uncurled and extended arms and legs, head and tail.  I landed on my feet, standing on the street on the other side of the car… ta da!

The driver jumped out and hugged me. Witnesses gathered. “Are you all right?”  everyone asked. I swept my hands down my body. There was not a bruise or a scratch. I was completely unblemished. My motorcycle was down on its side. My buddy was also standing uninjured. (We believe his leg was saved by the crash bar.) I looked over and found him sprawl-legged, helmet off, shaking his head. “How did you do that?” he asked.

In moments of crises, one instinctively does what one knows. I have spent hours rolling in dance classes. I have been taught to roll with initiation from my hand, from my foot, from my center. I have rolled over physio-balls and bodies. I have rolled across the smooth wood floor of the dance studio and, while teaching dance classes at schools, across the floors of gymnasiums sticky with who knows what. I have learned to roll effortlessly, rising and falling through high, medium and low levels. In the moments after the motorcycle accident, I stood on the street as witnesses stared incredulously and I whispered a reverent thank you to the dance community and all who support it.

Since 1990, I have been a dance student, teacher and audience member. From 1992 to 1998, I worked as Development Director for a non-profit dance organization, spreading the word about the benefits of movement education. Through the years I have tried to explain how dance classes do more than teach people a series of steps–when explored from a wholistic perspective, movement experiences develop human potential, enhance body awareness, create a more cohesive sense of self and facilitate mind-body integration. Such outcomes can be hard to measure, but this one is simple: Dancing taught me how to roll. I went over the hood of a car and landed on my feet.

HAWAII AUGUST 2018

I am on a month-long work retreat at Kealakelua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. I am living on a live volcano in a cottage 300 feet from the water. I come out every morning to sun and read and swim and I go in every afternoon to work uninterrupted. The energy is primal and deep, the sun is hot and the water is d-i-v-i-n-e and blue, oh so blue. And that is why I am here….to be in and on and around all that water. This water. It calls to me all the way back home in Indiana.

I swim in the bay every morning with yellow fish and sea turtles. The water is warm and clear and not too deep. Free of gravity and pumiced by salt crystals, I am my happiest, most authentic self when I am immersed in all that blue bliss. Infinity beckons and I am never afraid.

If I swim to the north side of this protected bay, the water is calm; on the south side, waves roll in and crash against black and white lava rocks that line the shore, making it look as if the Gods and Goddesses salted and peppered their favorite meal. As a result of this perpetual loop of aquatic yin and yang, big pieces of lava rock have created a tidal pool on the south side that visitors use as an entry point. It is really the only access point available on this rocky shore. Unless someone is inspired to do a mad climb down and over slippery, sharp rock, anyone who wants to access the water enters through the tidal pool.

Children and families love it because it creates a game: the waves crash in and the pool fills up; the waves recede and the pool empties out, pulling everything in the tidal pool with it. It’s not necessarily a strong pull…it’s usually easy enough to resist…but nonetheless, swimmers feel themselves being sucked into a channel bordered by sharp lava rock on either side and sharp lava rock submerged below… so whether yielding or resisting, one has to maneuver the waves and rock. If moving through and out into the blue beyond, this channel needs to be navigated. If hanging out in the tidal pool, this channel needs to be navigated. Either way, one has to figure out how to avoid cut feet or scraped limbs or God forbid, a banged head.

After a week and a half of this daily maneuver, I have learned a few things:

Be alert.

Plan ahead.

Position self carefully.

Consider others.

Protect your feet.

Be wary of what you cannot see.

Take all variables into consideration (wind, water, current, tide, bodies, etc.)

And then I realized the same is true with almost anything. Seldom do we just jump into bliss; the access point usually has a channel that must be maneuvered. A channel made of whatever whatnot applies: learning curves, physical challenges, intrapersonal dynamics, interpersonal dynamics, communication issues, logistics, funding, equipment, space, time, infrastructure, hierarchies, energy, creativity, resources, motivation, clarity… the tide surges in and out creating waves that can scrape you up against these myriad sharp rocks. Navigation is needed.

Fortunately, the beckoning of infinity has a call that is primal, deep and full.

Like living on a live volcano.

Like the lull of the water.

Like the resonance of a taiko drum.

Like working as part of a cohesive team.

It’s that feeling of being in flow.

This beckoning is like a GPS system that calls to me. Pulls me. 

Not to some geographic location, but to an expansive place where I can be my most authentic self.

And that is why I keep diving in!