INFINITE POSSIBILITIES

The game emerged spontaneously when my daughter, India, was about 5 years old. The two of us were enjoying a rare moment together on the upstairs deck of our rambling Victorian. That upper porch was one of our favorite places in that big, dilapidated house and the sun felt so good that spring day that I found myself basking in a rare moment of reprieve. I was drowning in financial stress, pending foreclosure and an unhappy marriage. Frozen by an uncertain future, I had grown so accustomed to everything being so hard that the warmth of the sun on my skin melted my heart. It felt so good, it was almost more than I could stand.

India had her Pocahontas toys spread out on a blanket. I laid down beside her, closed my eyes and breathed. I was mindful of the warm sun on my closed eyelids, my arms, my legs….but I wanted more. I jumped up and took off my dress in one swift motion revealing the bathing suit I happened to have on underneath. (It was not unusual in those days for me to wear a one-piece under my clothes. Somehow it helped me feel contained; somehow it helped me hold myself together.) I laid back down. Oh, so much better! I could feel the sun on all those places that had been covered.

“What are you doing?” India had stopped playing and was looking at me.

“Mommy’s just lying in the sun,” I reassured her.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it feels good.”

“But why did you take off your clothes?”

“Because I want to feel the sun all over!”

“Oh, can I lie in the sun too?”

“Sure you can!” I sat up. “We can do whatever we want!” I scooted toys over to make a place for her to lie down next to me. By the time I looked up, she had ripped off her dress and underwear and was standing there stark naked.

“Oh, that does feel good!” she smiled and pranced. “I like doing whatever we want!” I was momentarily aghast, but that fleeting feeling was quickly replaced with joy. India started jumping up and down, chanting, “We can do whatever we want!”

I stood up and joined her as the creative movement teacher in me took over. “I can march like this!” I said. We both started marching around the porch as we chanted, “We can do whatever we want!” I quickly realized our chant needed three quarter rests at the end to make it an eight-count rhythmic phrase, so I snorted like a pig and jumped three times. India squealed with delight, then snorted and jumped with me. One, two, three!

“I can spin like this!” she said and we both started spinning. “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort. India squealed again.

My turn. “I can slither like this!” Here we go… “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort.  The noise must have called my husband James upstairs because suddenly he stuck his head through the door. “What is going on?” he asked. “India! Put on some clothes!” He looked at me as if to ask, “Have you gone crazy?”

“No!” India protested. “We’re playing We Can Do Whatever We Want! And I don’t want to put on clothes because the sun feels GOOD, doesn’t it Mommy?”  Seeing the look of sheer ecstasy on her face, I smiled in agreement. “That’s right!” Just for good measure I added a snort, snort, snort. India squealed again and echoed three snorts back. James rolled his eyes and left. India and I happily continued our game.

Before too long my son Jacob came out onto the porch. “What are you doing?” he asked, surveying. “Why doesn’t India have on any clothes?”

“Because we can do whatever we want!” she chanted with delight. James must have still been upstairs because I heard him say, “Leave them be Jake. It must be a girl thing.”

Yes, please, please, please just let us be…we danced and chanted and snorted and chanted and danced until we were both exhausted and fell down on the blanket laughing, completely spent. We laid together holding hands, basking in the sun and our joy, panting from all that exertion. When we could both breathe normally again India asked, “Can we really do whatever we want?”

“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation and squeezed her hand. I added no caveats for considering consequences or admonishments about safety or responsibility…I just laid there in the sun and planted seeds for infinite possibilities.

My now-grown daughter and I have revisited that day and its memorable We-Can-Do Whatever-We-Want point of view many times through the years. Whenever I stand at a pivot point, that voice of my younger self calls to me. She inspires and reassures. She reminds me that I am always free to choose whatever courageous future I have the audacity to imagine.

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!

 

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.

LANDING ON MY FEET

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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.