She was the true definition of ‘dance as though no one were watching.’ I couldn’t help but notice her- I felt a kindred spirit- as though we might have both been survivors of sorts. Maybe 11 or 12, and a bit big for her age, she was wearing a two-piece swim suit and a pair of tinted glasses-the kind of prescription lenses that older people keep as a spare for their car. The glasses were useful, but did not match her free spirit at all. Spinning and twirling, she was kicking and leaping- pressing foot prints and toe trivets in the wet sand. Her arms were outstretched high above her, and she cart-wheeled, turning gracefully and awkwardly, all within the same movement. After a string of dances, she would stop and stare motionless, out at the great green waves, watching them roll in. I imagined she was filling herself greedily with inspiration, illumination, and when she was ready, she would begin a new performance on her sandy stage next to the sea.
There was nothing-not one single part of her-that seemed to even notice, as she would waltz all around- that she was in a public space and there were dozens of people evaluating her, taking notice, as she marched to the drum of her own beat.
She just did what she wanted to do. And it was beautiful.
Making little trails with pointed toes, kicking up sand as she lifted one leg and then the other, the picture was total abandonment, yielding to the inner dancer who was begging to create in this space of natural wonder. I wanted to weep at the freedom of it all. I wanted to run up to her and thank her for being her beautiful lovely and off beat dancing self.
But then I got myself together and decided that would have been a little weird.
So instead, I stayed glued to my chair, mesmerized by her childlike ways, and realized I knew why I wanted to cry. I wanted to sob, because I knew what was coming.
Standing on the edge of childhood and looking out into that vast sea of living, I had been there, it felt, not so very long ago. I knew from jaded experience, that a deluge was inevitable, an overwhelming flow that she could never be ready for, was about to roll in, and like the waves that were gently waltzing with her dancing toes, enticing her with promises of play and adventure, a tidal wave full of self-doubt would probably wash over her, leaving her drenched and sputtering, in a bath of self-consciousness that would cause her to shiver, alone on the shore. Wet and cold, suddenly all too aware of her body and everything about it and too conscious of everything she was, she would run for cover, and her blissful naivety would have gone out to sea with the pull of the ever steady tide.
It all sounds very depressing and dramatic and surely it doesn’t have to be this way, I kept thinking. And maybe, oh just maybe, it doesn’t. I hope there is someone out there who has had someone else help them figure it out.
But for me, and what I’ve realized, as I carry on, throughout this journey, my pilgrimage back to myself, and as I watch so many others, working hard at doing just the same, I have come to understand that WE DON’T KNOW WE AREN’T OK UNTIL SOMEONE ON OUR PATH TELLS US WE AREN’T, AND THEN WE DECIDE TO BELIEVE THEM.
It just takes THAT ONE. That one person. To stop and watch us dancing on our metaphorical beach. And as we are lost in our boundless leaps of creativity and delicious ‘alrightness’, we suddenly notice our insides get their little hairs all up, because somewhere out there, we heard a snicker. It was just a little laugh, a harmless tiny chuckle. Not loud enough for anyone else to hear, but loud enough for us to FEEL, and despite the crashing of the waves which are working their hardest to drown it all out, just like that, our flow is broken, and left in its wake is a tiny harmless crack. It’s hardly noticeable, but the damage has been done, and with it, breaks through that fleeting nervous light that all of a sudden leaves us feeling, at the very least shy, and at it’s very worst, broken.
What a tragedy, this life we are living, will sometimes be. My heart broke just a little for her, the Sand Dancer, but mostly, it broke for the little girl who once resided in me.
How long-I sat there in wonder- will she be able to hold on to her ‘alrightness?’ To the dancing beat of her own drum? How long before her mother quietly clapping and praising her in the corner, is no longer her truth, and the careless comments of another confused being leaves her dancing legs motionless, as she sees herself through THEIR eyes when she looks at herself in the mirror?
How long before she has to start the dirty work of recovery? Demanding back her own thoughts
about everything she ever knew and loved about herself. How long before she sees this is all a part of her becoming and the dancing, she will do again.
I think about this a lot with my toddler. It’s probably the only time in my life where haven’t been late. I’m hyper aware, partly because she’s a girl, but mostly because she is doing the important work of being utterly and so frustratingly, HERSELF. Accessories in every color and sort, in multitudes, she goes about her days adorned. And while she is not even three yet, it seems that is the only reason it is deemed ‘ok’, and even lauded, as chuckles follow her around the playground and well- meaning words like ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ are tossed out, in an effort to make me feel better about how she chooses to express herself. I smile and accept graciously on her behalf, and wonder how long I will keep those in my back pocket, because quite possibly the time will come when those words won’t be the ones following her around, but other descriptions, sharper than any kitchen knife, will inadvertently cut her to the bone. I know there will be a time that it will happen and I fear it will be before she has the words to put it together, and the quirky, lovely, uniqueness that is her life blood will drain out like water between my fingers, and she will come back to life a girl that she never even knew existed, a girl that she was never meant to be.
I can assure you, I know this from experience, because it was very much like this for me. I remember the exact moment someone told me I wasn’t ok. It changed the course of my thinking, one for which, I had no map. I am 38 now, and have realized over time and throughout my experiences, that no one else was ever given a map either, and if I want a path to follow, I will have to draw it out myself. I finally got my crayons out and started drawing. And it feels so much better this way.
And as I sit here, sand buried toes, aching to be at play, I realize I don’t just want, but I need to get up and dance. I chicken out a little, but I find, I am mostly brave. I grab my daughter’s hand as we trip, laughing, to the water. The ocean foam bathes our journey worn feet in the cleansing salt that is everything about our Mother Earth, and with her we dance, we laugh, we sing.
We are, if only for a fleeting moment….
We are Free.