Friday, April 4, 2014

The Urge to Dance

A confession: In the weeks leading up to Noah’s one-year death anniversary, I started to feel the urge to dance. It came bubbling up without warning whenever I heard the catchy R&B theme music of a TV show. I would start wiggling and shaking in my seat, then stop, self-conscious. How could I want to dance when I’d been crying a few hours earlier, when I was dreading the one-year mark? Finally, one day I stood up to dance through the whole song. I felt strange but liberated, like a submerged sea creature thrashing up out of the depths.  
“There are no rules,” a friend told me. “You’ve got to ride your grief like a wave and see where it takes you.”

Alone in the house, I started rifling through old CDs and searching for tunes online that I used to like to dance to with the volume cranked up. For me, that means things like Stevie Wonder, Greek music, salsa. As a young person, I spent years folk dancing, including time in a village near the Greek-Albanian border researching folk music traditions. We brought our boys to the festival in that village when they were 10 and 12, and Noah was amazed to see me lead the dance as if I’d actually been young once. Reminded of that a few weeks ago, I put on a rousing Albanian folk song, spun a kerchief in the air as if leading the line, and whirled around the kitchen with whistles that brought the dog trotting in, confused. I danced furiously, tirelessly, over and over, as if emerging from a long confinement. At least until I glimpsed a picture of Noah in the next room.

A time to dance, a time to mourn. I used to think the two were opposites; I would say the Greeks taught me how to dance and how to mourn. But what I really learned from them was the pathos and passion that can intertwine with zest for life and celebration and the sheer need to “break out” into self-expression. I’d see it in the intense concentration of a man’s soulful zembekiko dance, improvised solo around a beer bottle. I’d hear it in the doleful lyrics, This earth that we are dancing on/All of us will enter into it. Women took songs and turned them into laments; death was a natural part of daily life.

Now, when I feel the urge to dance, I try to honor it. It’s not so much about being happy and light-hearted as it is about needing to feel alive and let the body speak. The life force that’s lain dormant bubbles up like a sustaining spring, in spite of, because of such tragic loss. Its arrival gives me hope for the years ahead.

For my fellow mourners who are appalled or alienated at the thought of dancing, I understand. But if you, too, have felt the urge in spite of or along with your loss, you may appreciate this from Molly Fumia’s wise book about grief, Safe Passage: 
I lie in the dark, aware that in the distance, the music of life is playing.  Even in my grieving for you, I am drawn to the sounds and my body begins to stir.

Your voice, next to me in the night, gives me a little nudge.  ‘Go ahead, Dance.’

So I stand up, still clothed in darkness, and hold up my arms.  A long twirl, a low dip.  Silently, I come to life like a marionette who has been touched by magic.

Please don't give me away--not yet.  I'm not ready for anyone else to know I'm dancing in the darkness.

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