As a therapist who walks beside others who struggle with depression, and as a woman who has endured its devastating blows myself, I’m all too aware of what overcoming it demands of us. We are required to hold on even as our grasp weakens, overwhelmed by dread and hopelessness. The pull of life insists that we get up and face the day when all we really want to do is cover up our heads and refuse to come out. And we are called during our long dark nights to recognize that those voices (all too often the loudest and the most convincing) that repeatedly remind us of all the ways that we have been wounded and taunts us with our failures, disappointments, and of the vast array of dangers that surround us, can not and must not be trusted. And when almost every fiber of our being seems to be shutting down, we are challenged to acknowledge that the gaping wound inside of us is also an opening – one that is capable of ushering in as much possibility as it does pain.
Dancer and wisdom keeper, Gabrielle Roth, who died from lung cancer this past October, just one month before my mother lost her own battle with lung cancer, wrote that in many shamanic cultures when someone sought a medicine person because he or she was disheartened or depressed, it was common for the sufferer to be asked one of the following four questions:
“When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”
As I sat yesterday in the gloaming, mellowed by the sweet territory of silence, I asked myself those questions. And as I waited for answers, memories of my mother floated in and out of my consciousness. As a child she created entire universes within the magic and mystery of her own imagination, enchanted her husband as a young woman by belting out country songs about cheating hearts and lovin eyes, and captivated her eldest daughter with tales of an abused and abandoned little girl and her faithful dog, buddy. My mother taught me so much with her stories, and it was both the bitter and the sweet of her own life that offered up multiple lessons regarding how to live, what’s important, what needs to be let go of, and what’s essential to remember.
And at this moment I am remembering one of my favorite stories of my mother as a child. She was five years old and it was her first day of kindergarten. My grandmother was helping her get ready for school and she was both excited and terribly anxious. As her mother combed her fine brown hair, she peppered her with the following questions.
“Can I come home if I miss you too much?” she asked.
“No. You need to stay until the school day is over,” her mom replied.
“Can you come and visit me?” she bargained.
“No. School is for children, not for mothers,” answered her mother.
“Can I sing in school?” my 5 year old mother asked hopefully.
“No Brenda. You have to be quiet and listen to your teacher.”
“Can I play?” she asked tremulously.
“Only at recess. You go to school to learn,” my grandmother explained.
“Well, can I dance?”
“No Brenda. You have to sit in your seat,” her mother responded firmly.
“Well,” the tiny child sighed, holding her skinny little arms over her head as she started to twirl round and around, “then, I’d better dance now.”
And I see her in my minds eye still, almost fifty years from the time that I first heard this story, and feel my soul reaching out to the child that I came to cherish almost as dearly as I loved the mother that she would grow up to be, and I am smiling and I am weeping now as I imagine her yet again, swirling around the kitchen, pig tails flying, dancing.
Both Gabrielle Roth and Brenda Byram are with us no longer but their legacy lives on – dance. Dance even as your heart breaks, dance even as your body bends from the terrible gravity of grief, dance even though your stomach aches and your heart trembles. Dance. Dance while you can….
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