I watched the annual Fourth of July Butte to Butte 10k race from my balcony this morning and had a heartwarming sense of being a part of the event, even though I was three stories above the ground the runners’ feet pounded. I sat at the wide-open French doors smiling, taking in the exhilaration, exhaustion (my apartment is near the end of the race), camaraderie, and sheer joy that comes with being a part of something with other humans. It felt as if all my pores were wide-open, inviting in whatever vibes were emanating from the crowds below. I wasn’t lamenting about how my one-legged body never took to running, or berating my self for not trying harder to make it happen if I really wanted it. I wasn’t calling myself names like lazy or jealous. And, I was reminded of my previous week of traveling and performing with two different groups of dancer friends where I enjoyed the same sense of well-being, though I showed up in much more of a participatory way. How could the two different experiences generate the same inner contentment?
Early in the previous week, I traveled five hours by train to Seattle to perform in Joy Ride Unavoidable, an event sponsored by the Northwest Film Forum. We were a group of five performers who’ve been working together for a few years. The event was a multi-art extravaganza, showcasing four films by four artists, and an audience participation performance of Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line by a group of Dance 4 Parkinson’s dancers. I presented a short summary of my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, read a few short excerpts while dancing around the audience in my wheelchair, and then passed the reading on to a fellow dancer. I made my way onto an eight-by-eight foot stage set on three-foot risers and began a duet with another much-loved dancer. The reading and our movement interactions informed our ten-minute improvisation. The three of us had rehearsed briefly a few hours before the show. And, although we’ve known each other for many years, together we’d never before done anything like what we did that night. We were open to the possibilities, and invited our audience to join in the surprises.
Later in the week, I traveled south, to Ashland, OR, to perform with DanceAbility International on the Green Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A fully choreographed show, and a piece I’d performed many times before with my current dance partner, this event was different from the one in Seattle. We all knew what to expect…or did we? Sure, we each knew our routines, the flow of the pieces, how we’d begin and end, and since we’d been there before, we had a sense of the staff and audience. Yet, it seems all of that is just a small part of what happens during an event or a performance. It’s always something of an improvisation between the players and the watchers – the anticipation, expectations, surprises. The energy exchange. The love – dare I say?
Maybe that’s exactly it – the love, the sum total of myself I’m willing to share as either a participant/performer or watcher/audience is what brings that heartwarming sense of well-being. The runners making their way past my balcony this morning were inviting me into their experience. They were revealing themselves as participants in life, living fully in each moment while carrying on with their fellow travelers. I was a part of something I wasn’t really participating in because they opened themselves to me.
It’s my hope that I can do the same – invite others to share in my living in all spheres. It’s not that I aim to share everything I think and do with others – more just the sense of being alive with an openness that invites others into the spirit of my life. It’s why I took the time to write a memoir. And I hope I can find ways to join in the spirit of others’ lives. Seems to me this is the way we grow, and learn to accept and love. Maybe even be happy – whatever that much-overrated state of being encompasses.
Here’s a picture of the DanceAbility crew in our civvies after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance. That’s me in the middle in the yellow shirt.