This is us; the world, you know? When the photograph was taken, the average age of these dancers was 6.43; that gorgeous smile in blue is eight, the dubious pink princess in the lower right corner is five, and the rest are six and seven, and they are all giving us their very best ballerina smiles. Except the two on the right. Billy's not having any of it (she never was) and Elizabeth is a little concerned that she may not be doing it quite right (she always was).
Here's the part that needs an explanation. The second year dancers are standing on a small stage in front of a heavy green curtain. The stage and curtain are in an old stone building with old style sprung hardwood floors belonging to the church across the street. It's a pretty decent community center and it's where Elizabeth and I introduced ourselves to Contra, five years later. Nobody was looking, the dance moves too fast and Elizabeth's joy transcended the question of 'am I doing it quite right'.
I have video of the Elizabeth's last contra dance. We were up at Greenfield which was a 260 mile round trip at the time and it was worth every mile. It always has been. She was dancing with Jonathan. His joy also transcends the question of 'am I doing it right'. I don't think she ever got to dance with Mac, which is a shame because his joy oozes from every pore. There were two Ralphs at the time, both kind and generous; one in particular was the safest place in the room.
In the years between 2006 and that last dance, Elizabeth didn't really change. We are who we are, we just present differently depending on the circumstances. I think that's an important piece of information. We can't really choose who we are or where we came from, but we can choose who we'd like to be in the world. We can also choose how we see people in the world. We can look through our filter or we can borrow a pair of glasses and find a different viewing point. The first way is easy; it's mostly unconscious, but the second takes some effort, not to mention a good deal of perceived risk.
Seven girls at different places in the Age of Discovery looked at the camera and told us who they were without thought or reservation. Their faces and body language, and I don't mean whether or not they've figured out what to do with their arms yet, are a gift. Can we accept the gift for what it is or do we instinctively react to what we want to see versus what they're telling us? Hard to say.
In 2006, my heart got all clenchy because I worried about my interpretation of Elizabeth's face. It was more important to me, as her mom, to 'fix' what I thought was the 'wrong' way to look. I wanted a big smile. A big smile means happy and free of worry, right? Don't we all want our children to be happy and free of worry? Can you see where I'm going here?
We want the world to be right, to behave per our expectations. We struggle when it doesn't and quite honestly, we miss most of the truth.
We are all those girls; and we are all doing the very best we can given our circumstances and state of being. That's a really hard truth to swallow. We can apply it to ourselves and for the most part to our immediate communities. After that, it gets harder. Go far enough and it's downright impossible. How can I possibly accept that the men who flew their planes into the twin towers, when Elizabeth was nine months old, could have been doing their very best... given their current circumstances and states of being?
I guess it depends on who you are and what you think is right. I don't think it's right. The memory of that morning can still evoke the terror that made me want to throw my family in the car and drive north until I ran out of north. Compassion is not agreement. It doesn't excuse or accept. Those are different responses. Compassion is the willingness to understand another person. There's a lot of power in that and I suppose we can use that power for 'good' or we can use it for 'bad' - whatever those two things are, good and bad, I mean.
This is a terribly existential train of thought fraught with all sorts of fraught (it's a BYOF sort of thing). But it's also possibility. And I'm also an inexcusable idealist.
Which is probably a defense mechanism.
Never mind, look back at the gift of truth and honesty and accept the gift. Look at the stage and the heavy green curtain and accept the gift of the possibility that some doors keep right on opening. Some of those doors need to stay closed but an awful lot of them maybe should be opened again.
Just a thought.