...motion that forces change---
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed...
(from PRAYER by Jorie Graham)
It's not fair, to the poet or the poem, to quote a few mangled lines like this, but these are the words that have haunted me lately, recurring through my thoughts like an incantation. I don't know why. I am not a freaky mystic. I am not a mad woman visited by Greek verse as I go about my errands. But I can't get these words out of my head. Maybe it was the weekend above Naivasha, the inevitable demise of that region---the longing for purity. Maybe it's the season, the talk of departure, the sense of time passing as the school year ends and families pack up, some for the summer, others for good---the motion that forces change. Regardless, I must have recited these lines 100 times over the last few days. They seem to apply to everything, and then, just as easily, to nothing.
This morning, the girl's ballet recital (three year olds lifting their arms, trotting in circles). Does this explain the lines? I wondered. Is it the purity of these little girls in pink that the poet refers to? Is it our longing she speaks of---the audience of parents, each tarnished by experience, tarnished by ambition and desire, and bristling with video cameras to preserve (on film) the innocence of being three?
The girls came out on stage. They were not afraid. They harbor none of life's regrets. When the teacher began, they moved with her in a sort of group, but each was hardly aware of the other. Each was too involved her own stepping, in her toe pointing, in her sitting down and pretending to sleep. There was nothing superficial in their gestures, nothing contrived. When one girl slipped and fell, the others didn't flinch or even notice. But the audience gasped and sighed in sympathy. I think that's what made the girl cry. The teacher hugged her and handed her to her mother, while each adult fought back his or her own memories of disappointment, and the aloneness that those memories evoke. What we long for is to be pure...
And then, as I watched the little dancers, another passage came to me---perhaps, finally, a response to Graham's lines. This by Mikhail Baryshnikov. I read it in the New York Times years ago, a passage from an introduction he wrote for a book:
It [the beauty of ballet] seemed very personal, because it was contained in the bodies of the dancers, and the body is so revealing. When a dancer comes on stage, he is not just a blank slate that the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in life. He has already met a million forks in the road. Each time, he has chosen, and in what he is onstage you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, the person who, at this point, he cannot help but be. All the experiences he had as a child and as a teen-ager, all the images that his body has accumulated, these come up as colors in the dancing, giving it sparkle and complexity. They come out through the eyes, through the pores.
Well... we are all, if you will, dancers on a stage. We are each the person we cannot help but be---an accumulation of our experience, of the images we absorb, of "the blessings and disasters that are the center of our lives" (Baryshnikov). Can we preserve this morning's three year old? She is already a memory. The longing is to be pure... but what we get is to be changed.
But, to be honest, the ballet recital was pretty boring. Once my daughter left the stage, I lost interest. It lacked... sparkle. It lacked complexity. It was like going to a museum, and seeing nothing but blank slates.
(Click on blue, underlined words to link to poems, articles, books, etc. The image is "Blue Dancers" by Edgar Degas. And it just made the slightest change in you.)