Teachers considered grade school student Gillian Lynne a problem child. You know, one of those students who don’t pay attention. Or focus. Age 8 and unable to sit still, Gillian had earned the nickname Wriggle Bottom. This much was clear; Gillian didn’t “fit in.”
Her teachers were exasperated, her mother was at the end of her tether, and Gillian felt hopeless.
This was the 1930s, the idea of ADHD had not been born yet, so Gillian was labeled “difficult.” As you can imagine, her parents were troubled (“We must have done something wrong along the way,” they told themselves).
And because her school was concerned that Gillian had a learning disorder, Gillian’s mother took her to a doctor. What happened at that doctor’s office radically changed Gillian’s life forever and affects us even to this day.
Through the entire meeting, Gillian sat on her hands, doing her best to “act natural and well behaved.” After the doctor examined Gillian, he put on some music, and asked Gillian’s mother to leave the room with him. Music filled the air. Outside the office door, the doctor asked Gillian’s mother to look back inside at her daughter. “I want to show you something,” he said. No longer seated, Gillian now moving about the room with the music–freely, unworried, with abandon.
“You see,” the doctor said, “your daughter isn’t troubled. Your daughter is a dancer.”
This story could have gone another way. Gillian could have been labeled, and medicated. Problem solved. We like life when it can be more easily managed. The doctor’s prescription, “You must take her to dance class.”
Gillian was given the freedom to live from the inside out. The result? A lifetime of dance, first with Sadler’s Wells Ballet during WWII and then with the Royal Ballet. Later, a wealth of extraordinary choreography, collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Weber, including CATS and Phantom of the Opera.
“Out they went and the minute they had gone I started to dance to the music, even going up on his desk,” Ms. Lynne wrote in her autobiography, “A Dancer in Wartime.” “What I hadn’t noticed was that his door was one of those beautiful old glass ones with etched designs through which the doctor and my mother were watching.”
In our hearts, we are all dancers. Yes. Every single one of us.
The part of us that responds to the music of life abundant, freely and unrestrained. Life fueled by wholeheartedness.
But somewhere along the way, we lose that don’t we?
We give way to labels. We choose to live guarded and closed. And too often, afraid.
When the daughter of artist Howard Ikemoto turned seven years old, she asked her father, “What do you do at work?”
Ikemoto told her, “I work at a college, where my job is to teach people how to draw.”
She stared back at her father, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
Yes. We forget. We don’t see who we are, at our core. Here’s how it played out in my life. I assumed that my value was tied to performance. My labels were accolades. I was the “preacher boy”. And anything outside of that box was unacceptable. After all, I didn’t want to be a problem child.
This much is certain. Labels take us down toxic, injurious and detrimental pathways. When I give in (succumb) to any label, I give way to “selves” that are not healthy, true or constructive. Quite literally, to be a prisoner to a label.
This week I enjoyed Greenfingers, is a twee little British comedy in which hardened prisoners become gifted gardeners and are allowed to enter their prize flowers in the Hampton Court Garden Show. (It is loosely based on the true story about the award-winning prisoners of HMP Leyhill, a minimum-security prison in the Cotswolds, England.)
Clive Owen plays Colin, a man wearing the labels of resignation and self-defeat. His roommate, Fergus (played by David Kelly) gives him some flower seeds, which Colin dismisses, and then relenting, plants them too deeply in a shady spot near a tree. He literally wants them to die.
And yet, the flowers bloom. And by accident, during a football match, one of the prisoners accidentally steps on the flowers retrieving the ball.
Colin sees the blooms. He stops. And something inside changes.
Later, Fergus puts it into words. “I saw the look in your eyes when you first saw those flowers… We’ve been prisoners long enough Colin. Let’s be gardeners.”
It’s helpful to remember that according to Jewish tradition the very first commandment (the ten are divided somewhat differently by Jews, Protestants, and Catholics), is clearly a statement rather than a rule: “I am the Eternal One your God who brought you out from the land of enslavement, and from the house of bondage.” (The book of Exodus)
Here’s the deal: We start with freedom. That’s the fundamental reality. We start with the voice of Grace telling us that we are no longer enslaved (prisoner) to any label. The gardener and dancer inside, invite and empower us to live without fear, to give life and spill joy.
There is no doubt that labels conveniently serve many purposes… I play it safe, I hide, I live small. But all of the labels are fashioned by fear; a fear that dismisses or restricts.
So. What does it mean to dance… to live with arms wide open? To live without fear? Like four-year-olds, who live fearless. Just ask them;
Can you sing? If we don’t know the words, we’ll make them up.
Can you play music? A cardboard box and a stick will do.
Can you dance? Watch this!!
Ask an adult; Can you sing? Only in the shower, and then off-key.
Can you play music? That was years ago.
Can you dance? Not without people laughing.
The authentic voice in the gardeners, and in Gillian, did not reside only in talent or prodigy, but in spontaneity, vitality, innocence, passion and delight.
Today is Pentecost Sunday in the Christian church. The Jews called this holy day the Feast of Harvest. The effect of the Holy Spirit’s Baptism? The Apostles became more knowing; now with the freedom to remember the grace at their core.
Speaking of dancing. My garden is flourishing with complete abandon. Join me on the patio. I’ll bring the wine. It’s a good night to dance.
Quote for your week…
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo
One — Gillian Lynne died last year at age 92.
Two — Thank you for being a part of the Sabbath Moment community. We’ve added an element. Groups use SM for study or discussion. Now each week reflection questions and exercises are available for group and personal use. Let me know if you want to be on the list to receive. Please pass the word. And remember that we couldn’t exist without the generosity of readers like you. Have you considered becoming a sustaining donor?
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–Terry, thought you’d like this thought, “Butterflies count months but moments and have time enough.” Pat, Bear Lake, MI
–Hi, Terry, just got through listening a second time to this audio. Love Duns SCOTUS and Franciscan theology. If you haven’t already, get Richard Rohr’s latest book, “The Universal Christ.” Terrific. Bill
–Hi Terry, I would love to be added to your email list of those who receive reflection questions and exercises based on the weekly Sabbath Moment. I lead a biweekly women’s book study of about 30-40 women, and I often use quotes from SM. Please continue the good work you do in the world. May each of us participate in Tikkun olam… Blessings to you on this early June morning, Bev
–Hi, Terry, thank you for this week’s SM. My reflection is that as I work to heal, I myself am also healed. Tikkun Olam. What a wonderful phrase. There is a female pastor who runs a place in Mt Healthy on the north side of Cincinnati called Tikkun Farm. It is a place that serves especially refugees and immigrants. They have an actual small farm that feeds the hearts, minds and bodies of people. Mick
–Always loved Grey’s Anatomy with April and the Rabbi. Season 14 Episode 17… about 29 minutes in… 15 minutes remains on Netflix’s or Search Grey’s Anatomy, April and Rabbi. Very moving and thoughtful. Thanks Terry for another wonderful Monday morning! Oh and I loved Safe Place to Land! Sara
–Who reminded me that today is a good day to work to Heal? Well, you did for one! Thank you! I am fortunate, I have many who remind me that each day, I do work to heal. I’ll save this to re read on days when I forget. Tammy
–The Holy Spirit always speaks to me through your weekly “reminders”. PS: Our grand-daughter was one of the 565 participants is this year’s national spelling bee! While she didn’t make it to the finals, she did well and felt very special being there. peace and blessings. Brian
–Dear Terry, Once again I want to thank you for your amazing SM. I always look forward to it and some weeks so much so that I put off opening it until Tuesday or Wednesday! Somehow you always know the words I need to hear. Bless you! Enjoy your garden. Fondly, Katrina.
–Terry, Thank you so much for bring SM into our lives. About two months ago one of my guardian angels added you to my email, otherwise I would never have known about your wonderful ministry. There is a spiritual magic in your Monday messages. Every one has a thought or prayer or poem that provides me with spiritual food for the week. Keep SM coming. We love them and appreciate your printed visit with us. Christine.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Dance in Your Blood
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
Let it in, let it all in
Let it all in to your heart
All that is, all that is gift
You don’t’ have to take it apart
Everything we do is like breathing
We’ve been holding our breath for too long
Could you trust your life to the seasons and let the wind take you along
Let it out let it all out
Let it all out of your mind
Let it go, we don’t have to know
The answers to all that you find
There’s an emptiness that comes from having too much
Too much without any soul
Let out the lifeless the stale and the stuck
And let in what makes you more whole
Let in what makes you more whole
Lord, the air smells good…
Lord, the air smells good today,
straight from the mysteries
within the inner courts of God.
A grace like new clothes thrown
across the garden, free medicine for everybody.
The trees in their prayer, the birds in praise,
the first blue violets kneeling.
Whatever came from Being is caught up in being, drunkenly
forgetting the way back.