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 (somehow enticed by) labels. And, 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.
I heartily recommend Greenfingers, 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 accidently 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?
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.
This morning on my walk, I tried these stories out with a family of deer. (My geese are still on summer vacation.) As the deer nibble and graze, they seem untroubled by my presence, looking up now and again, as if to tell me they’re listening. I was grateful.
Almost to September, I’ve already been asked, “So, how did you spend your summer?” Code for wondering if I was able to check anything off my aspiration list.
I do believe we forget why we call summer a “break”; in my mind meaning a break from hurry or discombobulation or anxiety. A break from needing to put life in a box (whether for normalcy or performance, or labels of any kind). And this year more than ever my friends, I hope you made space for sanctuary and healing. Which is code for, I hope you danced. And if anyone asks, tell them it’s called “preventative dancing,” prescribed for healing heart and the soul.
Quote for your week…
May God’s life dance within you as you pause for quiet places and prayer in your busy life. Joyce Rupp
Today’s Photo Credit: “My husband passed away seven years ago and when I see the two chairs of course I think of him. This morning at sunrise when I saw the two chairs I had a new thought and that is that the Lord walks and sits beside us on every part of our journey towards Him.” Mary Ann Seiwerath, Gig Harbor Washington… Thank you Mary Ann… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Thank you so much for the wonderful sharing today. I love it and was so blessed by the mention of Frederick Buechner and his wonderful words. That quote, has always been one of my very favorite. I had his day book with a short writing each day. It was what I read when my three boys were young and I was a young mom and “home” all day doing my mom stuff. I had the page with that quote framed and hanging in the kitchen. It is still so very powerful. Beautiful! Makes my day to get this. Thank u for sending beauty my way. Sending your way, Joanna
–I love today’s message. A therapist told me some time ago to read for half an hour one day and do something I love for half an hour the next – into perpetuity. The something I love is dancing (reading, too). Sadly I read a little book in more than half an hour, danced twice to the radio and haven’t done either since. I feel most alive driving alone in my car, the radio blasting music from the ’60s and ’70s. Somehow that music really touches my heartstrings, creating a nostalgia, and sentimentality nothing else does. Today is the 37th anniversary of my sobriety. Peace and blessings and thank you so much for your messages five days a week – I wish it were seven! Jo
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Do we really need much more than this?
To honor the dawn.
To visit a garden.
To talk to a friend.
To contemplate a cloud.
To cherish a meal.
To bow our heads before the mystery of the day.
Are these not enough?
A Fourfold Unconventional Blessing
May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.
May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.
If you have the courage to accept these blessings, then God will also bless you with:
* Happiness – because you will know that you have made life better for others.
* Inner peace – because you will have worked to secure an outer peace for others.
* Laughter – because your heart will be light.
* Faithful friends – because they will recognize your worth as a person.
These blessings are yours – not for the asking, but for the giving – from One who wants to be your companion, our God, who lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.
Sister Ruth Fox, OSB