In these crazy times, it’s more important than ever to mark moments of grace that break through the noise of hatred, anxiety, and separation that roil our days. Here’s my little thank-you to the universe for something entirely inconsequential and wholly validating that happened yesterday morning.
The backstory: I’d had a rough night of sleep. John is traveling, and Cordelia took advantage of his absence to claim two thirds of the bed. I’d push her off; she would slither back just as I was on the cusp of sleep, taking advantage of my grogginess to sprawl across the mattress – who knew a 50 lb. dog could take up so much space? We had finally settled into a reasonable compromise wherein she got the middle third of John’s side of the bed, when Lucy arrived home from New Jersey, having stopped off at her apartment in Medford for the evening to catch up with her housemates. Cordelia hasn’t seen her since May, when Lucy left for her internship, so when she came upstairs at 1:30 a.m. to whisper “Mom, I’m home,” Cordi sprung into action, launching herself off the bed in a flurry of barks that immediately resolved into licks and pats when she recognized a fellow pack member.
Everyone settled down again for about fifteen minutes before Mia arrived upstairs, weeping and heartbroken. She and her boyfriend (since junior year) had decided before graduation they would not try to maintain a long distance relationship when they leave for college. They’ve spent a poignant summer together, knowing that come August they would break up, not because of incompatibility, boredom or meeting someone else, but rather due to geography and a desire not to hold either themselves or the other back in the next chapter of their lives. They love each other, so this is very hard. Yesterday was the day they said goodbye. Mia hung tough all day. We went to Staples. We ate take-out and watched the Olympics. She worked on a sweater she’s knitting. It hit her, as such losses will, in the dark quiet of her bedroom, when she couldn’t fall asleep. Any other sleepless night over the past year and a half, she would have texted Sam. And now she can’t. It hurts. It was close to two a.m. when she climbed into our bed, with Cordelia snuggled between us like a happy sausage. Mia cried while I stroked her hair and told her all the things she already knows: It sucks; it won’t always hurt this much; the pain will come and go in waves; I’ll always be here for you; you can text me in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep. Sometimes we laughed, about why you get so snotty when you cry; about whether dogs have thoughts or just emotions; about how it’s easier to be mad than sad; about how college is stupid and going all the way across the country to California was a bad idea and couldn’t she just stay home in her too-small girlhood room, pet-sitting and knitting, for the rest of her life? (Fine by me. I, too, have done my share of grieving these last few weeks, with more to come.) It was after three when Mia was cried out, exhausted enough to head back downstairs to her room. I finally went to sleep. At six forty-five, the dogs were up, barking, nudging me: get up, alpha-person! Get up! I did my best to ignore them, surfing in and out of a sleep fractured by dog play and the snooze alarm until 7:30 a.m. I had just an hour before I needed to leave for my nine a.m. class.
So: coffee. Feed the dogs. Check my playlist for class. Think about what focus to craft for the students. I planned a fun playlist of Latin music I haven’t taught for awhile, focusing on challenging ourselves to play with levels of intensity in our movement. All good. I felt a little addled-brained from my short, interrupted sleep. But hey, I think I’ve got this.
When I set the car in park at the studio and reached for my Iphone with the playlist, an image flashed through my mind: my phone, with all my music, sitting on the kitchen counter next to the coffee maker. Really, Holly? I could have sworn I tossed it in the car before leaving, but it was nowhere to be seen, and I was already running late.
Class was supposed to begin in five minutes, so I would have to improvise on my four hours of sleep – what else could I do? There were only two students this morning, “regulars,” Ruth and Debbie. I asked them if either of them kept music on their phones. Debbie pulled hers out and started scrolling. “Imogene Heap”? Nah. “Coldplay”? I don’t think we’re there yet. Anything else? “The Best of Prince”? That’s the ticket. We put the album on shuffle and jumped overboard into the river of music. Thankfully, Nia technique is so beautifully conceived that an experienced teacher can devise choreography on the fly using the foundational movements of the practice. If you’ve taught enough, the structure of the music reveals itself to you pretty quickly: this is an eight count, here’s where you feel the pickup, chorus, verse, bridge, breakdown. There’s a code to most popular music that isn’t all that hard to crack, honestly. Prince can be another matter: he’ll unexpectedly play with the time signatures and tempo. There were a couple of songs I’d never heard where the sands of rhythm shifted unexpectedly and we had to splash around a little vaguely before a new rhythmic raft would float along that we could cling to until the next change. Nia choreography fits organically and intuitively into any music, and we were easily able to play with the focus I had already planned: personalizing the intensity levels. It was fun. Really fun, actually. “Party Like It’s 1999” played and we laughed at how the world freaked out at the turn of the millenium, when we all thought the computers would crash and catastrophe would ensue. Anticipating disaster is surely programmed into our human DNA — good to remember in the apocalyptic days of this election. We rocked a dance of absurdity, of delight in our own foibles, of joy. That old saw: Necessity is the mother of invention. The adrenaline of having to be so present to the music and movement jolted me awake, out of my doldrums, my sadness for Mia’s heartache, my irritation at leaving the phone at home, my late summer Weltshmerz as the days wind inevitably toward fall, when Mia will be established in California and all three bedrooms on our colorful second floor, Lucy’s red, Nate’s green, Mia’s magenta, will sit empty. Already, the dogs like to deposit their half-chewed bones up there. They sense this is claimable turf.
The last ten or so minutes of a Nia class are spent cooling down and stretching on the floor, often guided only by the music and your own body’s feedback and wisdom about what stretches or movements you need in order to feel complete. The songs that close the class are typically soothing and down-tempo: sometimes gongs, or chants, or even just the music of ocean waves. As I cued Ruth and Debbie to bring themselves to the floor for this penultimate cycle of class, I was aware that ITunes might serve up “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Little Red Corvette” or some other Prince song unsuited to calming our nervous systems and resting our bodies. It popped into my head to say, half-humorously, but also with an element of supplication: “let’s just hope the universe shuffles up something luscious and slow for this last song. And if it doesn’t, then, oh well, we’ll still move with calm, even though the world around us is going crazy.”
And then the heavens opened, and out of the speakers came the first guitar strains of “Purple Rain.” It could not have been a more perfect note on which to end our adventure of “let’s just make up a class.” I thought of one of my favorite New Testament passages: “ask, and you shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And despite the meanness of our culture, the cruel tweets and internet trolls, the anger worn like a medal, the friend or parent with cancer or a broken heart, the soul-deflating intractability of racism and sexism, the vitriol unleashed in this political cycle in our country and the enduring suffering of oppressed people across the globe—all those dark and dreary realities that make us wonder how, if there is a God, he/she/they could be considered “good” –we three, Ruth, Debbie and I, for that one instant, knew the soft, playful kindness of divine love.
I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted one time to see you laughing
I only want to see you
Laughing in the purple rain.
Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
I only want to see you
Bathing in the purple rain.
Post-script: My phone, I discovered last night after turning the house upside-down, was in my car all along.