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~ The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ~

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For almost 6 weeks every year, a sacred veil falls upon our home. It’s a period of reflection and sacrifice, a welcome reprieve from angry crumbs and greasy butter knives left abandoned, indiscriminately, on the kitchen counter.

Lent.

M is Catholic. His mom was very religious, his dad, not so much. Though M doesn’t attend church or claim to be especially religious, it’s clear that aspects of the faith have made their way in. This, I learned, before we got married, when we were planning the ceremony. Suddenly, he was talking about a priest and a church and rites. These rites mean something to him, having gone through baptism, confirmation, confession. Marriage is another one of these rites, and to be recognized as a marriage in the eyes of the Catholic church, the ceremony must be performed by a priest in a church. Or something like that. Frankly, I’m a bit unclear on the official protocol, not to mention how rites and sacraments differ or if they’re the same thing. M isn’t much help clarifying. His most vivid memories around religion are of walking miles to church with his mom on sweaty summer days, wearing an itchy wool suit and covertly listening to his transistor radio during services.

But for 40 days every year, M observes Lent and gives up something. This something is supposed to represent, among other things, the sacrifices Jesus endured, so your something better be, you know, a sacrifice. M usually chooses bread.

Trust me, eliminating bread is a big deal for M and, by association, for me and, by further association, for our kitchen and our entire home! Those morning slices of toast slathered with butter or butter substitute (and sometimes STICKY JAM!) are my pet peeve, my Achilles heel. Appearing in the role of Hansel, M leaves a trail of crumbs all over the condo, each barefooted step collecting and redistributing the tiny irritating particles. If only he had the gene that enabled him to see (and FEEL) the mess. If only I didn’t.

During Lent, I am liberated and so is our vacuum. Except on pizza night. M doesn’t consider pizza to be a bread product. Well, he does, he just doesn’t include it in his sacrifice. He’ll forgo his beloved hamburgers and will even eat bun-less hotdogs, but pizza is off the list. According to my Lent research, it’s inappropriate to judge the piety of another’s practice, since it’s a very personal choice and not a competition. Even with the pizza, I’m impressed that M can abstain from eating bread for 40 days.

I’m not sure how spiritual Lent is for him, but I no longer question his wanting to do it. Religion is a curious thing. We may take it, we may leave it and, at different points in our lives, may find our way back to it. If we filter our spiritual practice to suit our needs and beliefs, and perhaps turn to it only periodically, so be it. It’s tempting to get all judgey when it comes to religion, especially when folks get too preachy, but that applies to anything doesn’t it? If observing Lent means that M loses a few pounds and gains some peace of mind, I say, “Huzzah!”

I’ve been both fascinated and suspicious of (and a little freaked out by), religion my entire life. I can’t think of many other things that can impact a person the way religion can. I think that’s the part that scares me, the degree of power and influence. Plus, the Damian-Excorsisty movies I watched as a kid haven’t helped (talk about being scarred for life).

At the same time, I’m captivated by the pomp and protocol and reverence. I love churches – from small village rooms to grand and ornate cathedrals. I’ve also been in several synagogues and am curious about other places of worship. There’s something so mesmerizing about watching people in prayer – the kneeling and whispering and crossing – and everyone knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. All these different aged and shaped bodies moving and speaking in “choreographed” synchronicity together. It’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest.

40 blissful days have passed for another year. I only wish there were more occasions to sacrifice other kinds of things, like dirty socks balled up by the man-chair or splatters of teeth-brushing residue on the bathroom mirror.

Clearly, Jesus has more influence on M than his nagging wife.

 

~ Speaking of joy… ~

A little while back, I was in the presence of joy.

I was at a music club that I hadn’t been to in more than 20 years, watching an indie band play to a full and very  supportive audience. The crowd was a mix of middle-agers (like the band), those who could have been the band’s parents and young hipsters. One of the lead singers is a friend of one of my friends. Years ago when they first met, the singer had an entirely different life – married, working in the corporate world and thinking about having a baby. She was already dabbling in music part-time, but wanted to try it full-time, so her husband gave her something like a year to give it a shot. If she couldn’t make a serious dent with it, they’d have a baby. Long story short, she’s no longer married to the guy, she came out as a lesbian and she’s a full-time, full-on musician, in a band with a very loyal following that includes my friend.

The joy moment occurred during the encore, when the band stood at the edge of the stage, close to the audience, unplugged, no mics, just acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies. This singer, this gal with this story, had an expression on her face that struck me. It wasn’t a look of the performing pro that she’s clearly become; it was, very simply, joy.

I scanned the seedy club, with its eau d’urine stairway and dim lighting, and thought about this gal’s imaginary backstory: maybe she made more money in her other life; maybe she had a bigger house, a nicer car, more affluent colleagues; maybe her husband was a good guy and she could have continued to have a pleasant enough life. But this look of joy on her face, caused by the thing that changed everything, in this dingy club filled with friends and a bunch of strangers was something special. And I wondered if she would have ever known this in her other life.

What are you willing to struggle for?

I recently read an article by Mark Manson asking that question. Not, What do you want? Rather, What are you willing to slog through the shit for? Because we all want something – to be rich; to have a great relationship; an awesome body; a fabulous career – we just aren’t willing to deal with the shitty stuff that can go along with getting it.

So I thought about all of my wants and asked myself what was slog-through-shit-worthy. Dance has been that for me. At more than 30 years, the longest (and so far) ongoing love/hate relationship of my life. That’s a shitload of shit that I’ve tolerated, accepted, ignored and endured on the way to those gems, those rare moments of joy that somehow sustain me until the next joyful moment. These gems often occurred onstage when I was still performing. There’s really nothing like the sort of mash-up of control and abandonment that I sometimes felt as a performer. Not to mention the recognition. I don’t care how much a dancer denies it, if you want to be a dancer then you want to be SEEN and RESPECTED and RECOGNIZED. End of discussion.

Those feelings didn’t just vanish once I stopped performing. They were just rerouted, as I transitioned to other areas. Every now and then joy will strike me in a rehearsal, and I’ll think, Holy crap! This is good. And no one else gets to feel this. Same thing happens sometimes when I’m teaching class or when people respond to my writing or when I’m watching a rare phenomenal work that gets in there; right fucking in there!

Catch me on a good day, and I’ll bypass the shit and only talk about the good stuff in my artistic life. Admittedly, the good stuff is harder to come by as I get older and less patient, and the slog-through-shit-worthy criteria changes as the years go on.

But I’m still at it.

I’m still here.

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