dancing with mortality
by mary etta perry
Disc Syndrome has been confirmed, and thus has my mortality.
significant, but somehow surprising to me, are the things that I find
most sobering. Of course, we all know that one day well not be
able to do this, that or another something
and if weve watched
our elders before us as they have become old, we know that aging is
not a selective process. (What, indeed, would I or you or we choose
to eliminate from our lives?!). In this, my season of reckoning, I find
that I am keenly grieved to lose the joy of anticipation. I cannot again
anticipate the exhilaration of unfettered excitement in many quite ordinary,
yet important, activities
a hike to Skinny Dip Falls or to Twin
Falls or to Moores Cove or to Coon Tree hiking trail. I reckon
it has been three years since last I hiked a mountain trail; two years
since Ive walked a comfortable mile. But, Ive never before
known that I cannot again do so! This year, two turns around Straus
Park was like gift and high achievement in the same package. And of
course, I then expected that more challenging hikes would be forth-coming.
I cannot now entertain that sweet thought!
is no longer realistic for me to anticipate the rush of soul-freedom
which is the fuel for running an easy mile just for the joy of running.
I cannot again anticipate hitting a 3-point basket from the right corner
of the court
or of feeling the sound of my bat as it connects for
a solid outfield hit. These things I have done
but not for many
nor have I grieved the not doing, for it never seemed too
far fetched to feel or for me to think of having improved joints and
bones and restored agility that would allow me again to do all the things
that I have loved doing. These are only some of the many things I have
done and would barter a small slice of heaven to do again! All these,
and more! And for all these and more, Im glad to say: THESE
things I have done
and with tingling joy I remember them
often. But memories do little or nothing to fill the spaces allowed
for anticipated achievement. I grieve the gone-ness of that element
of my life.
are other things I have never done but have faithfully dreamed of doing,
and in dreaming, have known the joy of expecting to do them. High on
this list for me are:
At least one bungee jump.
2. One para-sailing flight.
3. A long cross-country ski hike on virgin snow.
4. One deep sea scuba dive.
5. One dance with and a kiss from a dolphin.
I have long expected that I could, and therefore would, learn to pitch
a split finger fast ball. All of these things, I must now learn not
to anticipate. And that means the loss of much good pleasure!
faced with the loss of some pleasurable activity, there is a tendency
for a shocked response such as, I just never expected
or its just too sudden! I now know, though I may again
forget, that natural losses are usually not sudden. To belabor my reflection
of anticipation, the loss of that joyful exercise feels like a sudden
and smothering loss, but in truth, all of my current recognizable losses
are natural and they came about in subtle ways and at snails pace.
Perhaps luckily, we just dont attend our daily pleasures in ways
that allow us to notice that they jolly well are growing old along with
us. Indeed, they may be a few steps ahead of the ways we view our aging.
For days, weeks or years we may not even answer their reminders until
suddenly something opens a window, giving space for them to show into
the garden of the present
into the very now of where we are, and
into the light where they can no longer be over-looked, ignored, camouflaged
or denied. And then we acknowledge them---and hear them say, I
am here, now, embrace me!
and so, we do because we must!
recognizing a personal loss, I believe it unlikely, if not impossible,
that the first impulse will be to reach out and embrace the message
the messenger. The MRI opened the window for me and forced me into the
light, but I did not immediately pick up my pen and write pretty words.
At first I was speechless, struck dumb as it were. I trembled and I
tried to feel a prayer. I trembled more and I prayed less, until I was
able to ask of God and of myself: What can I do with what I have just
is my nature to be analytical, and so I had to be. That is the best
tool for processing even my small problems. And it was the first step
toward accepting grace to meet the challenges of this staggering situation.
I had to have time to match up what I believe about life against what
dependable diagnostic technology had just confirmed about my body. Standing
there between my good doctor and my best friend, staring at the lighted
box of x-ray views, I did not think: Oh wow! What fine poetry
is slipping through those intricate MRI messages? I only felt
thought and then knew that factually the messages were advising me that
I can no longer ask my body to jump, climb, gyrate, bend, squat or kneel
in the manner of my heretofore agile performances. Those natural and
wonderful dances must now be reprogrammed. Even on days when I feel
able, I must ask my body to refrain, lest I risk imposing damageor pain,
neither of which could afford any redemptive rewards.
pain is the single most present power in any moment or day, creative
energies are simply not available. Contemplative meditation and prayer
are just beyond the reach of one in the hold of real pain. So if I am
to find pretty words that help me define in a personal way this dance
with my own mortality, this the most intimate dance since my birth,
in all of my life
I must use the time of my able days for orderly
thinking, processing and writing. In order to embrace that by which
my diminished able-ness allows, I must gather, hold fast and celebrate
all that the able hours provide. I pledge my energies to that goal,
and I commission those who love me to remind me, should I forget, that
the painful days are under girded by the new Dances I have now begun
is an octogenarian and a poet. She was a professional nurse for fifty
years and is now retired and dancing in Asheville.