Touching Tenderness

Dear Beloved Dancers,

I write to you after a long day of feeling a bit wound up. Blessedly, meditation and T’ai Chi served me well this evening and so I can now write to you from a place of calm, open-heartedness. Whatever it takes for each of us to find serenity in the midst of chaos, I hope we have a variety of modalities to get us there. Dance is key.

I want to tell you about my hospice shift on Tuesday night at Laguna Honda Hospital. I sat with a woman named Monique. I’ve known her for several months now. We always sit together at a table in the commons area. When I greet her, she usually seems happy to see me, but it’s difficult to tell since, for the most part, she’s non-verbal. She sits strapped into her wheelchair because she often tries to get up out of it. Barring that, she rocks back and forth and is generally agitated. Her eyes are clear and beautiful and she makes steady eye contact, but she cannot manage clear words. There’s a lot of what I would call a guttural sort of forced exhalation; a constant line of huh, huh, huh. Occasionally, there will be words. Monique will smile broadly when she sees me and slowly huff out a breathy “How-huff are-huff you-huff?”. Considering she’s only allotted approximately six clear words per hour, I find it an astonishing kindness to use 3 of those words to inquire after my well-being. As we sat together on Tuesday, my hand resting on hers, Monique looked at me with warmth in her eyes and then she slowly---achingly slow---aimed her hand in the direction of my face. And I sat there, calmly, in this moment of exquisite intimacy and sweet tenderness, waiting to see what she’d do with her hand. I sat with gentle curiosity. Soon enough, her hand rested on my cheek. I want to write that she “caressed” my cheek and although I think that was her intent, well, close enough. In the stillness where she held her hand against my check, just for one moment, she closed her eyes and we were both still. Stillness for Monique is indeed a rare thing. When she opened her eyes, returning to our steady eye contact, she looked at me and what I read in those big eyes was tremendous relief. Can you imagine such a state of near constant agitation? And then to have a moment of complete stillness? Tears welled up in my eyes, such was the level of connection and trust. She returned her hand to her lap and then repeated the entire process twice more over the course of the next 15 minutes. One time, she cupped my chin with her frail hand the way a grandmother would a small child. So dear, this woman Monique. My heart felt like it would explode.

Here's the thing: I would not have been able to sit in that incredible intimacy without this dance practice, without knowing something about how to stay, just stay; stay quiet, stay still, stay present, but stay. . . .. when someone’s actions are uncertain, but clearly well-intended. It was an incredibly sweet moment and I will cherish the memory for years to come.

It thrills me to tell you that Claire will be providing the soundscape, holding space, and dropping her pearls of wisdom in our collective pond tomorrow morning in Sausalito.

Note: I cannot use anyone’s real name when I write about people at Laguna Honda Hospital. Monique is not her real name. Honoring privacy.

I chose two poems to share with you this week. Enjoy. A little something to contemplate. . . . . .

If You Knew

By Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last to touch someone? If you were taking tickets, for example, at the theater, tearing them, giving back the ragged stubs, you might take care to touch that palm, brush your fingertips along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase too slowly through the airport, when the car in front of me doesn’t signal, when the clerk at the pharmacy won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt. They’d just had lunch and the waiter, a young gay man with plum black eyes, joked as he served the coffee, kissed her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left. Then they walked half a block and her aunt dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume have to come? How wide does the crack in heaven have to split? What would people look like if we could see them as they are, soaked in honey, stung and swollen, reckless, pinned against time?

The Widening Sky

By Edward Hirsch

I am so small walking on the beach

at night under the widening sky.

The wet sand quickens beneath my feet

and the waves thunder against the shore.

I am moving away from the boardwalk

with its colorful streamers of people

and the hotels with their blinking lights.

The wind sighs for hundreds of miles.

I am disappearing so far into the dark

I have vanished from sight.

I am a tiny seashell

that has secretly drifted ashore

and carries the sound of the ocean

surging through its body.

I am so small now no one can see me.

How can I be filled with such a vast love?

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