When I was five years old, I took dance. I remember very little about the classes themselves. The recital, however, remains vivid. All of us little girls wore black leotards and brown earmuffs and danced to the “Winnie the Pooh” song. Our teacher was just off stage, dancing along to the music, and we watched her, mimicking the steps just a moment or two behind her. I have images of rows of people, unrecognizable in the darkness; the tinny quality of the music filling the theater; the feel of fuzzy earmuffs on my head. The next thing I recall is finding a seat next to my mom in the balcony after my performance, marveling at how high up we seemed and how far away from the stage.
I told my mother later that I didn’t want to take dance again. It seems to me that she wondered why and tried to convince me to continue, but I refused. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong; that happens, especially with such an early memory. I wish I could ask her about it now. What I am sure of, though, is that I did not take any more dance lessons and how much I regretted that later. I wished she had insisted. Pushed just a little more. I wished that she could somehow see through my fear of not being good enough to the desire to become good enough; see through my initial fear to the satisfaction of accomplishment; see through my general hesitancy and make me reach just a little deeper to touch the happiness I felt on the stage. But I had said what I wanted, and although she didn’t understand it she took me at my word.
The memory of my brief dancing experience became weighted with a regret that’s hard to define. It’s not that I think more classes would have changed the trajectory of my life; I was not destined to become a dancer. No, the regret was about how I could feel something, want something, and not know how to express it. It’s not that I wanted to quit dancing, but that I didn’t know how to handle the stress, the challenge, the fear and the excitement of it all. I was five years old, I wanted to dance, didn’t want to feel as overwhelmed as I did sometimes, and didn’t know how to get what I really wanted.
The little girl I was blamed her for my regret. I understand now, of course, that it was part of my learning and growing up, and that she did her best trying to give me what I said I wanted. In the face of regret, forgiving both of us became the lesson: forgiving her for not hearing what I wasn’t saying and myself for fumbling my way through complex, mixed emotions.
Life never gets any simpler. It’s still full of complex, mixed emotions. But I’m not five anymore, hoping someone will read my mind. If I’m misunderstood, I can take steps to clarify; if I’m overwhelmed, I can make the changes I need without walking away from what I want; if I’m stressed, afraid, uncertain, I can reach out for help and keep reaching until I get it. I can know my own mind. That is the beginning of everything.
I love you.