There was an 88-year-old woman in my tap class this morning. And, mind you, this was not my usual class. #PRIVATE# This was a tap improv class, touted as being “open level,” but — please! — everyone in it was advanced to professional. Except me. It was absolutely terrifying. Here I am, trying my best to simply learn the foundations of tap, which requires a huge amount of concentration on what my feet are doing, when I brilliantly decide to take a class that’s completely antithetical to that. Improv requires complete faith in just feeling the music; no thinking allowed. No routines, no direction. You’ve got to kind of just be, and you’ve got to make yourself radically vulnerable in front of other people (in my case, people who are lightyears ahead with their ability). So I did. I danced. I looked like a fool I’m sure, but I did my best, and I lived to tell the tale.
But back to this 88-year-old dame. She was absolutely sensational. She moved well, she was graceful, and she had incredible presence. She was magnificent to watch, and her joie de vivre gave me hope. Even though I spoke recently (on the podcast) about our keystrokes being numbered (and they are) — and we should therefore live as if we’re dying (since we are, womp womp) — watching her taught me that even though our days are numbered, that doesn’t mean our grace has to be. In other words, getting older doesn’t mean we have to trade in our dance shoes for our social security cards.
Yesterday was my birthday. Happy birthday to me.
Actually, not happy.
My grandmother is dying. My heart is broken. I need to be honest with you, since I’m writing to you here now and I promise you my full genuine self always, even when that self is feeling shattered. Mariann and I are headed to her first thing in the morning (we’d go tonight, except our neighborhood is literally shut down because of the huge Halloween parade). Grandma likely has just a few more days left.
(By the way, please don’t share this information on Facebook or Twitter, or otherwise allude to it publicly at this point. Also, please forgive my radio silence if you email me or leave me comments and I don’t respond; do absolutely know how much your support means to me, but please also understand that I probably won’t/can’t respond. I will read them, though.)
I need not remind you how amazing Grandma is. Surely you remember.
She also raised me. She was a primary parent for me in a very broken home (along with a very well-meaning, loving mother who is equally as heartbroken as I am right now).
Yesterday, I had the distinct feeling that Grandma was with me, and she said, “Jazz, I’m going to go soon. But you’re going to be OK.” Now, mind you, I tend toward atheism, with agnostic fibers woven throughout — whatever that means. So it’s not like I thought it was some Divine intervention or anything like that. For all I know, it was me telling myself that I will be OK, and that — somehow (though I have no fucking clue how) — life will go on.
And then this morning I decided to take a tap class that scared me. My teacher — whom I have spoken about before when I wrote about Taptivism — has, in our brief but meaningful (to me) exchanges — offered me insights about death that I’ve clung to. And so her improv class, hard as it was, felt like a safe space to me, since she’s well aware of where I am right now. So I figured, why not? I decided that, since I’m still alive (even though I feel like a broken light bulb) — and since, for whatever reasons, I have this inexplicable life — I would actually try to “live it.”
“Live It” is the advice my grandmother gave me just a few months ago when I was absolutely desperate for her wisdom, and I asked her what I should do with my life. “Live it,” she said. And so I got it tattooed on my chest, needing to feel the permanence of her words. As any good granddaughter would do.
My first surprise today, as I waited for class to begin, was to see a familiar face from the world of animal rights! A longtime activist, whom I have known casually for years, takes the improv class regularly. I beamed inside. As you probably know, the AR community has that effect on people.
My second surprise was my (much) older classmate. I had no idea when I left this morning that there would be an 88-year-old dancer who would, on multiple occasions throughout the 90-minute class, make me well up with tears (I pretended it was sweat in my eyes). She was literally emanating joy. My extremely strong reaction to seeing someone that age so full of life forced me to recognize how deeply sad I have become, how acclimated to watching life disappear. Painfully. Piece by piece. With no rationale. It was refreshing to experience the dichotomy of that today. Her dancing was like a pill that I desperately needed.
But the yin/yang of it — her fullness next to my grandmother’s emptiness — was startling, and just a little bit loathsome. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to make (more) sense of it. At the moment however, all I know is that it felt freeing to be in the music, to be as un-self-conscious as I could muster — all things considered — and seeing that woman of such extraordinary grace dance, reminded me that there is still life out there, just waiting to be lived. One day, maybe I’ll be able to live it again.
Flock Only: For the 88-Year-Old Dancer, With Desperation and Admiration