Remembering How to Fly

I can’t tell you who helped me get to the University medical center or to hobble back to my dorm on crutches. I can’t recall exactly what the doctor said or much of the resulting physical therapy. But I can tell you the exact step I was trying to land when I, instead, found myself face down on the studio floor.

It was a sissone, a pretty basic ballet step that I barely gave a thought to after fifteen years of performing it. I should have effortlessly launched from two feet and landed on my right leg, my left gently gliding down to meet it. But my standing leg gave way under me dislocating my kneecap.

I remember that missed step often. When my son sits on my lap and my knee protest being kept in one position for too long—I remember. When my knee pops and my breath quickens, that flash of worry surfacing that today might be the day it decides not to hold my weight again—I remember.

I spent years being defined by my identity as a dancer. What I loved most about dance was the way I felt like I was transformed when I moved. I was still me, but stronger and freer. It was in those years of discipline, those years of devotion that I learned how to fly.

People who meet me now have no idea I studied dance through college. Mostly, I forget, too. I continued to study and perform as long as I could but I chose a different career path and after I started a family dance slowly faded out of my life.  

There is little evidence of my years of study. But the pain remains years later.

The damage done in that split second of flying through the air without a thought for the consequences lingers in my joints.  The dull ache is a physical reminder that tiny moments matter, that they ripple throughout our lives. It’s a reminder that years of choices matter, that they make us who we are and turning a corner doesn’t mean leaving all those old part of us behind.

I don’t believe in clean breaks. Wounds don’t just heal, leaving no evidence behind. Healing does come. But scars remain. Scars remind.

Some nights other old memories float to the surface. I lie awake and indulge them for a while. I remember parts of my life I have pushed away. I remember that legalistic high school girl, so certain of her rightness. I remember that rebellious college student, so set on proving her past wrong. Then there was the seminary student so certain of her path in life. The awkward, often teased child. The emo kid. The pre-med student. The groupie. The church staff member. Oh yes, I have been all these things and more.

Sometimes I fool myself in thinking these parts of me are gone, like I tell myself I am no longer a dancer. New years tend to be the worst. I’m finally going to be the person I’ve always wanted to be, I say. I’m going to be brave, joyful, disciplined.

Instead, I still hide in the background or ramble to cover up my lack of confidence. I still swing too often to melancholy. I still make plans that I can’t seem to realize. Not even a few weeks into January, I know this isn’t the year I’m going to change. I hope it’s the year I’m going to be okay with all of me, scars and all.

Like the niggling knee injury that aches when I press too hard into a stretch, my limitations drive me to the one who teaches me about transformation instead of change. “In all accounts, the Risen Body still carries Christ’s scars and reveals them too—hands, feet, and side are all mentioned,” writes Richard Rohr in Immortal Diamond. “Remember that resurrection is not woundedness denied, forgotten, or even totally healed. It is always woundedness transformed.”

Yes, I sometimes think about the fall. But if I press past the tightness and finish my yoga practice, I can feel the strength that remains in my body after years of training it. My muscles remember every tendu and my mind can still run through pieces I learned years ago. I may not be performing anymore but the dance is still foundational to who I have become.

There is much evidence of my years of study. The joy remains years later.

Just last week I taught my daughter to do the jitterbug to sounds of Glenn Miller, like my grandma taught me. I left the dishes on the table, our dining room transformed into a dance hall. I didn’t think once about the pain.

For a few moments, I remembered that I know how to fly.

Nicole T. Walters
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