By: Icy Frantz
I am late this year; I usually start the multi-step process of creating our Christmas card in October. While many have rejected the idea of snail mail, I still love to send and receive real paper, the thicker the better. Searching for a picture of our children – one that will pass each child’s individual scrutiny – can take time. Updating addresses in our unwieldy “Christmas card list” – also time-consuming.
Securing a drawing from our artist in residence takes nudging, reminders, and sometimes bribery. But writing a message that honors the year (this year in particular!), that is both hopeful and honest, that condenses our sentiments into a few words, is hard.
So, as I searched for inspiration, I found this:
“Both light and shadow are the dance of love” -Rumi.
And although I do not think you will see Rumi’s quote on our card, it has stuck with me. Because it is true and feels so relevant. Now. This year.
I am often in awe of people who live through times of great shadows and go on to find amazing light.
Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm but survived a near-fatal shark attack, and just a year later went on to win first place in the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) national championship.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and taught himself to read before becoming the leader of the abolitionist movement.
Marc Zupan became a quadriplegic when his car was hit by a drunk driver. He is now a gold medal-winning Paralympic medalist in wheelchair rugby. Oh, and he also rock climbs and skydives.
Viktor Frankl was imprisoned at several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz; his wife and family were killed by the regime. He later went on to write Man’s Search For Meaning, considered by many to be one of the ten most influential books in the United States.
Theodor Geisel’s work was called “rubbish” by 27 publishing companies; today, the world could not imagine the absence of the beloved Dr. Seuss.
These adversities, failures, and losses did not fully dimmish or crush their spirits, although I feel certain there were times of mourning and anger, but maybe it actually awakened something, a drive that might otherwise have been missed. Maybe there is a benefit to our lives, and even a raw necessity, for the existence of both shadow and light.
Of course, these are famous people, and their stories are known by many and widely feted, but all around us, even in our own families, we see examples of Rumi’s dance of love. These examples might not gain the same notoriety, the adversity might not be as traumatic, the effects may not be as exceptional, but I would argue that still, they are transformative.
Our daughter set off this fall to a new school; she was excited, but the first handful of calls were distressing. Wearing masks was hard. Making friends from six feet apart was hard. The campus was essentially closed, with no visits from family and no going home. And even without the COVID restrictions, it was all new. The expectations were new. The people with whom she shared a lunch table, brand new. She had left behind a comfortable home, the only school she had ever known, and a handful of wonderful friends. Certainly, the discomfort that our daughter has felt this fall doesn’t even begin to compare in scope to the adversity that many have endured, but it is shaping all the same.
Little by little, over the course of the past few months, our conversations have grown in subject. Living outside of her comfort zone has pushed her to think differently, to consider more. Her world seems larger, not smaller. And although many times this fall, she has felt like she was living in the shadow, in the darkness, I can see clearly that a light has been switched on.
And like all of us, I too have known the dark shadows, some bigger than others, and I have known the light, and I imagine I will experience both again. Our times of darkness need the hope that is revealed in times of joy, and, conversely, our joy profits from the lessons learned during our darkest days. There is an important relationship between the two, and although I have never articulated it as a dance, I think Rumi might be onto something.
Before COVID, I enjoyed being on a dance floor – remember that?- even though I am not a particularly good dancer. I appreciate the moves of one friend who can maneuver her hips in ways I can’t, and my husband when he hits the floor to breakdance, a skill he mastered while in business school. There is something about being on that dance floor, limbs flailing, bodies stirring, an interconnectedness that is real and promising.
And that brings us to the dance of love. One of the most important purposes of our lives here on earth is to learn to love more greatly. It is not to be happy; it is not to be rich; it is not even to win Super Bowls or elections (although those are all welcome components).
Most religions talk about the importance of such love – love of God, of brother, of child, of neighbor, of enemy, of self – and it’s hard to argue against those. It’s easy to see how much greater our world is when we feel it, when we share it, when we stand committed to it. All of our relationships benefit when we are able to love. Our communities are healthier through such expression. Our children feel more secure. We feel more secure. And, like on the crowded – and sometimes hot and loud – dance floor, we feel more connected.
Frankly, this is far too many words for a quaint holiday message; it may even be too much for a column in a newspaper! So, I will leave you here, and wish you health and happiness for a wonderful Thanksgiving in a year that has been uncomfortable at best, and hard, but one that has also pushed us all to be better, to do better, to love better.