Sometimes, because of all of the medication I take, I have really vivid dreams. The dreams are always pleasant, just very detailed and very real. My favorite dream, that seems to reoccur quite a bit, is a dancing dream. I am a fantastic dancer, in my dream, much like a world champion. I am flying through the air, my feet and legs pumping blood with every leap, turn, and twist of the foot. My feet never seem to touch the ground and every step is fluid and executed in midair. My friend, Kelly, is always there, yelling up to me, "Berger, Berger, you aren't touching the ground, your feet aren't on the ground!". I always yell back, "Kelly, I know, I can't stop it, I can't stop my legs, they just won't stop!". We start laughing and crying because I am out of my chair and dancing, and my legs just won't stop for anything, it feels like magic, like I am flying.
I know why I have this dream. It is because one of my biggest hurdles was and still is, grieving the loss of dancing. Not just Irish Step Dancing, but all dancing. I know I can still move part of my body and there are many ways to still enjoy the experience, but I still miss real, unmodified dancing and using my two legs. It is probably a silly thing to miss in comparison to all of the wonderful things I am still able to do, but a part of me remains stuck. Admittedly, I may rock out, by myself, in my room to Mercy by Duffy here and there, even using a hairbrush or some other ridiculous prop as a microphone, but dancing it is not. The void stings a little bit every single time. Sometimes it lingers, but mostly, I don't even think about it or remember it and then sometimes I am in a situation where I am faced with it, head on.
This past weekend I went to a wedding. I have a thing about weddings. They terrify me actually. If I am asked to be in a wedding, it doesn't matter what role, I stress and worry about the inevitable fact that I will soon have to be in front of people, plain as day, no hiding. Because of my infection, I had a fever, felt miserable, or was emaciated while trying to attend and be a part of every single wedding I was included in during that time. And now, because of this, I associate them with so much pain and sadness. I had trouble focusing on anything other than how awful I was feeling and tried very hard, much to the detriment of myself, to put on a brave face and pretend like nothing was wrong. But, the dancing would start and I would feel the pressure, like a heavy weight, reminding me I didn't belong. I couldn't dance and I didn't want to pretend I could. I didn't feel well and I was terribly envious of everyone spinning and moving their legs and hips all around me. I always just wanted to leave.
Now, as I am starting to recover from a long battle, the progress very slow, but very steady, my healing is taking many forms. I'm not just physically healing, but am emotionally healing as well. And part of repairing the emotional damage involves finding new ground for once wounded relationships. When I was newly injured, I found it most difficult returning to my Irish Dancing family. I couldn't accept myself as I was and didn't want to be a part of that world as I was, a paraplegic. I still wanted to do everything I did before and not compromise at all. Some of my toughest trials occurred because of my reluctance to change my view of my dancing relationships. I refused to accept my condition, especially in this scenario. So many things were happening to me at this time, holding tightly to a slipping grip wasn't working anymore and I finally just let go of my longest and dearest friendships. I was suffering so much and so fearful I turned inward rather than let anyone know how I was truly feeling. I just stopped calling.
Each relationship deserves its own story, but one of the most important is the relationship with my former dancing teacher, Mary. Irish dancing isn't just a sport or a hobby, it is a community and a family. National competitions are held in big cities and fancy hotels. Everyone stays together and competes all day and celebrates all evening. Bonds are formed likened only to sisterhood and everyone is there for each other in more ways than can be imagined. Mary and I shared that bond. The day I fell from the horse, I talked to her on the phone. She was one of the first people to come to my bedside following my accident. Actually, three people, other than my family, came to the hospital in Chattanooga and Mary was one of them.
|Me, Kelly, and Mary. I am so swollen because of all of my injuries. My entire body was swollen, head to toe, much like the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.|
She fought for me and helped me with every ounce of her heart. My hospital room was always full of McGing Irish Dancers. Madeline, who was a very, young girl at the time, crawled in bed with me and Deirdre would wear my back brace and play "Sarah Berger" and transfer in and out of my wheelchair, while I sat in bed with Madeline and laughed and laughed. They came everyday, all of them. Bringing cards, well wishes, and love. I went on trips to out of state competitions and tried to hang out with everyone at the hotel bars. It was just how it should be, only, I couldn't do it. I couldn't be a part of something I loved so much and not participate the way I wanted to. The constant reminder of what I was missing was too much to bare. Several stressful and upsetting conversations boiled the tension over and finally it was done and I was alone. This world was gone. I became far too sick and far too detached to think of it as anything but a memory. The thought of starting over, being honest about wanting to give up while hating every push of my wheelchair, and having to share the envy I felt every time I watched the kids run through the halls with someone else or witnessed everyone carrying on with teaching, organizing, and running errands without me, was more than I could handle. I just stopped, I had to.
Mary never stopped though. Every year, during the ten years we hardly communicated, she called. She would call either to say "Happy Birthday", or to say that she remembered it was July 17, the day I fell. Sometimes we would even go to lunch. She never asked for more, just a brief chat and that was okay with me. I couldn't handle much more. She never gave up, slowly pulling me back in. Recently, her daughter, Madeline, was preparing to leave for college and asked if we could all have lunch before her departure. At the lunch, Mary said she sensed something different in me, a wellness and the return of a spirit that had been lost for quite sometime. A few months went by and she called again and asked me to see Deirdre star in Lord of the Dance. I went. I saw all of my old friends, my old world, face to face. The vivid and jarring losses were painful, but, much to my surprise, overwhelming feelings of calm and peace replaced the anger and hurt. I was finally comfortable with my new self in this world. I will never be a part of it in the same way again, but that doesn't mean I can't still participate, just in a new and different way. Since the show, I've taken necessary and long over due steps to begin mending meaningful and needed friendships and I shattered my walls, allowing new relationships to form out of the rubble. Everything is a work in progress, but when there is so much love, the ride is very smooth. Open arms don't even begin to describe the response. I didn't expect it, but should have known it.
Sarah, Mary's niece, was married Saturday evening and it was beautiful. There was a ton of dancing, both Irish and not so Irish. Tons and tons of girls sweated it out on the dance floor and barely stopped for a break. Dancers, young and old, lined up and took turns doing steps two or three at a time, one right after another. It was a perfect evening. Joy filled the room and echoed down the hallways.
Earlier that day, the same wedding trepidation returned, but, as the evening progressed, I noticed it wasn't so terrifying after all, I figured it out - I discovered how to attend a wedding. I did what was comfortable for me, choosing to stay close to the bar and chat with old friends and laugh with young people who are all grown up. It was a perfect and lovely evening. One point, Mary, the world's greatest arm grabber and puller, pulled me on the dance floor and I reluctantly surrendered. I tried to turn around and sneak out, but she grabbed the back of my chair and yanked me back. I danced with all of my friends for a song and returned to sit on the side with another old friend. Everything was okay, I was okay. I said to my friend as we were sitting and watching, "Oh, it just bugs me I can't dance," and he very gently and sympathetically said, "I know, I know." And that was all. It was just a moment and then it passed.
|Mary pulling me in.|
|Me finally giving in and dancing.|
I still struggle with so many issues and have many mountains yet to climb, but each time I take a step in the right direction, I confirm to myself, everything is just fine and will be just fine. When I let go of what once was, and start living as things are, my previously blind eyes begin to see what was there all along, people who love me, pulling me back in, just as I am.