I just finished reading “The Wisdom of Love” by Jacob Needleman. Exploring the idea and meaning of love is part of my own journey to understand some of the existential questions raised by “The Actual Dance.” I am sure it sounds odd for the playwright and performer of a show to be seeking understanding of what he/she has written and performs. Perhaps this is an indicator at how profound an impact this process has had on my own life.
One of my first discoveries on this journey was that the play, in part, is about what love “really means.” The Actual Dance portrays the journey of two twenty-year old kids from when they first meet and decide to get married to the point in time when one of them is faced with a life threating disease. From “I wonder if they really understood what love meant” to “I think I now understand” how I can dance The Actual Dance. Meaning, I think I know what loves really means.
Jacob Needleman I hope will agree that the path described in the show is one “Way,” the term for the journey he uses in his book. His focus is on what he calls “wisdom traditions” of “The Way.” “The Way” being paths to discover or experience personal enlightenment. Enlightenment as I understand from or as I interpret the book is the Love that is the divine. Not romantic love or popular understandings of affection, but a form of intimacy and integration with the divine source of all life inside of us and with our conscious mind. My own approach is reflected in the poem US , which suggests that life exists within each of us as a spark of the divine and that love “happens” when that spark intertwines with another.
In other words, it is possible for two people to become “One” through love. That is, our own divine sparks or life can intertwine with another so that the two become as One. Last month in discussing “Levels of Love” by Julian Barnes, I talked about how the love between two people creates something bigger and more than just the two people. I cited Barnes’ arguments that when love exist between two people, then when those two people are added together you get three not two; and when you take one of them away then the loss is even greater -- perhaps four.
The revelation offered to me by Needleman’s book is that there is a difference in kind or “quality” of the love that Barnes focuses on and that which Needleman describes. The Needleman One is from within and without and is not based on our human condition. Grief, on the other hand, is a human or egoistic experience, one of the many human emotions that are real and experienced in the moment within our human body and mind. Needleman though argues that there is inside of us something else, something beyond ‘human’ something of the divine. The difference then between grief and love is that love, properly experienced, is not an idea or feeling or pain, it is an experience, a spiritual awareness (awakeness) of or to the divine of who we are.
I was not surprised then to read Needleman say:
“In times of grief, immediately following the death of a loved one, it often happens that all egoism vanishes, that no trace remains of personal emotions such as anger or resentment or self-pity or any impulse toward personal gain. … In face, it is surely a taste of the kind of love we hear about in sacred writings and in the stories of holy men and women.” (p. 104)
My experience of this moment came not after a loss but in anticipation of the loss. The Actual Dance arguably is about “the Way” I came to that moment. How I found that “taste.”
Needleman ends his book with a number of questions.
“But is the love that is given to us meant to be the answer to the finitude that brings us to question who and what we are? Love is surely the answer to death. But what kind of love? And how do we find it?”
The Actual Dance is a love story. It may not answer these questions, though it might suggest several possible answers. Instead, what it does, is to validate that they exist and that the search is not futile.
July 18th is my birthday. My wish is for your help to raise the resources necessary so that all of those people who need to see the show can. Your TAX-DEDUCTIBLE support is essential and what better day to be part of this journey than today, my birthday. Thank you in advance. Click here to donate.
In this very difficult week I searched for something to say that might reflect the terrible news around the world involving the deaths of young children. Not just the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers whose deaths have triggered even more killings, but also the unimaginable pain of children leaving their parents and homes – the parents sending them off – for a long and dangerous trip to the United States not knowing if they will make it or if they will ever be seen again. Daily carnage in American streets and homes of children shot dead every day, but whose deaths go unreported, seemingly unnoticed except by those who loved them.
As it was once said to me about The Actual Dance, where is the beauty and dignity in all of this!? Is there anything but devastation, horror and heart break so deep that the soul cries?
Last year I wrote a poem, Hollow, shortly after the Newtown, Sandy Hook School slaughter of young kids. It argued, in effect, that the Dance does happen, even then, but it happens differently.
I was going to use it as my blog for this week, and as I thought more about it, the words didn’t seem exactly right for this week. Instead, I wrote this:
Hardest of Them All
It is a time of Dances, the hardest of them all.
Our children are going away
Eval, Gil’ad, Nftali, Mohammad
And more and more and more
Across our border, away from home
In our streets and alleyways and American homes
And more and more and more and more
It is a time of Dances, the hardest of them all
July 11, 2014 © Samuel A Simon, All rights Reserved
It is true that there is great agony and grief with each child’s death. In the moment it seems perhaps naïve or even cruel to think and talk of love. And after all, that is what The Actual Dance is – the engagement of love between souls: one leaving, the other still here.
I believe in love as the essence of life and that it exists in a tangible form as part of who we each are. And despite the visible terror and pain of this week, it is still true: The Actual Dance is a dance that each and every one of us will dance.
The death of a child does not end the love. The heat of the grief that follows does not extinguish the love. It might eclipse it for a time, the love though is still there.
In the exploration of the parameters of love and loss and meaning I have come to believe that each and every loss of someone we love involves a process that is a form of what the “Dance” is all about. It is a process of engagement at the most fundamental levels of human existence with life and love. For me, and I say this in the show, I believe that the the love inside of us, we take it with us. We take only our half. The other half remains in those we loved. There is a real and identifiable connection that continues forever. These children will never leave their parents hearts.
The Dance with or for our children is indeed the hardest of the all. A grace exists in understanding and feeling that connection and love we had with them. With that grace we can begin again to acknowledge and cherish the beauty of what our love for them really meant. It is how we become whole again, finding and holding on to the love inside us that connected to the other and cherishing that connection.
The Actual Dance is about many things. At the root of those many things is a separation. It is about preparing to lose what was and to become what will be.
This is a new lens for me on the story of the play. I was brought to this insight as I wondered the relationship of this story I wrote (and experienced) and the 4th of July.
July 4th in America is not marked as a separation from something good. Rather, it is celebrated as the day the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and thus set in motion the creation of the United States of America. For most of America today, it is about a new beginning, shedding the shackles of oppression in order to be free. July 4th in many ways has become a moment to recognize the blessings of liberty and the values of freedom from tyranny.
Yet it is also about separation. Separations have two aspects. One is what was -- that which is lost or left behind. The other is what will be – that which is created and will become. We were a British Colony before with ties of all sorts to a motherland, including personal ties of colonists to family and friends back ‘home.’ After we were an independent nation, self-ruled and governed. There were parts of the relationship with Britain that were supportive and reassuring to many and there must have been great uncertainty about how things would work – or not -- after the separation.
Losing someone you love is also a separation. The anxiety and anticipation of the process leading to the loss also involves preparing for an uncertain future without the other.
As I was reflecting on these similarities I decided to look again at what we now call the Declaration of Independence I understand there is a key difference here. The ‘after’ of our declaration from Britain is perceived as good and better. The declaration is made to justify a volitional act of separation or even ‘divorce’ from a parent or partner.
In this little exercise the separation – the Dance -- is not volitional. It is inevitable and ultimately necessary. For many of the everyday colonists though I wonder if the declaration wasn’t something that felt imposed and difficult. I wonder despite the differences if it isn’t useful to compare and contrast these two events as a way of shedding new light on each:
Here is the original:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Here is my adaptation:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for two people to dissolve the mortal bonds which have connected them with another, and for one of them to assume through the powers of the divine, the separate and equal station in the eternal to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God call them, a decent respect requires that they should declare the love and causes that while continue to bind them together forever.
Ultimately, all separations involve losses. They all require courage and imagination to move forward with the new – post separation world. In America we celebrate the 4th of July. We acknowledge the battle and tension and difficulty of the separation and those who made it happen, and we celebrate the potential of a great country that even now is evolving and becoming.
In Judaism we mark anniversaries of separations as well. We call it Yahrzeit. A Yiddish term meaning “one year’s time” or the anniversary of a separation. The purpose is to remember and honor that which was and the blessings of that relationship and that person. We recite prayers in their honor and most importantly we acknowledge the power and mercy of God in the world.
We do not in American mourn the loss of the relationship we had with Britain. Rather we look at the reasons for the separation. The Declaration actually is a bill of particulars and outlines just cause for a revolution. One that results in a separation – the loss of what was and the creation of what will be.
So too is the result of different kinds of separation. A dance, a dance that one day each and every one of us will dance. Something that was and the creation of what will be.
Samuel A. Simon is the playwright and performer of The Actual Dance.