I have said that line over and over again with now about 80 performances under my belt. If we add the rehearsals, then I probably have “done” the show more than 200 times. And yet just this week while doing a “routine” run-through of the show in the den at my home, I had a radical new understanding of what that line is about.
Until now, I loved the line because it felt like an amazing way to communicate how powerful and real the Ballroom experience was for me as it was happening. If I believed that by changing what was going on in my head could actually change the future then how real must the “Ballroom experience” be for me?
As I write this now how obvious is the real meaning of that line and scene. Yes, of course, when in relation to someone we love who is losing the battle against cancer or disease, we want so bad to help save them that we think we can or should be able to do so. After all else fails, it must just be me and my hallucinatory mental images of dancing with my wife of 33 years as she takes her last breath that is the problem. Maybe if I imagined and hallucinated about a bright and happy future with Susan then the future changes and she survives. (Spoiler alert, she does survive, thanks to medicine not to what happened in my mind!)
I suspect many care givers and people in a love relationships with those who are in their final days have similar feelings of guilt. Indeed, I suspect this is true of those who suddenly lost a loved one in an accident or crime. Guilt.
Oh! I was thinking that this was all my fault.
There is a “proof text” to this insight, so to speak. That is something else in the show that supports this interpretation. Earlier in the show I talk about how urgently I want to be in charge and despite how “desperately I want to find someone who can change everything now.” Instead of being the “director” I become the “supporter.” But as what seems like will be the end and the reality of the moment becomes clearer to me, I can see how my decision not to be in charge is second guessed. I do relate how desperately I want do something different that Susan’s choices. What if we instead went to “Mayo Clinic, or Sloan Kettering, or M.D. Anderson…?” Would things have turned out differently? Wasn’t this all my fault?
This is perhaps one of the most fundamental insights I have gained from the experience of writing and performing my autobiographical story The Actual Dance. Perhaps a fundamental truth in every “Dance,” is a seed of guilt in the mind and heart of survivors. If I had just done something differently, maybe things would have turned out differently. If we had prayed harder, thought different thoughts, picked different doctors, didn’t take the vacation where the tragedy happened, kept our kids out of the school where the shooting happened, isn’t part of this our fault?!
What a blessing for me and perhaps for those who see and experience The Actual Dance that it was just a few words from the psychiatrist that flipped a switch in my head and let me see everything differently Rather than “tragedy and devastation” the experience was the essence of “beauty of dignity” and an ultimate act of love. I have heard from some who have seen the show that it has helped them understand their own experience with loss differently. I am sure that I do not fully understand how those magic words removed the seed of guilt from head. Maybe they are still there. There will be more insights, I now know.
What I do understand now and still think is the core message of the The Actual Dance is that we, the love partners in the process or as care givers, cannot cause miracles. We can open our heart and our love more fully than we can imagine and share and envelop them by becoming the “the other half of (their) whole.”