Dancing the Full Catastrophe with a Lady Called Life
Some days I am overtaken by an impulse to dance to the sheer joy of being alive.
There I am working around the house, music playing, when suddenly the old joy rises within me and I’m gyrating on the carpet like a madman.
It’s as if a lovely lady by the name of Life has been watching me from the corner, wondering when I was going to ask her to dance – and finally she says the hell with it and grabs my hand and twirls me about the floor.
When I was a child, I danced with that lovely lady every day.
I grew up in the country, in an old farmhouse on a six-acre slice of Paradise, and lady Life was my constant companion.
She showed me magical things: tadpoles half turned into frogs; fireflies lighting up the night; newborn kittens crawling through the cracks of hay bales; raging snowstorms that left drifts up to my eyes.
Back then it seemed that joy was the natural order of life. I remember waking on summer mornings in my second-floor bedroom and catapulting out of bed, so eager was I to get outside and leap into the anticipation of another day.
Then I grew up and for a long while – a very long while – I lost touch with my old playmate.
I viewed things differently. Life was about work. Life was about responsibility. Life was about achieving things and getting ahead.
The old magic fell from my eyes. Life became a drudgery, something to be endured, not enjoyed.
It took me a long while to find my way back to my old dance partner. I had to go actively searching for her – finding her, curiously, in all the little things that I had carelessly cast off in my climb to adulthood. Tadpoles. Fireflies. Snowstorms. Birdsong.
Even now, sometimes I find myself questioning Life when she tries to get me to dance.
But Lady, I say, I’ve been through divorce, cancer, the darkness of depression. What right do I have to dance?
All in the past, she replies. Come dance with me.
But Lady, I say: how can I dance when I know I will die one day?
You are alive now. Come dance with me.
But Lady, I say: look at the news. Another bombing. A truck plowing through people along the Riviera. Innocent people and children murdered. How can I be light and joyful in a world filled with pain and suffering?
Yes, she says. Life is full of suffering. Come dance with me.
And so I dance – despite it all, because of it all.
In his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Jon Cabot-Zinn cites a line from Zorba the Greek, where Zorba is asked by a companion if he has ever been married.
Zorba answers to the effect of: “Am I not a man? Of course I’ve been married. Wife, house, kids, everything – the full catastrophe!”
To be alive – truly alive – means to dance amidst the full catastrophe of life. To dance amidst the chaos, the suffering, the uncertainty.
Not knowing what will happen tomorrow – whether we will even be here tomorrow – and choosing to dance anyway.
And in the dancing, we make everything lighter, happier, more joyful – not just inside our own hearts, but inside those around us. The same way a child does.
So today, I choose to say yes.
Yes, dear Lady.
Yes, I take your hand.