Welcome to another installment of Mondays With Muddy. I had an interesting talk yesterday with a minister who knew my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page, in the late 70’s early 80’s and who had struck up a friendship with her, despite her being about 40 years his senior. It was perfect timing for him to stumble across my blog and reach out. Talking with people who knew your loved ones helps you feel in some ways like you’re getting little pieces of them back. And if I’m getting a piece of Muddy back, I feel in some way like it’s one more connection to her son, my dad. Fortuitous coincidences make the world go ’round.
Here is the next excerpt from my grandmother’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“When I was walking over to the village today, a man stopped his car to ask me for directions. ‘I’ve been looking for a sign,’ he said, ‘but I haven’t seen any.’
‘We’re all looking for signs,’ I said, giving in to the playful impulse, ‘but few of us ever see any.’ When he looked at me blankly, I explained with a smile, ‘Signs and portents.’ He still looked blank so I quickly gave him the directions he wanted and he drove off, probably reflecting on the odd characters one meets in an out-of-the-way New England village.
I walked on speculating about the human weakness for looking for auguries, for clues to one’s destiny, whether in the entrails of animals or the Delphic oracle, whether in the stars or the palm of the hand, whether in the tarot cards or a crystal ball.
I remember, when I was a child, kneeling by my open window on cold winter nights, trying to draw my bare feet under my flannel nightgown, shivering half with cold and half with fear as I gazed up at a sky filled with stars and prayed God for a sign. I’m not sure what kind I expected, whether the appearance of an enormous angel with wings outspread across the heavens, or a word written in huge letters, or just a flash of fire. It was not that I wanted proof of God’s existence – I took that for granted. It was rather that He was so infinitely remote, and with all those billions of stars in the sky and all the billions of people on earth, could He single out any special planet, any special person, namely, one little girl with my name? In other words, when I prayed for a sign, all I wanted was proof that God knew of my existence.
It’s not so very unlike much of our adult behavior, the difference being that as adults we try to force recognition not from God but from other human beings, which is in line with what I was thinking recently about the need to impress people. Hence this struggle to ‘make a name’ for oneself. Anonymity makes our lives null and void.
Yet I recall an experience I had several times in my early days as a dancer, which contradicts that assertion. I was a member of a group, all of us anonymous except for our names in very small print on the program, and more or less indistinguishable from one another. Not that we were just a row of duplicates as in a chorus line; we moved as part of one whole but in individual patterns. Nevertheless, it would have been impossible for the audience to have attached the right name from the program to the right dancer on the stage. I had no desire to stand out. It was the very anonymity that gave me a sense of vitality I’ve never know in quite the same way since. I was part of something greater than myself, sustained by it, freed by it, intensified by it, even exalted by it.
It had nothing in common, so far as I know, with the reinforced energy one presumably feels as part of a rioting mob, or with the exuberance of being one of the crowd at a football game. I can only describe it as a feeling of deepened relatedness to all of life that was tremendously liberating. I’m sure it could only be released through discipline, harmony, form.
Those qualities are also essential to a dance performed alone. Yet the power I felt on occasion as a soloist, which is exhilarating and gratifying to the ego, and what most of us probably strive for most of the time, was entirely different from that which I felt within the group.
If I were given a choice now of experiencing one kind of power or the other, I should certainly choose…no, I’m not sure. In all honesty, I’m just not sure. Even though I know that the anonymous kind was more deeply satisfying than the self-assertive, the ego persists in wanting to be singled out and valued about others.”