Coming Back

[A homely tale: On the eve of her own departure from her parents’ house, a daughter witnesses her mother’s return to her childhood friends and her girlhood’s passion–dance.]

It is necessary to return to be able to leave and go on with life. So it was with me. The return home for the last time as mere daughter was pensively laced with thoughts about what it means to touch one’s childhood once again. It was more than appropriate ,then, that I should return to find my mother negotiating her patchy return to a certain childhood through an art symbolic of youthful freedoms and promises in life. She was not alone in this. When I watched her among her friends and compatriots I realized I, in my limited capacity, was witness to the nuances of Woman and Return, and that when some women past the stage of grihasthya decide to celebrate again the efforts and environment of their girlhood through a return to the past, it is well, and welcome. This little piece, a cameo in the totality of the entire memorial performance, is applause for the women I saw and admired briefly.

It is still common for women to fill their “emptiness” with family and children, to find “other” vessels to receive the outpouring of their life; it was more so in my mother’s time. Therefore, I mark the act, witting or unwitting, of these artistes that speaks of looking beyond family and child and inward to who they were long ago. That ability—to seek, and if possible be, Self first, then Woman (or Man), then relation or kin, and thence everything else—is a gift every offspring should have as example.

To name is “to affirm, to identify, to give presence” where the act of doing grants being, not vice versa.  Through practice one invokes buried connections, and brings the lost back into memory. This has always been the purpose of art, and has also always been the way womenfolk knit together genealogies and relationships. What I saw, then, was an exposition of kinship and work in the practice of memory. The concentration of the circle of women on an absent center—a teacher now gone from them- ritually recreated the sorority and fraternity of the school. Whether they ever saw it that way or not, to my eyes this recreation, this play, lila, was the dance of mystic sisters, congregated to help each other over this step in life.

Art is not mere beauty, nor is it merely chaste or daring. Whosoever sought only beauty of form here would go wanting. No, here was a beauty more of function. In a pirouette was a spell. No. Time had not stopped, it had been turned inside out for a moment. Here the act of dancing again and again took out of childhood that memory of a dance school and reinstated it within the improbable present. And because it was taken out, it would be there always.

What did it matter what songs moved their feet or minds? It was enough, in these times, that some common music
brought their hearts together and stirred their minds to mythic beauty. I saw their hands lift in some mudra and thought of the unison of swan’s wings. Oh, you cannot separate the dancer from the dance! This was not body moved with age, a “tattered coat upon a stick”; to those who had eyes, these were girl-spirits who had never relinquished their childhood.

I watched them, mature trees, swaying in the wind. What is art if it does not flower in the midst of our life?


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