Learning to Let Go
The other day I encountered a massive freeway slowdown. At first rattled by the screeching tires and sea of brake lights, then irritated by the delay, a few miles down the road I found myself smiling. The traffic jam was caused not by construction or someone’s awful driving, but by clothes strewn across the freeway: piles of colorful fabrics, a single billowing yellow dress, two tangled sets of pants legs fluttering as cars passed.
This looked like a lifetime’s worth of clothing scattered across a stretch of 101, a terrible loss—of cherished gifts; items it had taken months to save for; old, soft favorites. Yet there was no broken suitcase or deflated garbage bag to indicate that these clothes had fallen off the back of a pickup truck. I wondered if someone had instead happily thrown them out the window.
Sometimes we lose things—marriages, money, beliefs—through carelessness. Sometimes they are wrenched from us, painfully and in a way we can’t control.
And then there are the times when we ourselves have to jettison what we once thought were treasures. They’re no longer useful; they’re possibly even doing us harm. Suppose you had a great career as a musical theater ingenue, but it’s been years since you’ve gotten one of those roles. Maybe it’s time to stop auditioning for Laurie in Oklahoma! Or maybe you run a competition program at your school, and the kids have become envious and mean. Time to change your school’s focus?
Letting go is difficult. It takes time and wisdom (often someone else’s at first) to understand that we’re better off without those habits, that person, these ideas. Usually only after a period of doubt and mourning do we realize that leaving something has made room for something else.
I hope to someday become that person, the one who hoots with pleasure while pushing armloads of stuff out the window of a moving car. Just maybe not on a busy freeway. —Lisa Okuhn
DSL associate editor Lisa Okuhn is a writer and a former dancer with Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, ODC/Dance, and others. She founded arts-focused Okuhn Public Relations.
Then It Happens
The day was long and frustrating. Pixies had taken control of my mouse, causing the curser to flit here and there. “Damn this,” I said to my son, continuing to grouse as he answered his phone.
Crap computer. “What?”
“Ma. Ben got a call this morning. Megan’s dead.”
Dance teachers are blessed in so many ways. To grow old while still listening to songs about peanut butter and doodlebugs. To create with glue and glitter and sequins, sing and clap, dream and design, and play dress-up. To have the opportunity, after a work year of stress and struggle, to take a literal bow. And, best of all, with each happy tale of a new puppy or tears of hurt, to wrap caring arms around your beloved students and enjoy them with all your might.
What happens when one of them is suddenly gone? Growing up is a dangerous activity. The kids come to class, joyous, new licenses in hand, and you make sure to camouflage the worry in your congratulations. Weeks and lessons pass, and you’re consumed with corrections they forgot or how to address fizzling energy levels.
“What’s so important that you need to talk about it during warm-up?”
“Nothing. I just got rear-ended at a stop light on the way to class. Jerk.”
There are always reminders that these kids are more than customers. Facebook post by a mom, grateful that Molly didn’t get hurt when her car slid down an embankment: like.
Pause. Tiny prayer.
Whispers about Sara’s night of heavy drinking, or Cathy’s bad breakup with her boyfriend. Next class you teach as usual, but your eyes keep wandering over to that teen and your thoughts are shaky: please keep coming to class, safe, please.
Then it happens, after a winter of endless whipping snows, on a clear day when the roads are finally dry and hearts are warmed by a sunny sky—your student is gone. You think of all the moments with her, the shared laughs and the exasperation, but you also think of all the others. Yes, dance teachers are blessed, but there are days when this job is just too hard. —Karen White
DSL associate editor Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.