“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”*

The rhythm is counted out with a steady drumbeat; as the melody swells everyone steps as one towards the center of the circle, one–two–three–four, raising their arms and clapping on the four: one–two–three–clap! Then walking backwards to where they started: one–two–three–clap!, this time clapping behind their backs. And the dance continues, moving to the right, the circle of dancers whirling around the high-ceilinged movement arts center.

I sit on the couch at the edge of the dance space and eagerly gulp my water—I’m thirsty after our previous dance in the July heat. Under the couch, neatly tucked out of the way, is Delia’s white cane. I’m watching her and Mary Ellen as the circle moves around the room. Delia’s right hand rests gently on Mary Ellen’s left shoulder. As Mary Ellen dances forwards, one–two–three–clap!, Delia moves with her, lifting her own left hand in time with all the dancers in the circle. Then back–two–three–clap!, and Delia moves backwards in perfect step with the others, lowering her arm.

I’ve been admiring these two women this whole week at the dance retreat. I’m fascinated with the graceful way they dance, always next to each other in the circle, often side-by-side with their arms around each other’s waists. Before each dance, while the leader demonstrates the steps, Mary Ellen whispers to Delia: “Left foot forward…” When the dance has arm movements, Mary Ellen takes Delia’s hands and demonstrates for her.

Sometimes it takes Delia a little longer to learn a dance, and she and Mary Ellen have to step out of the circle as they struggle to get it right. When Delia has the steps down and they’re ready to join in, the two dancers nearest them unclasp hands, and the circle of joined hands expands effortlessly to include them as the dance whirls on.

Other times Delia picks up the dance quickly. When someone says “grapevine” she doesn’t need to see to know where to put her feet; her feet have danced that flowing step many times, in many different circles of dancers in many different dance halls.

Swaying in my seat to the beat of the music, I drink the last of my water. The dancers move in their circle around the room. One–two–three–clap!

*From “Among School Children” by William Butler Yeats


Marian’s words

As we drive back to Cathy’s after our lunch date, Cathy mentions her friend Marian, who passed away in 2006. She’s talked about her in passing before, piquing my curiosity and making me regret that I missed my chance to meet this amazing woman. This time, I ask for more details. Back at Cathy’s home, we settle into armchairs and she begins to tell me about her friend.

“We used to talk about everything—literature, philosophy. We were both writers. But Marian was the poet. She wrote wonderful, wonderful poetry. She’d share her poetry with me, all right.” Cathy gets out her prayer book and shows me a much-folded paper that she’d tucked between its pages. On it was a poem her friend had written in 2002.

I took a walk in the woods the other night with God.
God pointed out things I never saw before.
The peace that was in the woods…

Cathy remembers, “Those came out of her once or twice a week, at least.”

“She was so smart. It was difficult to stump her in trivia. And it didn’t happen very often. The first time I beat her in something she got mad at me.” Cathy laughs.

“She loved to have music, all right. I know her favorite song.” Cathy sings the first line of ‘How Great Thou Art’. “Her church people came every year and sang to her. We had a lady that used to come play piano for us, and they developed a special friendship through music. Marian loved this young lady.”

Marian and Cathy met while they were living in the same nursing home. Marian was unable to speak, and she usually communicated by pointing to letters on a card. But because Cathy is blind, she could not see these letters. Marian ‘said’ things to Cathy by tracing letters and other symbols onto Cathy’s palm; Marian was able to hear Cathy’s spoken words. “We made our own Braille system,” Cathy explains. “And people used to say, ‘How did you do that?’” Letter by letter, word by word, their relationship deepened into an enduring friendship.

Cathy re-folds the poem and puts it away. “She loved flowers. She loved life.”