I had a rare opportunity yesterday to meet with a woman I hadn’t seen for fifty years. That sounds like a lifetime and in some cases it is. But when I saw Robin after such a long time, she was the same vivacious, vital person she had been in her teens, when we were in the Harkness Ballet together. And I felt the kinship we had forged so long ago.
Her outreach had been utterly unexpected. I was stunned when I looked at my phone to see who was calling me. We had both been in the same ballet company at the same time, but I had hung up my pointe shoes when I was 20 and moved onto a different life and a career in writing and teaching that I still pursue. She, on the other hand, continued to perform and choreograph, create her own dance company, and teach and stage ballets for other renowned companies.
Robin had married a dancer/choreographer whom I knew and since she had remained a part of the ballet world, she let me in on what had happened to the dancers with whom I grew up. I was in awe as we discussed the ballet world, a hierarchy of performers and creative geniuses who toured the world and worked ourselves to the bone to achieve greatness. She told me who had started their own companies, who had become renowned choreographers and artistic directors, who had died of AIDS, and we cried over a wonderful man with whom we both had loved, who died at the brutal hands of a serial killer.
Of all the stories we told each other, the most poignant for me were memories of our insecurities. As hard as we worked to master the technique of one of the most difficult art forms, we hardly gave ourselves credit. I grew up in a world where no matter how well I did, no matter what I achieved, I was never good enough. Never powerful enough. Never beautiful enough. Never perfect enough. The life of an athlete is unforgiving. We are always pushing the boundaries and while that has its own rewards, it creates an atmosphere in which we don’t measure up and we never will. So how do we make that kind of a life a good place to be?
The only way I know how to do that is to stop comparing myself to what I wanted to be, and praise myself for what I’ve become. In the spirit of Michelle Obama, we are always “becoming,” but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t enough, just the way we are. There will always be a few unfinished items on the “to do” list. There will always be places we didn’t go, people we didn’t meet and things we didn’t accomplish. But it’s time to focus on what we did do, where we did go, people we did meet along the way and the amazing things we pulled off.
I feel grateful that Robin is in my life again. I can only imagine the memories that will be sparked as we spend more time and keep telling our stories, but I know for sure that I am grateful for her and through her, I feel satisfied in the life I chose and the life I’m living now. We were young and hopeful when we danced together and our lives were complicated. As dancers in the same ballet company, we needed to balance our competitive spirits with our commitment to take care of each other as we toured the world in our teens. I remember vying with a fellow dancer for a particular role one afternoon and then borrowing her toothbrush that night when I couldn’t find mine.
The movement and changes in our lives will never be over until we take our last breath, and then who knows what will happen? I hope to still be learning and moving forward at every stage, but if we skip the appreciation phase, the part where we feel good about ourselves and take pleasure in what we have accomplished and contributed to the world, what’s the point?
How do you feel about what you have accomplished in your life? Can you take credit where it’s due?