I was a Theater Arts Major in college. In those days we called it Speech and Theater. I think that was because “Speech and Theater” sounded more stable than “Thear-ter Arts“. We could convince our parents that there was potential employment in “Speech” as a therapist, teacher , etc. but being in anything that ended in “Arts” meant we would probably be living at home for many years after graduation.
I loved those college years (and the first few years after when we all moved to NYC and lived as a wild tribe whose days were filled with inventiveness and creativity). We used every opportunity to write and perform. We sang, danced, emoted, improvised and devised new ways to entertain ourselves and anyone who would give us their attention. We had no fear. It was the most alive I’ve ever felt.
Over time, it became more and more difficult to keep up that existence. The jobs we took to pay the rent gradually owned more of us. This was not college. There is no “Pass/Fail” in real life where you can do the bare minimum and still advance. There is only “Working/Unemployed” and a rare few get paid to work in “Thear-ter Arts”.
Other things happened. AIDS. People died. People moved away. People got discouraged.
I was one of the discouraged ones. I found I did not have the thick skin or unshakable self confidence needed to swim with the entertainment sharks. I began to believe that perhaps this had all been childish playacting and I needed to grow-up. And I was moving up at my job. Someone appreciated my talents (even if they weren’t the talents I appreciated.)
Then I met my first husband. He was madly in love with me and used that mad love to move me further and further from myself until I disappeared into him. I learned that my dreams were foolish and I was a disaster. I owned nothing. I thought nothing. I was nothing.
Twenty four years crawled by and then he died. I was free to start again. But like an animal who has spent much of its life in a cage, when the door was opened, I cowered in the corner. I couldn’t come out because I didn’t exist. Eventually, I learned to make my own decisions again, to do some of the things that used to make me feel good, to become myself again.
I remarried. An old friend who also loves me madly. But his love doesn’t consume, it nurtures. With patience, he coaxed a vibrant, happy spirit out of a dried up papery ghost. Still, old habits die hard. The heavy, thick chains I dragged behind me would make Jacob Marley shudder.
I fell into a routine. Work. Home. Work. Home. Waiting for that time when everything would fall into place; when I would do the things that gave me joy again.
Then one morning, walking zombie-like through Grand Central Station, I saw a poster in the window of a bookstore. It was a dancer, a ballerina in a slicker and umbrella, doing a grand jette over a puddle. The caption read “It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” I stood there staring at that poster, tears in my eyes. “Yes”, I thought. “I want to learn how to dance in the rain.” Then I remembered – I already know.
My senior year in college. I forget the reason, but my best friend Martin and I were not on our usual 70’s uniform of jeans and funky shirts. I was wearing a dress and platform heels and Martin was in jacket and tie. We were on the opposite side of the campus from where we needed to be and it was pouring rain. We didn’t have an umbrella. Then in one of those rare moments that seem planned but are completely spontaneous, we both began to sing. “I’m singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again.” We started dancing. Our best Fred and Ginger. Across the Quad. In the pouring rain. We tapped. We twirled. We dipped. We jumped on benches and low walls. The whole way across. The few people out in the downpour clapped and cheered. We arrived at our destination soaked but elated, feeling like we had just performed at Albert Hall.
I can do that again. I know how. I know what it feels like. I don’t have to wait. What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again.