This is a dream I had this weekend.
The 19 year old girl was learning her people’s widow’s dance, which was part of the initiation rite of being a woman. Her teacher, an elderly man, was satisfied with simply demonstrating the movements *once* and then letting his charge try to master the movements on her own, practicing in the public area of the seaside fishing village where her people lived for many years.
The people worked at their daily chores and errands and jobs, but they would sneak a glance here and there at the girl’s progress, the womenfolk knowing how difficult it was to master such a dance. The individual movements themselves were simple, but the flow of it was difficult, and they saw the girl’s choppy movements as she thought out each footstep, each movement of the hand, each arm placement, each sway of the shoulders and hips and neck. She thought so hard that she moved in a line, ramrod straight, even thought the movements were supposed to be circular, sinuous, forming a lopsided figure-eight.
At one point, she sat down in frustration and held back tears.
One woman placed her piecework down and said, “Come here, child. Have a meal with me,” her voice ringing across the bright, sandy place, and the girl rose up and followed her voice.
“How can I do the widow’s dance if I am not a widow?” the girl asked, for she knew that the woman was old and a widow of many years. “I’m not even married, not even betrothed! How can I do this?”
The woman placed a hand on the girl’s head. “It is called the widow’s dance, but it properly should be called the grief dance.” And she peered into the girl’s eyes. “And who, among us, is not without grief and yet must live and be happy, not in spite of the grief but along with the grief, sewing the grief within the fabric of our present?” She slid the hand from on top of the head to the girl’s chin. “Widow is just an image, child. I am widow, and yet in order to be widow, I was wife, once upon a time. Both lives are joined together by grief and loss, one circle the old life, skirting the grief, going around the grief, touching the grief, but never falling in, the other circle our new life pulled from the old, expanding outward, growing.” She placed both hands, dry and cool like autumn leaves, against the girl’s face. “We are all married to our past, but we all must let go. That is the widow’s dance.”
The next morning, the girl arose from her house and went forth to the public area. She closed her eyes and let her grief — for the old woman was right, who among her people was not without grief? no-one — wash over her like the sea she heard nearby. And with the waves of her grief moving in counterpoint to her heartbeat, she started to dance.
Long, sinuous movements tracing a complicated pattern of epicycles and retrograde rotations but holistic marking a figure-eight pattern emerged from the girl’s body along the public area’s ground. It was different from previous girls’, but it was always different; no two were ever the same. And yet, and yet, it was the widow’s dance, and when she ended, she opened her eyes, to see her teacher there with shining eyes, and he held her tight and said, “Yes. That was right.” And she tipped her head up, saw the clear, blue sky of the morning, and screamed in glory and happiness.