I Wish You Could See Her Dance

Dear Will:

I wish you could see her dance.

My daughter is a supremely gifted ballerina. Not that I know the first thing about dancing, you understand. But people who know the first and second and fifty-seventh things about dancing have told us repeatedly that she’s got “it” (whatever “it” is). And at this point, I’ve sat through enough dance performances that I’m starting to see what they’re talking about. In a room full of talented ballerinas, Bryn still manages to stand out—not in a flashy, hey-look-at-me sort of way, but rather with an understated elegance. Your eye is drawn to her—even if you’re not the dad.

I would not have chosen this path for my daughter, believe me. For starters, ballet is extremely expensive (who knew?). And since she is at the studio six days a week (20 to 30 hours!), it is a major burden on the family. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the conference room at the Maple Conservatory of Dance waiting (yet again) to take my daughter home. If she had chosen instead to pursue, say, biochemistry, I would just have to see that she got to and from school and got her homework done. And maybe if she joined the Chemistry Club (or whatever it is that aspiring biochemists join in high school) it might have cost me 25 bucks. Piece o’ cake.

But here’s the thing: She loves it. LOVES it. She gladly endures the sweat and the pain and the hard work because she isn’t fully herself until she puts on her pointe shoes and starts to move. That’s when she becomes centered, sentient, pulsing with life. In fact, she has been dancing for so long now (since she was four or five?) that her identity is inextricably linked to ballet. When I introduce myself to someone at 15, I might have said, “I’m Peter, and I like to play basketball.” Bryn never says it that way. It’s not “I like to dance,” but rather, “I’m Bryn, and I’m a dancer.”

It bears repeating, however: Bryn is 15. Her journey of life is underway, but relatively speaking she’s barely left the driveway. So much of her future remains to be determined, so many choices of great significance remain to be made. But because of her avocation, she’s already feeling the pressure to know for sure what she should do. I’m told it’s not uncommon for dancers to join professional companies at 16 or 17 years of age. (“Over my dead body,” says the dad.) And since she’s talented, she feels that she should start moving in that direction—or at least that her colleagues in the dance world expect her to. That pressure doesn’t come from her parents, I assure you, nor from her teachers; but maybe from well-meaning strangers and interested friends who ask her, repeatedly, what her future plans are. And that pressure is intense. Of course I’ve told her not to worry about it, told her that at 15 the biggest decision you should have to make is whether to order the burrito or the fish tacos. But giving her that good advice does not come close to making it so.

Later tonight, after her 9:30 dinner (imagine!) and an hour or more of homework, she will curl around her scriptures as she does each night. I can only hope that she turns then to the fourth chapter of Mark where she will read of the time when Jesus’ disciples were troubled themselves by a raging storm. They did as she might, and called to Him who calmed the wind and waves with simple words: “Peace, be still.” May He likewise bring peace to her troubled soul.

As I wait here for her to come off pointe, to return to earth and settle—exhausted—beside me in the car, I tilt my head to see her through the window slats. I look at her there, floating weightless across the floor, light as a distant melody, absorbed in the flow and emotion of the moment. One small strand of hair has freed itself from her tight, tight bun. It dances gently across her brow, moving effortlessly to music one can only imagine.


This Is Why We’re Here

Dear Will:

Last week we returned from one of the greatest family adventures ever. Among the greatest for us, anyway. Along with another family of friends, we took our two youngest for a backpacking trip in Zion National Park. Specifically, we hiked from one end of the Narrows to the other.

If you have never visited the Narrows, here’s a snapshot which, even in its beauty, doesn’t begin to capture the spectacular scenery.

Now if I tell you that it took us two days to complete the 16-mile hike, you’ll probably think, “No big deal.” That’s sort of what we thought as well. But it turned out to be much more difficult than we would have guessed. For starters, the hike is 16 miles long if you walk it in a straight line—which you can’t. To hike the Narrows, you must crisscross the Virgin River repeatedly throughout the hike, which turns the 16 miles into 25 or 30 instead. Further adding to the challenge, as you proceed downstream, springs and streams continuously add volume to the river, so it gets deeper and swifter the farther along you go. Consequently, as you grow more tired, the invisible terrain on the riverbed becomes more treacherous: the boulders are larger, slicker, and more irregular, the currents stronger, the rapids more frequent. What’s more, as this picture suggests, there are long stretches in which there is no riverbank whatsoever, meaning that you have no choice but to hike in the river itself.

That’s not that bad if you are carrying little more than a water-bottle and some trail mix. But since we spent the night at the river’s edge, we were all wearing backpacks, some of us laden with 30 pounds or more of gear and food. That’s not the sort of load that makes it easy to stay balanced while maneuvering over algae-covered rocks in a swiftly-moving, muddy river. In fact, there were many stretches in which we had to cross the river in pairs to keep one another from being swept downstream. There were many areas in which the water was too deep for Seth, my 10-year-old, one area in which all 11 of us were required to swim with our packs strapped to our backs.

It was hard—so hard that we often fell into the trap of focusing strictly on our footing. Periodically, someone in the party would admonish us all to stop and look up—to take in the amazing beauty that can only be seen if you go there on foot. “This is why we’re here,” we would remind ourselves. “This is the point of our ordeal.”

Toward the end, Seth (wise beyond his years) speculated that this would turn out to be the sort of experience that we would look back on with joy, relishing both the difficulty and the magnificence of the experience. But, he added, “right now I’m not enjoying it much at all.”

Ah, life. Strewn with boulders, fraught with peril, harder than we would wish and often not much fun. All the more reason that periodically we should stop and look around, marveling at the miracles around us and relishing the privilege of being here, now, wherever and whenever that might be. In many ways, the ordeal is the point, a challenge for which we should all be grateful.

God has said: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). May it be so.


Careful and Troubled

Dear Will:

When I was growing up, I learned not to complain to my father that I didn’t have enough time to get things done. “We’re all given the same 24 hours,” he would say, “it’s just a question of how you choose to use them.”

I hated it when he said that.

Lately, my dad’s voice has been in my head as I have struggled (unsuccessfully) to stay on top of my various obligations. Due to layoffs, we are shorthanded at work and my responsibilities have expanded; I have continued teaching my early morning Seminary class each day; plus I do some editing work which continues to take up much of my so-called “spare time.” Add to that that I am ostensibly a father and husband, and it doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary hours or even minutes in the day. It tends to get a little overwhelming, frankly.

In the last couple of weeks the pressure of overdoing has really gotten to me. I won’t drag you through the specifics, but suffice it to say that I have been feeling like a juggler with too many balls and not enough hands (and I have the bruises to prove it). I can’t help wondering—every hour or so—if it’s really worth it.

The truth is, it probably isn’t. My father’s aphorism is an apt reminder that when we choose to do anything in life we are also choosing not to do a million other things at that same moment. String those moments together and for sure you will have forgone a number of worthwhile things that perhaps, in retrospect, you might rather have done.

The whole thing brings to mind the story of Mary and Martha. You may recall that Jesus was a good friend of theirs and apparently was a guest in their home from time to time. On one particular occasion, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach while Martha bustled about fixing the food, setting the table, tending to the chores that come with hosting a meal. (The scripture says that she was “cumbered about much serving.”) Needless to say, Martha was more than a little annoyed with her sister for just sitting around while she did all the work. Finally, Martha complained to Jesus about it. Big mistake.

In response to her whining, Jesus gave a gentle, loving rebuke: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). It was the Savior’s way of reminding Martha not to let what she felt she had to do get in the way of that which she ought to do. And I might reasonably conclude that he would say something similar to me.

So the questions I suppose we all need to be able to answer are these: What things are truly needful? And how can we be sure to choose “that good part”? I’m not sure I know the answers to those questions (else I might not be feeling so overwhelmed), but I do know this: I have been careful and troubled about many things lately. And if I don’t find a different approach, the juggling balls are going to continue to crash down on my head.

After all, we’re all given the same 24 hours. . . .