The following is an excerpt from “This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience” by Des Moines author Diane Glass (Zion Publishing, 2015). Reprinted with permission. To find out more about the book, go to Glass’s website.
Where Should I Start?
… “But wait,” Cheryl said [during a small “Tending Your Inner Garden” group I was leading]. “We don’t know your story. Why don’t you start?”
“Yes,” someone else said. “We know you have spina bifida, you mentioned that once before. But we don’t know how that has affected your life. Is that why you lie down at our events periodically?”
Deb, my co-leader, and I sometimes share personal details about our lives with participants in the program, but only when it can be helpful as members grapple with addressing their particular concerns. Like other women, we’ve faced divorce, career change, illness and other crises that make our spirits wilt, but then open the door to new growth. We created Tending Your Inner Garden as a yearlong program in 2003 to guide women as they addressed such major transitions. But was this the time and place to talk about my journey with spina bifida?
“You’re such a positive person, Diane,” another woman said, offering encouragement. “You always look on the bright side of things. You’re energetic. You don’t let things get in your way. But it can’t have been easy for you.”
“I’ll be glad to tell you more about me another time. For now, let’s keep the focus on you.” Feeling the old tension around talking about myself, I successfully redirected the conversation and put off the sharing of my own story to another time.
As the day progressed, I reflected on what I would say if they pressed me again. I could start at the beginning and share the details of my birth, including the fact that no one expected me to live. That would involve talking about the secrecy surrounding my condition, my parents’ fear that I wouldn’t go to school, and the challenge of managing a bladder that leaked…
I could talk about throwing myself enthusiastically into my work—teaching high school English and Journalism (and, ironically, advising the high school newspaper, the “Telital”), running for political office, traveling the country as a political consultant, and serving as a marketing director and public relations spokesperson. This story featured excitement, adventure, and career success. Still, I was far from happy during those years. A need to prove myself as capable, worthy and independent drove my career focus, rather than a sense that my work was my actual life mission. My inner garden needed weeding then. The soil needed to be enriched with new nutrients. Perhaps there were even new seeds lying dormant, which, given time and space, would grow. Instead, I was out tending everyone else’s garden—though not very sensitively or intentionally. That story would be easy to share…
Breast cancer broke me wide open, showed me how much was bottled up inside and how the story about myself I’d been carrying for years was not really true. I thought I would die from spina bifida, and now I had cancer. I thought I could keep my body’s problems a secret, but now I had a very public illness.
I thought I could get along without a spiritual life, but Spirit kept coming to me. I thought I could dictate the music for my life’s dance, but the music kept changing…
Then I remembered my dream about death appearing at my door. Should I tell them about that? Would it be instructive or merely spooky? Perhaps we didn’t want to talk about death on this bright sunny day when the mood was playful and light. On the other hand, inviting death into my life liberated me from anxiety. Yes, death would come. It comes to everyone. But death also enriches my life by reminding me of the preciousness of each moment and each day. Could this be shared without my sounding like a not-very-original new age guru?
I could tell them how these experiences freed my spirit and body to dance. The chronic bladder infections that troubled me for years stopped, as I began to realize, with the help of an art therapist, that the fear I carried inside was my father’s fear, not mine. I could tell them about the dream I had in which my bladder came to my office door dressed as a thin, sickly woman in a short black and white servant outfit. The shock of that image, the realization that my poor bladder was tired of serving without appreciation or support, propelled me to revisit my incontinence. Would the group really want to hear about my bladder in this kind of detail? Probably not, but my struggle with my bladder is a clear example of how our emotions and unconscious life can affect our body’s health, either positively or negatively…
Would they relate to my story about Jesus coming back into my life? His reappearance helped me connect again with my beloved—this embodied divine man who reminded me to celebrate my body’s sensuality, its capacity for pleasure, and its role in serving as God’s presence in the world. Jesus reminds me daily of the Spirit’s incarnation in nature, in the people in my life, in the globe that requires my tending to eliminate threats to its well-being. The Christian story of birth, death and resurrection is my story too. Or would this religious talk turn them off as it would have turned me off not too many years ago?
As I glanced around the room at their curious, caring faces, I knew I would find a time and place to tell them about how my illness shaped who I have become today.