Dancing at my own Funeral
First I must define some terms:
Did you ever hear of "Self-Deflection"? We all know what "self-reflection" means: Thinking about ourselves all the while somewhat removed, trying to understand ourselves. But there is something that has happened a few times in my life for which self-reflection did not prepare me. I have had to invent a word for this phenomenon: "Self-deflection."
Reflection returns our own image to us. Deflection does not return to us, but our image is sent off in an unexpected direction. A person who wishes to grow from this event, readjusts where they are standing until the deflection is once again a reflection. The most powerful self-deflective moment in my life was when an unfaithful woman returned to me, and although I thought her return was my greatest wish the event "deflected" off my sense of the man I knew as me. I did not rejoice. I panicked! "Now what will I do with her!" I asked myself. I was like the puppy who caught up with the cat, but now was uncertain of what to do with this dangerous object of desire.
A recent self-deflection allowed me to -- as it were -- dance at my own funeral. This remarkable event was in Austin, Texas. Leaving Austin was a self-deflective moment, and I have been too overwhelmed to fully understand it. I did not have the terms or the needed level of self-reflection to understand it. But I did not want to delay writing about it out of gratitude for the love I felt upon leaving. I have been speechless.
Upon getting the word that I had a new job in Washington D.C., I was caught off guard by how much I realized I loved the Austin Tango Community, and how much love they gave me back. I realized I was a true polygamist and I loved their husbands too! (Don't read too much into that one, okay?) I loved so many tangueras. I knew their stories and danced with them through celebrations and hurts. And they spoke to me about my place in their lives through conversations and private emails after I started telling them that I would be leaving. All of these relationship have been absolutely platonic.
Especially dancing at my last milongas (Uptown and Kay's home) was like dancing at my own funeral. In some ways my own mirror of self-reflection was set slightly off, and the deflection allowed me to be almost an outsider to my own going away. I didn't know the man that so many were fond of and I did not fully realize how fond I was of them.
The other part to being my own funeral is that I had taken the time to say my goodbyes without the dying part! So I got to hear some pretty powerful eulogies. The saddest thing about any well-planned funeral is that things are said and eulogies are intoned that the dead one really would have liked to hear. But at a funeral or wake it is too late! I got to hear these "eulogies" by many in the community. Breaking tradition of funerals, however, the dead guy got up and mingled among the crowd: I thanked others for their eulogies and outpouring of love.
Some months ago, Margret died in the Austin Tango Community and we gathered in one of the most loving memorial services I had ever seen. People surrounded her and Vance with love. And this is perhaps how I got my basic theme of what I said at the last milonga -- that the community was more loving than any church I had ever experienced.
At Kay's milonga for me, I didn't have my glasses on and (as usual), and I could not find them as the music stopped, and I saw Kay saying a few words and asking me to speak. I wanted to look people in the eye and thank them, but it was just as well that I couldn't. One person even hid her eyes and just listened for my voice, she told me later. I might have realized my fear of sobbing had I seen the faces and eyes of so many friends, some of whom wept during our last dances and words together.
"I try to explain to people who do not dance or understand what I find in tango," I told the group, "...that I have a true treasure through the Austin Tango Community. I tell those who do not dance that it is like a church, only with less in-fighting and sexual drama happening behind the scenes." Someone said, "Amen!" "It is a loving group of people," I continued to say, "who are not afraid to embrace each other. Some people we get to know very well. They come from all walks of life. . . . I may be leaving, but I will always consider myself as a part of the Austin Church of Tango." In the middle, I mentioned how the teachers had made this possible by working together, coming to each other's milongas and supporting each other. Austin is Austin for the great people, but without the teachers supporting the larger sense of community, Austin would not be special -- as most visiting tangueros/tangueras sense when they come to visit.
So that night I danced as if it were my own funeral. It was my own self-deflective moment. I was totally caught off guard by how much I realized I loved so many people, some deeply -- so deeply that each time I talk about this experience I weep. Each time I re-read and try edit this I weep (and I am getting tired of all the weeping -- so just accept all the typos and tangents, okay?)
When Deflection turns to Reflection
The larger life lesson is that I hope that I communicate my love more regularly for people who mean so much to me, because at the real event, I may not have the time to say it to each person as I did in Austin. I may not dance at my real funeral, but I hope that my friends do.
You are awesome Austin! ¡Les amo mucho!