Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin
cswallow

Witnessing life

I haven't written in too long, allowing my life to pull me up and forward, with all its happinesses and sorrows.

Now I sit by myself in a room full of clutter and mess, sipping a glass of wine after a long day of ballroom and ballet, and just a few blocks away from me, in today's afternoon, a man jumped in front of the N train  and killed himself. I ride it every day. Will I ever be able to climb up on that platform again without thinking about it? My friend Robert posted an article yesterday about the parents of a child who was killed at the Newtown shootings.. how they and their children can barely get through each day, how they are terrified of forgetting. And in the midst of this I have been reading a book on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), "Country of My Skull." The stories are horrifying - people who were mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, sons, sisters, tortured and slaughtered and disappeared... How this unnatural loss changes you. How it makes one angry, or upset, or scared.

Last night I was invited by my dear friend to see Romeo and Juliet, performed by the American Ballet Theatre. It touched me deeply, not only for the dramatic emotionality of the story, the perfection of the lead dancers (Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes), and the incredibly beautiful music, but also because I appreciated for the first time how incredible it is that here in New York, people who pursue dance their whole lives, can be wholly supported and delighted in for the mastery of their art. And that made me think...despite all the gloom and doom in the news, this country is still great.

I admit in these past weeks that I have begun to feel aimless. Work is slow and distant; I can't seem to find the inspiration for it, or for dance. And I feel myself improving every day in my dancing, and my coach has been beautiful about recognizing this and encouraging me, but I've lost sight of my goals already.

A month ago, the uncle whom I loved most as a child decided to die peacefully rather than have a feeding tube inserted and go on. I respected this decision, because these days I seem incapable of wanting anyone to change, but deep down I was screaming in selfishness. I wanted him there for every other important moment in my life - marriage, children, whatever.. I couldn't even say really - I just wanted him along. This week we've been writing and rewriting his obituary. It is difficult; how can one man's life be summed up in a half page? Is it even worth it to try?
When I went home, I found my grandfather in poor health as well, but was thrilled to see him recovering before I returned to New York. And soon he turns 93. What more could I ask from him except to be there, and acknowledge that he has seen so much of me already? And my desire for him, "Live!" becomes nothing more than a selfish desire.

I often recall this quote from the 2004 remake of "Shall We Dance." Susan Sarandon is talking to Richard Gere, and she tells him, "We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage.." (or, I would add, in any friendship or meaningful role in another person's life) "... you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying, 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'"

I have been so fortunate to have people in my life right now - an amazing boyfriend, a wonderful dance partner, incredibly supportive parents and siblings - who are happy to listen to me every day, to witness my life, to say "this is worthy of attention." To say these words, even when I do not ask for them. In the TRC, a particularly important point is that for many of the victims their greatest sadness was that they had no answer for the question of "why was this violence done?" and that no one cared to hear what they went through. For many, telling their true story was what finally gave them the peace to move forward toward forgiveness. To be able to say, "Today, someone heard me and my truth."

I think about the man who killed himself today. I wonder who he could have reached out to, who he could have shaken and said, "witness my life!" All too often, our attention is drawn only to the "movie stars" around us, the people who are already being seen because they are charismatic, or loud, or handsome, or... ______. It is the ones who do not demand our attention who often need us to look longest. And so I look people in the eye when I talk to them; I want to say sweet things to them, to promise them: I see you. And I admit.. I too, seek to be seen.

It is summertime now in New York. Bouts of rain intersperse with blue sky moments. The weather becomes hot, then brings respite, then hot again, then again it cools. I go to dance practice, I work, I go to the studio or ballet class, buy groceries. I feel my story has not yet begun, though logically I know I am already living it. I grow accustomed to the rhythm and noise of the subway, the feeling of my neighborhood grocery store, waking and sleeping to days that disappear behind me. I am being swept along in a current that I suddenly have no control over and I wonder, What story has this become? Of course, there is no answer yet. And in these lonely, quiet hours, I find myself: invisible.
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