PHOTO COURTESTY OF NIR ARIELI
“You know, I’ve never observed a single class,” I boast while walking to my first class as a senior in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Dance program. “Observing,” or not being allowed to participate in class, was synonymous with “giving up” in my mind. Never doing so was worthy of bragging rights.
I’ve given my heart and soul to this program for the last three years: “You did it! Last year at your dream school and you fought through the struggles, the pain — OUCH!”
That one-sided conversation became the paradoxical prologue to my groundbreaking life story entitled, “The Life You Thought You Knew.” Because instead of the ground, it was actually my foot breaking.
“Ignore it, you’re fine.” I repeated the familiar coping mechanism that I used to protect my pride over the years. Five blocks more and I’m there. I limp into my class — with an alarming new gait for a self-proclaimed “tough guy.”
I thought that this was the finale of my story, where all my hard work and preparation met in perfect culmination onstage. As it turns out, this moment was not the ending of my story. In fact, this was only the climax of one small yet significant chapter in my own coming-of-age tale.
I was convinced that the falling action following the “metatarsal earthquake,” as I call it, would lead to my downfall — like a real-life tragic hero. My hubris, the flaw that misled me to misconstruing self-care as selfishness, to hustling through the pain, also deceived me into dancing four more minutes on a fully fractured joint, just to prove that I am not weak.
And so it began — the shockingly ironic, brutally humbling and beautifully enlightening journey that saved me from my reckless ambition. It was the journey that finally made me the hero, not the victim, of my own fate.
In congruence with the structure of any classic tragedy, that falling action was full of personal doubts, fears and the frightening realization of my impending downfall. The observance, otherwise known as my formerly feared kryptonite, became the cruel, daily reminder of the girl I was once was as I was forced to sit and watch life go by. That was a girl who associated stepping back to reevaluate my health with weakness and combating constant negative thoughts with strength.
That was also a girl who took on “pounding the pavement” as a full-time job and then committed to dieting, never sleeping and self-deprecation as her second, third and fourth priorities. The value I incurred was measured in how far I could push myself without breaking, without showing them I’ve failed. In truth, that is what I needed all along — a breaking point, an unavoidable warning sign that I could no longer twist in my head as an obstacle to conquer.
My revelation occurred somewhere towards the end of my four-month-long healing process. I realize that stories are much more exciting when there is a dramatic “a-ha” moment where the heavens open up and a Hallelujah chorus plays overhead. However, “The Life You Thought You Knew” is non-fictional, constantly in the works, with unexpected trials and tribulations that only real life can create.
I can best describe my revelation as the moment when I realized that I actually hate tragedies. Reading them makes me feel anxious, frightened and downright depressed. So, then why am I writing my life’s story about the tragic flaw that robs me of life’s joy and fulfillment? The trivial rewards that I once thought I received from making regular, unnecessary sacrifices never bought me happiness anyways.
Life is precious and incomprehensible, and yet also exciting. Happiness derives from appreciating life for what it is and is cultivated through genuine gratitude for the unique life that we are all given and the countless blessings and opportunities that each day brings. It is also found in pizza and ice cream — that is a fact.