For the past nine months, I have been working in a low-income, immigrant community filled with elders who are being harassed, displaced, and profoundly injured by our city government. Their lives have been turned upside down because real estate developers want an arena that will cost taxpayers dearly. Some elders have remained unbelievably strong in their defense of their neighborhood. Others are scared and confused, rightfully so in the midst of deceptions and threats by property owners on behalf of the city. For months, I have had a sense of urgency, of battle, of giving all to help in the struggle to protect the elders and their barrio.
It's taken its toll on me and on my family emotionally, physically, spiritually. I'm stretched thin and exhausted. I'm not complaining. It's been my choice to do this work. I'm just describing what I've allowed to happen.
In order to turn things around, a few weeks ago I made a plan to leave town for a few days by myself with two of the dogs and pray and write and think about how to regain some kind of balance in my life. (I'm writing this in the middle of my DIY retreat!) As I prepared to leave home, even packing was exhausting and stressful. Sometimes when I am home alone, I turn on videos and sing at the top of my lungs. It energizes me. So to motivate myself to keep packing, I turned on Shakira videos.
Without thinking I started to dance and I danced and danced and laughed. I danced with Shakira!!
Photograph courtesy of Yi Chen, Flickr
Have you ever watched a child dance?
I've seen my grandson suddenly start dancing many times. Spontaneously. Sometimes seriously. Sometimes joyfully. My grandson is a serious boy, a worrier, an intellectual even at age 10 who is mostly in his head. In those times when I have seen him dance, he is filled with a happiness that is rare. When I finished dancing with Shakira last Sunday morning, I understood his impulse to start dancing suddenly. For a few moments I was outside of my own head, feeling my body move to the music.
If you've been in any kind of radical feminist or political movement, you've probably seen the quote below from Emma Goldman, famous and infamous anarchist who was born in what is now Lithuania in 1869 and who came to the U.S. in 1885.
"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."
I never gave it much thought until that morning I was dancing with Shakira.
For those of us who find ourselves in the midst of the suffering of the communities we work with, who confront daily the injustice of power that cares only about profits and not human beings, perhaps dancing itself is revolutionary.
How do we take care of ourselves when we are empathic, when our hearts are breaking, when injustice is everywhere, in our neighborhoods, in our nation? Dancing with Shakira that morning gave me a little glimpse of how to care for myself and this week I continue to explore how to regain health and energy for the long-haul, how to honor my relationships with my partner, and children, and friends, and how to continue the work that I love.
For those of you who have been in this revolutionary work, how do you take care of yourself?