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November 11, 2013

In my thirties, I became an avid tennis-player. I was astonished to discover that I was good at it, and even joined a league. At the age when other girls were purposefully charging down the hockey field or jumping for baskets, I had other ambitions. Since my first sentence, "I want to dance," being a professional dancer had been my ultimate dream. When I deliberately failed at piano lessons, my parents finally got the message. They generously supported me through years of ballet, tap, and modern dance with one of Martha Graham's premier dancers (also her ex-husband). I was utterly intent on a career as a modern dancer.

Then at age 11, the last wave of the polio epidemic swept through and I came down with severe Bulbar Polio. The paralysis started with my neck and throat and affected my legs and back as well. I couldn't swallow or speak for weeks. I was the only child in the isolation ward to survive. I remember watching the others as they died. I couldn't make a sound so I wept silently. It took a year of painful rehabilitation for me to walk properly, but I was left with only moderate scoliosis, a funny sideways swallow, and a very deep voice.

Reaching my full height of 5'8" at age 12 added to my sense of gawkiness, and I avoided sports altogether. The only dancing I did was the Lindy in our finished basement with my best friend, Evie. At 35, finding that I could move with grace and even power on the tennis court, felt like a small miracle. I lived on Hilton Head Island at the time, which is a haven for tennis players. I even had the nerve to play in the court beside Yvonne Goolagong. I was already hooked on tennis when a deeper reverence for it arose. I discovered "flow", the experience of absolute presence, being the racket, being the ball, when nothing exists but that millisecond of thwack, the perfect sound of connection with the ball.

And now, nearly four decades later, I gingerly agreed to go to Zumba, assuming it would be too much for my aging body. To my delight, although I am usually the oldest mama there, I am once again dancing! Mind you, there is a chair beside me and I sit out about a third of the time. Best of all, I have rediscovered flow. Our instructors add a Polynesian flair to the dances, which I adore. My new goal in life is to move my hips as effortlessly as they do. As I'm dancing I am grinning madly, not thinking of a thing, just drinking in the rhythmic music, which stirs up waves of Serotonin. When I go into the shower at home, I am still smiling.

I am also learning that compulsive planning does not belong in this new life. When I open instead of attempting to control, Grace floods through immediately – and creativity with it. Hundreds of little kindnesses present themselves. Whether giving or receiving, it all blends into a perfect current, a welcoming tide. Little conversations, chances to companion or be companioned arise continually. Trust builds and grows. Small gifts abound. A few mangoes from a friend's tree, some paw paws from ours, sharing homeopathic medicine from Canada with people who have been injured, suggestions from the mamas in the market for Maori medicine, usually involving Nu (the juice of young coconuts) or lemons when I have a cough.

Taoists and Zen practitioners speak of allowing life to flow as water finding its way downhill. It is said that Mother Theresa "lives humbly because she already has all that she needs." Contentment with what is, is realizing that what we are searching for is not really lost. It's inside us waiting to be found. Love. Kindness. Integrity. Generosity. Trust. How lovely it is to lean into these virtues and know that we already have everything we really need.


Author photo
Linda Kavelin-Popov

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