by Jean Mellano
Having studied dance for over 30 years, I was privileged to learn from some of the best instructors, becoming the best dancer I could possibly be. But I stopped dancing for years to take up cycling. Several years ago, before my life was turned upside down with the loss of Steve, my soul mate of over 33 years, to suicide, I started taking dance classes again. I was excited to find a class with people more my own age and even more thrilled to find an instructor (Debbie) about my age.
Debbie taught me two very important lessons (although I didn’t realize it at the time) and they weren’t about leaps or turns. The first lesson involved what she said to a young dancer in the class that performed the choreography well, but, Debbie saw that the dancer was capable of so much more. She spoke to the young dancer and paraphrased the lyrics of What I Did for Love , the song from the Broadway play “A Chorus Line”. Debbie said, “Dance is gift that is only ours to borrow, what are you waiting for? Use it now.” I never forgot that moment.
That sentence is a metaphor for anything of value in life, whether it is a loved one, our health, financial stability… all gifts that in many cases we might have to return at some point in our life if we live long enough. I see that clearly now, Steve and my good health were gifts that I was so lucky to have for so many years. The sad reality is they were only on loan to me and they had to be returned.
The second important lesson I learned from Debbie was when she would tell us about a certain dance movement she wanted us to do during class. Probably due to some injury related reason, she could not demonstrate the move, but, Debbie would always say “I am grateful for what I have.”
What she said really blew me away as I thought to myself at the time, what I did in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I can no longer do, but I can still do things now that I won’t’ be able to do in my 60s. Now that I am in my 60s, I see what I can no longer do, however, I can still do things now that I may not be able to do in my 70s.
As I reflect, I think of all the gifts I have been given; my eye sight to see the beautiful purple irises and fantastic orange hues of the tiger lilies in my garden, my hearing to listen to the sounds of the birds chirping in the morning, my sense of smell to breathe in the beautiful aroma of lavender plants, the ability to feel the soft fur on my bunnies’ heads, having the capability to be able to taste my favorite chocolate bar, the great times I shared with Steve; even walking; all wonderful gifts I had taken for granted.
Even after my diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease, I can emphatically say I am grateful for what I have and I will use my gifts wisely since I now realize they may not be mine forever and are only borrowed. Thank you Debbie for these words of wisdom you have shared.
Jean Mellano’s soulmate of 33+ years, Steve, took his own life on March 15, 2015. She has found purpose in raising awareness of mental health by telling Steve's story: www.SlippedAway.org