Saturday, November 07, 2009

One woman. One man. 3 legs. 3 arms. Astonishing beauty.

Ma Li has only one arm. Zhai Xiaowei has one leg. And below is a video of them dancing. They dance into the holes in people's lives. In the wordlessness of their dance, libraries of the soul open and volumes of unutterable wisdom fly off the shelves. A knowing comes forward.

We all know this. We recognize the feeling of brokenness. We know what we do not have, will never have. We know that all the pieces in the world are not whole, not complete. We know that we have needed, and that we still need.

In the dance, we see aching need and see that it can be as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. We are dumbstruck by the transformative power of the human heart. I have been haunted by this video since my friend, Marge, sent it to me this week. I play it and cry for its beauty, for the longing, for the dream of it. The video has been circulating since 2007.

Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei. Who are they?

Ma Li was a promising 19 year old professional ballerina when she lost her right arm in a car accident in 1996. Her handsome boy friend walked away from her. She tried to kill herself, but was saved by her parents.

Zhai Xiaowei lost his leg in a tractor accident when he was 4, and had never danced until less than two years before this video was made.

The story of how they met can be found here and here. By the time they met, Ma Li had won a competition for disabled dancers, and Zhai Xiaowei had entered the Paralympics in cycling. He moved in with Ma Li and her boyfriend/agent and began intense training in dance.

As I read what small information there is on the web about them in English, what stood out for me (in addition to the triumphant nature of the story) is that Ma Li was afraid when she first started dancing again that her stump would be seen by the audience. She was embarrassed.

But them I thought, is that not what accompanies all our brokenness? Shame, embarrassment, shyness. We don't want people to know, to see, to realize how imperfect we are, how flawed. So we hide those parts as best we can. Ma Li has had a special soft fabric limb made so that when she goes out it looks as though she has one hand in her pocket.

But her passion drew her back into dance. She not only felt the tugs of who she was meant to be, she followed them, and through agonizing training to re-learn such basic things as balance in dance, her spirit began to push out of the shadows into the light.

But if their bodies apart show us something about being broken, not whole, incomplete -- what does the dance show us?





It is almost cliche to say it, but combining our brokenness with others allows us to produce a whole thing, unique and beautiful - not whole in the usual sense, but fully functional, and complete in our own new way. The combination is more than the sum of its parts. Once combined, no one is adding them up any more. What is, is.

Think back to obstacles in your own life, Maybe they weren't as obvious as these dancers' obstacles are, but they are just as real. Think about what you did to get to the other side of them. Now let yourself feel the beauty in that, just as real as the beauty in this dance. To not just survive, but to live -- that is our calling, all of us.

It doesn't matter that we are not whole, imperfect, incomplete. We are not meant to be stand-alones. We are part of a tribe -- the human community. We are obligated to each other.

When you are bent and falling it is my job to help you up. When I fall, you must provide a hand. That is the only way any of us makes it in this world. And, like the dancers, we'll practice until we get it right -- one fall, one bruise, one celebration, one lift at a time.

It took us so long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
Kurt Vonnegut



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