Stay in the Ballroom

My dad passed away in 1988 when I was 26. I did not know how my extended family would survive without my dad. He was our king who called his Lazy Boy chair his throne. He was our rock.

I gave a very short, inadequate eulogy at his funeral. I was young and had no language to describe this loving father, business owner, Chicago Bears superfan, Blackhawks enthusiast, avid golfer, faith-filled Catholic, and when the fareways were frozen, Sunday breakfast chef extraordinaire. Every line of that brief tribute rang hollow, generic, lacking the vividness of his life – except the first sentence: “It has been a privilege being Frank Neylon’s daughter.”

I clung to the tiny spark of light in the deep grief that it was a gift to love so much. My sadness was the consequence of having a wonderful father whom I adored.

This morning, Marilynne Robinson’s insight arrived in Karl Duffy’s blog post:

 “The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world.

The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure, instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.

I’ve used the mantra “this too shall pass” many times as if plowing through, toughing it out, and keeping busy will promote healing. Not so. I now keep my head up and look around to see what’s happening in the dark tunnel, to let myself feel it, to ask how I want to show up in this circumstance, to check what is consistent with my values as I face difficult situations.

Trusted friends often walk with me through fear, worry, sadness, gut-wrenching grief. I intentionally strive to get a grip on self-regulation of my emotions because I think it’s time for me to grow up, to quit falling apart, to be an adult, to be a rock like my dad. I’m better, but I still struggle to speak or squeak out a word when strong feelings hit me like a tsunami. I tumble and reach for someone to pull me out of the undertoe.

By Grace, I am miraculously patched back together through prayer and the loving presence of God and others. I feel better, more loving, more loved – and sometimes a bit embarrassed. Marilynne Robinson reminds me of the blessing of being alive. There is no shame in being true to life. There’s no judgment in authentic compassion and attention. I’m grateful every day for those who exude such presence and unconditional love.

Heartache and darkness are often the consequence of great love, loss, disappointment, and unspoken expectations. Brilliance is the radiant light that dwells inside and around us – fueled and cultivated by compassion, gratitude, wit, and faith.

I suffer and rejoice because I love and am loved. According to Cynthia Bourgeualt, there is a place where we can free ourselves from our desires of affection and affirmation, to be one with Christ and the universe with all its comlex dynamics. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

Humanity is a dance between polarities, darkness and Light. I keep dancing. And the ballroom is full of wonder and awe.

When my granddaughter Eileen was born, Katie asked me what I wanted to be called. I replied, “Grandmanance who loves to dance.” It seemed so obvious.

2 thoughts on “Stay in the Ballroom

  1. Bernadette Sims

    My dearest Nancy,
    There was not one thing inadequate in your tribute to your dad. I have never forgotten your 1st sentence the privilege of being your dad’s daughter. I thought “I hope Uncle Frank hears Nancy” that is the highest compliment a parent could ever hear. A child who recognized the difficulty of raising a large family, of being a parent, a husband, a provider, an example and my daughter feels privileged and loved. Bravo Uncle Frank and Aunt Eileen. Bravo Nancy, bravo.
    Know I will always be there to pull you up from the undertow no matter how hard it tries to pull you under.
    I love you, your writings, reflections and insight!
    Bernie

    Reply

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