Now Be the Dance

a reflection by
MARY ELLEN GAMBUTTI | Gardener + Writer

“Now Be the Dance” is creative non-fiction. It begins with a prose illustration of my experience with Watsu therapy. It takes up the question of happiness and how we may find a deeper state of joy. My stroke journey is the inspiration for this piece.

Photo by Haley Phelps

I AM A BLANKET pulled noiselessly through the water’s warm surface. In a stream, with firm hands she guides me in Watsu dance. On my back I’m moved in slow motion to left, then right. My eyes are closed, I lose direction. No obstacle, no hesitation, nor effort. No need to try.

“Trust is the key,” I hear her say as I float freely, silver tresses streaming in silent water. She pivots and turns, and in her hands I feel an easy stretch. “Now be the dance,” she says. I do nothing to resist her gentle strength. In quiet, I feel a stirring. Time, determination, work have healed my injured brain. I’ve fought against the evil of my flaccid side. Now, in this moment, I allow myself peace, an end to work. In this pool I feel joy in suspension of time and place. No need to try.

Happiness is transitory contentment, a state of sensory pleasure. But, we may pass through that gate into a more glorious garden. J.K. Rowling’s character, Albus Dumbledore, said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” The light that came on for me saved my life: the understanding that all is lost if we allow it to slip away.

The stroke threatened to take me away from myself, from whom I am, but it did not succeed. It seems a simple thing now: my toes, then my foot moved. In my hospital bed, that light one early morning shone through the pain and sadness. I feared I’d never walk again. Kahlil Gibran writes in “The Prophet” emptiness is first needed to live fully. Both sorrow and joy are necessary to live a balanced life. My emptiness turned to joy.

We just need to remember to switch on the light. It is our conduit to joy. Call it inspiration, happiness, contentment, engagement in art, creative flow, song and rhythm, natural beauty, the meaningful written word. The light is a channel, the way to a state of mind that is joy. It is beyond time and place. It is a religious experience, salvation or enlightenment. Joy is ecstasy, it is bliss. Joy is wholeness in being, the full measure of self, and oneness. Beyond our physical woes, lies a place where we may rest body and mind in well-deserved contentment. Joy is the calm blessing that can bring tears.

Eight years since my stroke, I have returned to self-expression. After the first year, reading and verbal comprehension improved, and my speech regained fluidity. I could walk with assistance, lift my right arm.  It was a greater task than I’d ever known. This lengthy rehabilitation has been more difficult than my fifteen years’ work as a landscape gardener, work to which I would never return. Instead I returned to myself, but wiser and freer. When there is no need to try, then we may feel joy. We can be the dance.



Gardener + Writer

Mary Ellen writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, her gardening career, and her survival of a stroke at mid-life. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Halcyon Days, The Book Ends Review, and Borrowed Solace. Her short memoir, “Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back” is self-published. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued Schnoodle.

Enjoy more of Mary Ellen’s work on her blog, Ibis and Hibiscus.