Republished with kind permission from the Almanac Fronteras blog. For more blog posts, click here.
… right from the start. I walked in (late) to our dangerously short rehearsal preceding the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts staff show, and felt like something was off. Swiftly we worked and reworked the excerpt we’d decided to share, swapping Robin in for LJ’s part, which Robin calmly took on — quickly learning and practicing tricks she’d never done before…. surfing Ben up to two high on her back, catching Emmanuel and Cole as they fall backward into the group’s arms from up high….. It was clear to all of us we were working on borrowed time and yet we stubbornly pushed on. This is something we do well:: We challenge ourselves and we challenge each other. Usually asking more than what feels safe or possible. Often inside pressure cookers of limited time. And often we find, surprisingly, that we are actually capable. With wide eyes and pumping blood we find our bodies doing things together we’ve never done before.
So in some ways this flash rehearsal felt familiar. Except, as audience members arrived, it became increasingly clear Joe was too sick to perform. His body, hit by a gastro-intestinal infection, was literally shutting down before my eyes. He needed to lay down, see a doctor, drink water—anything but perform an acrobatic dance. So there we were, again reworking the piece, only now in darkness backstage with the rest of the show’s performers, with few minutes to spare.
I’ll add here that catching a flying body is much harder with three people than with four, as one can imagine. And, trying to do two peoples’ jobs can get you punched in the face by a foot… which is exactly what happened to me. So there I am, top of show, crouched in the darkness weeping silently. My nose felt like it was broken and gushing blood (it wasn’t… it is actually just bruised thankfully) as I ran through the newest changes in my head over and over.
Then, we were in it. We were dancing, tumbling, lifting, falling gracefully.
Until I felt Cole behind me actually fall off Emma’s shoulders.
Until I saw her stand and test bearing weight on her right foot.
Until she whispered to me “I think I broke my foot” as she limped towards Ben to help Robin and I catch Emma.
Until the extra weight of Emma’s torso on Cole was too much and he tipped towards the ground and rolled down instead of landing suspended in a basket of arms.
We got off stage and catapulted into action. Emma carried Cole to the car and all five of us went straight to the emergency room — simultaneously laughing at this mess of a day while also praying nothing was broken and recounting all the ways we could have been better to each other.
I’m SO happy to share that Cole’s foot is NOT broken, just badly sprained.
Nevertheless, we were all viscerally reminded of our limits. We wondered, could this have been prevented? We could have communicated better about scheduling more rehearsal; we could have called it all off when Joe stepped out; we could have been more centered or let some elements of the piece go. But so much of what happened felt like a freak accident. Cole got hurt doing a trick with Emma that they hadn’t just learned or taken someone’s spot doing. It just happened.
Last week, it just happened that Joe’s mother’s heart stopped. And the doctors and nurses really couldn’t tell us why. Immense precaution and care have marked the last five months for Maggie and Joe, since he gave her one of his kidneys. While she was sustained unconsciously by machines all week, I found the diligent records she’d made of everything she had done and eaten and felt in her body since the successful transplant. Everything had been done to make her healthy. She had fought so hard and held on so tight to life. And still, somehow, now she is gone.
I am consumed by reflecting on what we can control and what we can’t… what to hold onto with stubbornness and perseverance, and what’s worth letting go for something bigger. My love and respect for my Almanac family entangles me in desire to both push boldly and take immense care. The boundaries of care and push can sometimes be blurry, and we’re all still learning.