We went to my cousin’s wedding on Long Island this past weekend. I could definitely write about traveling with two kids (it took us nine hours to drive home), or staying in an airtight hotel room (all four of us), or the various soft spots and raw nerves of big family gatherings.
But instead, I want to tell you about my nephew. He’s a tow-headed kindergartener, a speed demon who loves to tumble and throw his body around at gymnastics Saturday mornings. He falls asleep the moment his head hits something soft (like a pile of coats at the rehearsal dinner, in a bustling Irish restaurant). He follows after Pearl saying, “I love you, I love you, Pearly.”
What we didn’t know was this: He is a breaker. I mean, he is a true-blue, bona fide break dancer. Pretty much as soon as the nuptials concluded on Saturday afternoon, the DJ got to work, playing everything from Tone Loc to Aretha Franklin, from Madonna to Neil Diamond to Billy Idol. Almost as soon as he heard a beat, my forty-pound nephew hit the dance floor, surrounded by mingling guests – and quickly commanding a crowd.
At first glance, it looked like he was simply moving his body in the spastic way of a cooped-up five-year old stuck at a wedding reception. But as the dancing picked up and the sun went down over the Sound, my nephew got his groove on. The kid could dance! He had total control of his body, total coordination with the music. He did butterfly kicks and waves and drops. He’d appear to lose his balance, then integrate a fall right into his moves. A circle of revelers surrounded him on and off throughout the night, clapping and dancing as he basked in the attention. I’ve never seen the kid so present, so immersed in something. He was a natural. Greg leaned over to me at one point and said, “He must have a been a break dancer in a past life!”
The next morning, we sat around the empty hotel bar, debriefing the wedding over pricey coffees and scones from the gift shop. My mom said to my nephew, “You were really gettin’ down last night on the dance floor!” He didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “No, Baba. I was gettin’ up!” He jumped out of his seat, baiting the other kids to follow suit. When we asked him to show us some of his moves, he paused for a second, got a slightly puzzled look on his face, and answered simply, “I can’t.” Then he went back to tagging his cousins.
What a fantastic metaphor, I realized, for all of us, especially in the context of work stuff. Why are you here and what conditions enable you to experience what comes naturally? Maybe you don’t yet know what comes naturally, or only have an untested hunch. Maybe you stopped trusting the hunch a long time ago, decided that what comes naturally won’t put clothes on your back. Or maybe you simply aren’t sure how to adjust or redesign your work and life in a way that will allow you to “do what you love and love what you do.”
If you feel like the conditions are all wrong, what inside of you would show up if you could change the soundtrack, shift the setting? What innate talents and abilities do you contain, what little seeds are waiting to be watered? You probably don’t feel much like gettin’ down – or up, as my nephew would have it – if you’re a dancer with a desk job, a farmer waiting tables, a teacher writing legal briefs, an entrepreneur contending with an egocentric boss. This list could go on and on.
This is what I found myself contemplating early yesterday morning, as I washed off the weekend and got ready for a long day of mothering and teaching and career counseling: My nephew’s break dancing talents emerged with help from some downright fantastic conditions. Without the music, the mood, he literally didn’t feel it, couldn’t find the rhythm, the connection to his own body. But given a beat and a circle, man did that kid shine.