Several years ago we went to New Jersey for our friends Jeff and Rob’s wedding where I begged Ron to go out on the dance floor with me. The music was compelling, the night was balmy, and the dance floor was rather dark. Ron hates to dance because he thinks he is a bad dancer. He isn’t at all, but he hasn’t had much practice so he feels awkward. I love to dance, but am also out of practice, so when I dance I look like Elaine Benis on Seinfeld at her office party: jerky and awkward, but extremely enthusiastic. I convinced Ron that absolutely no one would be watching us. All the other guests were way younger and cuter than we were.
I pulled him up from his seat under a big tent and we danced. We enjoyed ourselves, and then we returned winded to our seats beside Abby and her then boyfriend Jay. I was hoping that we would dance again once we caught our breath, but Jay proudly showed us the video he had made of us dancing. We were shocked and embarrassed. I must have watched the video, but I have no memory of what we looked like. All I know is that we did not dance again. The myth that no one was watching us had been irrevocably shattered.
The reason I bring up this ancient history is that it relates to our very recent trip to Mexico. The trip, I hurry to say, was amazing. The resort was first rate, the weather was perfect, and spending time away from responsibilities and with Ron, daughter Abby, and old friend Diane McKinnon was priceless. It’s just that when you are stripped down to a bathing suit, all your insecurities rush to the surface with nowhere to hide. When I feel insecure, I project all my shortcomings onto other people. I notice older women wearing inappropriate clothing, women with bad plastic surgery or too much make-up, and others whose roots are showing, and I judge them.
My judgmental side came out big time each night when we went to the outdoor theater space for the entertainment. The show would start nightly with excellent bands singing and playing familiar American pop classics. After that would come the featured event: female vocalists, a Michael Jackson tribute, and amazing circus performers to name a few. Every single night, though, this goofy-looking British couple would move to the front of the stage and dance jerkily to every song. I had to admire their endurance, but was appalled by their lack of skill and absence of shame. Did they think they were good dancers, or did they just not care? Did they think no one was watching? (That was impossible because they positioned themselves in front of the whole audience), or did they want everyone to watch them? In short, I was both embarrassed for them and irritated that they just would not stop. It really annoyed me.
That irritation has stayed in my mind and I have puzzled over it. Why did it bother me so much that those people got up and danced in front of the entire audience? It occurred to me that I identified with them and envied them at the same time. These were the people who were not afraid of what other people thought of them, but were there to have fun so just let their freak flags fly. That is the part of me that I would like to encourage. I don’t think I am a good dancer, so I won’t let other people see me dancing because they will judge me just like I judged the Brits. So instead of getting up and joining them to have fun as individuals and groups of folks did, I sat in my seat bobbing up and down in a subdued way wanting to get up and dance, but not giving in to that desire.
It was as if that couple were a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge. In fact it was as if everyone at that resort was part of me. They were like parts of me that I embrace but also parts that I repress. The notion that we are all connected but represent parts of a perfect whole came to me. Each of us presents with a particular set of attributes and shortcomings, but together we are one complete being. As I lay like a flounder on a chaise lounge sucking up mojitos, margaritas, and mezcal, I watched with admiration a team of Mexican laborers struggling in the hot sun to remove the dead seaweed that washed relentlessly onto the pristine white sand. They continually pushed loaded wheelbarrows over the hot sand to waiting trucks, where the seaweed was dumped to be moved to the organic farm on the premises where the fruit and vegetables were grown. I admired them, but I also didn’t want to look at them, as they made me feel guilty. I thought, “How sad that these people have to slave away in the hot sun while I am stretched out here in the shade sipping a cold drink.” Ron, on the other hand, looked at them and felt so connected to them that he went to the little shop and bought cold Cokes for all of them. I specialize in feeling guilty, while Ron sees a someone who needs help and gets right on it.
The thing I took away from that experience was that instead of judging people, I need to wait a beat and figure out what part if me that person is like. Then I should analyze the feelings that that person brought up in me. Carl Jung writes about dreams and explains that if you dream about a child being chased by a tiger, both the child and the tiger represent parts of you yourself. To analyze the dream, ask yourself what part of you is the child and what part the tiger. Then decide what to do with that information.