Grief is a sacred journey

The Dance of Love: 1966-2008

Vic with our new kittens, 1968

I loved his body in tight black motorcycle leathers. I loved his keen mind and tender heart. He smelled like All-Spice deodorant mixed with an acrid trace of two-cycle motorcycle oil. He broiled steak and baked potatoes, made salad and poured red wine. He took me out for breakfast after our first night together. Eggs over easy and hash browns with rye toast.

We went to anti-Vietnam War rallies and chanted with other resisters: “Hell No! We Won’t Go!” In 1966, I stood beside him while he and other men burned their draft cards in a garbage barrel in front of the student union.

New Morning, Bob Dylan, 1970

The deal was sealed by his record collection. We owned the same albums, the same cuts scratched from heavy use. Heavy on Motown and black rock with a gospel influence. Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, the Temptations, Aretha, Dylan.“Oh, Happy Day!”

Like me, he loved to dance. Put vinyl on the turntable, sway and rock. Usually just the two of us, twirling and swirling, holding hands, mirroring each other’s moves.

Judy Hensky’s smoky voice singing “High Flying Bird” was new to me, but not Waylon Jennings with his mournful harmonica. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go” became our song, the one that said I would wait for Vic to be sure.

Laura Nyro, 1968

In 1967 and ’68, we added a wave of women with beautiful lyrics and gentle rhythms, especially Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro.

In 1969, we danced our way to California, hauling Vic’s record player in the station wagon. The player was essential when so much else was left behind. We packed Joni, Laura, and all of Dylan in the boxes mashed against the mattress where we slept at night.

In 1970 with month-long scholarships to Esalen Institute, Vic set up the sound system and we danced to Dylan and Johnnie Cash in our room with a view of the Big Sur Coast. We drove back to Ithaca listening to “Nashville Skyline.”

“It must be in here somewhere.” Traveling across country in 1970

By then, my belly was round and my breasts dripped with milk, but Dylan kept us dancing.

So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue
…On this new morning with you

I gave birth with Joni Mitchell’s lyrics spinning in my head:

I feel like I’m just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm
There are so many reasons why I love him

Drumming party

After David was born, we bounced him on our shoulders, held him close, passed the fussy baby back and forth, danced until the three of us gave in to sleep.

After we met our first spiritual teacher and began meditating, after we gave up smoking and drinking anything with a kick, we danced. Along with opera and classical music, we played the old records. We hosted drumming parties beginning one cool summer night in 1993. The barn was hot with vibrating drums and gyrating bodies.

Our last love song was “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Leonard Cohen’s lyrics were inspired by the holocaust, but I didn’t know that then. I only knew Leonard played the music that helped me grieve and learn to dance alone.

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love…

It’s harder to dance now when music hurts my ears. It’s harder to dance without my favorite partner. Still, I sing those lyrics to myself and hear the melodies within, swaying to the music, swaying to what was. Swaying to what’s over now, swaying to what is.

***

What was the music of your love or a time you miss? Do you remember the lyrics–and the feelings? For other pieces about the poetry of our lives, see Bookends of a Marriage. For a piece about dancing with my brother, my first dancing partner when I was 12, see Waiting for Another Dance.

29 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine, Thank you for sharing the unforgettable music that you and Vic both enjoyed all the way through your forty two years of dancing and loving each other … right through to the very end of love! Hmm, now there’s a new book idea if you wanted one. Each chapter could be named after a song that one or both of you truly loved. With the background music of Cohen and Sainte-Marie playing whilst reading your words, oh my heart did fill up with a blend of sadness, longing and deep joy as I read your beautiful words. This is an exquisite post set to such memorable music! And oh, how you played the “violin” (a Cohen insight!) throughout your living, loving and Vic’s dying days. Such kindness and beauty! Such compassion! Such love! And it was wonderful to see more beautiful photos of you both … the last one, the black and white one of you two gazing into each other should be a poster! Wow!

    “Heroes” by David Bowie was the first song we first played after we got married. Which was equivalent to the walking down the aisle moment if we’d got married in church … only we didn’t, we got married in a 900 year old barn of all places! Anyhow, it was a big deal back then to hold a same-sex wedding event so we both truly felt like heroes for the day! Hmm, maybe I’ll write a poem about the music of my relationship too! Ah, when sweet music meets the lovers, the world moves into a more peaceful and joyous place! On a different musical note, I’m totally spellbound by those (outdoor) wind harps, played simply by the wind. So now I know what the wind sounds like when the Gods and Goddesses whistle their tunes! I’m off to spin some vinyl now! Love and light, Deborah.

    • Dear Deborah, it’s always a joy reading your comments. I’ve felt a big rush of Vic love recently and this was the result. It’s amazing to think of the lyrics of “Dance Me to the End of Love” in the context of the holocaust. It made me love the song even more than I already did. Leonard Cohen was a genius at bringing Soul into our embodied and often tortured lives.

      So many of us choose places other than churches to exchange our lifelong vow. We planned to get married outside in a pine forest, but it rained, it poured, the fog was thick and cold, so we moved inside into a cramped warm and dry living room. A 900 year old barn sounds perfect to me–and you were heroes. I’m glad things are changing despite the patriarchy. I can’t wait to read your poem. Music is so often part of a life affair. It speaks to those indescribable delicious feelings that suddenly fill the world with bright color and soft texture. Spin your vinyl. Listen to the wind harps. I’ll imagine it all.

  2. Oh Elaine, my heart aches for your loss. It’s so tangible here. An Esalen grad, huh? I’d like to hear more of that month. The one time I planned to go, on my way back from a three-week Australia gig with Woody, the Rt. 1 bridge had been washed out and we couldn’t get in. We had three days until our plane home to Philadelphia.

    Music of those early years with Woody? Oh yes. Tina Turner’s You’re The Best comes immediately to mind. And Rod Stewart (I’d not yet found Van Morrison)’s Have I Told You Lately? The two songs I’ll never hear without going back in time.

    I have all the albums you mentioned, but sadly, I never shared them with a love. How can that be?

    • I just went through a period of intense longing, Janet. It always helps to acknowledge that ache and write about it. Our Esalen experience was both wonderful and difficult. We worked with Gabrielle Roth every day for a month which was terrific, but much of it was deep psychological work which we loved, especially Gestalt Therapy. We also loved the hot springs, but Vic needed a month meditating at Tassajara rather than more depth psychological work. He had worked on an experimental ward in a mental hospital for a year while we were involved with attending and leading encounter groups and doing all sorts of other therapies like Bioenergetics. By the time we got to Esalen, Vic was facing his own demons. I was 6 months pregnant and felt solid as a rock so could help him by being steady. Yes, I should write about it.

      Tina Turner! I could have included her and many more. Do you still have your albums? My son who is a techno musician raided many of ours, but I kept a few. They probably should go because there are versions of everything on line–without scratches.

  3. Elaine, this was a beautiful dance of life you shared with Vic. The Leonard Cohen song is hauntingly beautiful. Music is a language of its own. You both filled in the lyrics beautifully. 🙂

    • You’re a proud Canadian, Debby–and I sometimes regret we didn’t move there as we would have if Vic had been drafted–so I’m sure you love Leonard. My teacher Canadian Marion Woodman and her co-teachers called him “Leonard.” That’s all they needed to say. They used his music often in their workshops which included lots of movement. My first memories of Leonard Cohen songs are around 1968, in the winter, lying on the floor with our kittens and Vic in front of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night. Leonard kept us warm and in love.

      • Well that’s a beautiful memory to keep Elaine. ‘Leonard’ may be gone, but never forgotten. 🙂 Proud Canadian here. 🙂

        • Hearing problems don’t stop me from singing “Suzanne,” a favorite love song by Leonard from 1967. I’m sure I’m way off key, but I still get the memory of that song and those times and hear him singing it in my head. I looked up the lyrics so I could remember every exquisite word.
          “…And you want to travel with her
          And you want to travel blind
          And you know you can trust her
          For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.”

  4. Beautiful, on many levels. Those internal melodies can never be taken from you, that much I know for sure.

    • Thank you, Joe. I’m grateful for those internal melodies and lyrics. Just a few weeks after my husband’s death, I dreamed of a full choir similar to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Let It Be.” “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it Be'” I could have added the Beatles to this piece, too. Next time.

  5. You write so beautifully Elaine. I can see it as Tantra. Did you pay much attention to Trungpa in those years?

    • Thank you, Fred. A powerful complement from a poet. Yes, I can see it as Tantra. Trungpa’s book ‘Cutting through Spiritual Materialism’ made a big impact and was a terrific teaching for me. A few others were important, too, but not like that one. Then there are his amazing students, including Pema Chodron. When I listened to her CDs, she laughed about how different her lifestyle was from her teacher’s. It was clear how much she honored him.

  6. A lovely post laced with music and dance – wonderful, Elaine! You obviously hear and listen with the third ear.

    We both love men with a keen mind and tender heart – and a love for music. Cliff and I fell in love to the strains of “La Strada,” a melody that managed to be both both haunting and sultry. There were no lyrics, like in “Edelweiss.”

    You must have shed tears as you composed this post, remembering sweet times, poignant tunes. So many happy and bittersweet moments infused with music. I especially liked Leonard Cohen’s line: Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove. Peace! Why is it so elusive?

    • It’s sweet to remember the music of love, isn’t it, Marian? I’m not surprised you and Clint had your music. I did weep, but that’s me. I weep. I wanted to use all the Dance Me to the End of Love lyrics, but that isn’t the best for readers. The poetry of his lyrics reached new symbolic heights in that song and when I read it was inspired by the Holocaust and Jewish musicians who had to play music to the German soldiers, it took it to a whole new level. May we always hold on to our love.

  7. Oh, Elaine, this tripped off soooo many memories….our music was different but the intimacy, deep sharing, deep love were so present. It was Mahler’s 5th Symphony that told me this was my soulmate, for life. I asked him one day if he knew who Mahler was. He beamed and said, “I have all of his symphonies.” I remember lying on the floor with our heads between the speakers as Mahler brought us to tears and smiles. Later we learned that before we ever met, we attended the same Chicago Symphony series for 10 years and he was 3 rows directly in front of me, so close and yet so far. He was 6 blocks away doing his PhD. We had lots of other music we shared but Mahler was our man. It took me 7 years bEfore I could listen and I never listen without our memories and tears layered on top of Mahler’s. Miss him so much. We breathed life into each other. Thank you for this piece. Autumn is always heavy for me…..memories and our life together have their seasons.

    • Yes to Mahler. He was a favorite in our home, too. Our first spiritual teacher Anthony was a classical pianist and we listened to classical music and opera with him. We also attended concerts with him. He listened in such a deep way that he deepened my listening. I miss music as I write about it because it’s not enjoyable with these messed up ears. My memory holds the songs I included but has a harder time holding Mahler or Beethoven or the great Italian operas we shared. I get that image of lying on the floor with heads between speakers. Amazing that you went to the same concert series and then lived only a few blocks away.

      Sometimes I need to cry, too, but I can’t turn to outer music for that, but I’m glad you can. I think we will always miss what we loved and had to release. I feel certain Vic will be with me at my death–not in a corporeal way but in the images of my soul. Autumn is the entryway into the dark underworld times. Your teacher Francis Weller knows a lot about that Wild Darkness.

  8. Thanks Elaine, such lovely memories! Thank you for sharing them. Yes, I love Leonard, always have always will. I also didn’t know that it was a holocaust love song … Joni Mitchell also .. I sometimes play Save the Last Dance for me – The Drifters. In fact there’s a film called The Last Dance, the original was I think Japanese, with subtitles that I’m trying to source. I remember seeing it on my own many years ago and just wept silently at its beauty. Soon after that I took my husband to see it and wept again .. I’m talking about probably 20 years ago. I enjoy singing – seldom do! Or humming … Music can definitely transport me back to another place and time. I think the 60’s music was the BEST and funnily enough my sons do too!

    • Susan, I remember a Japanese movie named “Shall We Dance.” I looked it up and it was from 1996. I don’t know if this is the one you’re referring to. Sixties music floats around in my head. The lyrics of my youth. I often sing to myself in the car (off key), remembering lyrics from songs I knew as far back as high school and even a few Disney tunes before that. Loving music and dancing were essential to me in a partner. Losing hearing is much more than just the sound. When I was happy or devastated or anything in between, I turned to music.

  9. Music can bring memories faster than any book I ever read. I can picture you, Vic and David dancing and swaying to the music. I see David’s little eyes beginning to close as the music continued. Millie can already sway to the music, everything from classic to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

    • Thanks for commenting, Pam. David had a beautiful baritone voice and did lots of singing. Anthony is a techno dj, steeped in dance music. They take the music in their own directions, but it was always part of their life. I can imagine Millie, dressed in pink, swaying in someone’s arms to Michael Jackson. You’re giving her a solid foundation. Music = joy and every other feeling.

  10. The opening starts with sweet and sexy memories that elicited my own version of tunes and testosterone. Those memories function in the same way you can still hear the tunes in your head to hear the love. To say this struck a chord, well, no pun intended.

    • I’m glad it struck a chord, Jill, and there’s nothing wrong with a good pun. Like me, you loved a man who looked good in overalls and could run a chain saw. Around 1966, Vic and I went to a square dance at the grange in Enfield. People were kind and welcoming. As we danced around the square from partner to partner, I remember how soft Vic’s hands were compared to the men who farmed. He was a graduate student then. Later, when we had our own land, his hands had a few callouses.

  11. Wow ~ what a beautiful tribute to your and Vic’s dance of love. I had never known that the lyrics of “Dance Me to the End of Love” were written in the context of the holocaust, and that also makes me love the song more than I already do.

    Your post made me want to look up what listening to music with a cochlear implant might be like. While clearly learning to hear with a CI is a long and arduous process, I was amazed to learn about music therapy for CI users. It’s such a balance, for me, of keeping hope alive for something new to happen while not being attached to outcome. Though it feels quite lovely for me to imagine not only your insurance company paying for the implants, but also you dancing to music that may be coming your way.

    • Thank you, Anne. Romance, music, and dancing harmonize with each other. I didn’t know about the holocaust connection to the song either until reading about it recently, but it made me understand this line: “Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in.” It was enough to feel it as personal panic at that moment, but he speaks of a panic so much bigger and more universal.
      I don’t expect to love music again with a cochlear implant. I’d just like to have more reliable steady sound. I hope, if I get the OK, the transition isn’t too long and arduous. Seems to depend on the individual. I won’t lose the correctable hearing I have now in one ear and it’s enough but fades in time. Too much listening brings on Meniere’s symptoms, so that limits me. Still, I can work around and gave a talk and led a ritual for a community in Rochester, NY last week. I asked for excellent microphones and got them. People helped by repeating questions when needed and by making sure I could read their lips. The ritual was mostly nonverbal with grievers saying a few things. I’ll let the cochlear implant possibility sit in the background. I’ve been fighting for it for a few years and don’t want to either hope or despair. I want to see what life offers. Testing begins after Thanksgiving and lasts for a day. Then I’ll wait to see what insurance companies decide. My doctors will argue for me. I’ve known both the audiologist and surgeon a long time.

  12. “What was the music of your love?”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm2YyVZBL8U

    Burned into my life with etchings of fire.

    • Thanks for sharing your music, John. My hearing is too shot (not from listening to loud music but from an inner ear problem) to hear this well or enjoy music other than simple things like drumming or bird songs or crickets, but I looked up the lyrics. I can see how it could burn itself into a life. I have to assume I have enough of those burned in memory songs to last a lifetime.

  13. Dear Elaine,I am so grateful for what you give us.I believe we lived on the lyrics as the poetry of our time.So much music and so many heart felt lyrics.I do not think I would be who I am without those memories.They are as profound in the recall as the scent of fresh picked peaches and watermelon eaten on the porch steps.We spat the seeds out so we wouldn’t have great watermelon trees grow in our bellies as we had been warned as children.Emotion as close to intellect as our next breaths.There always those songs that make us ache and those memories are the deepest in our personal stories .Thank you for this peace.

    • Thank you, Alicia. You must be floundering in snow, too. I had a foot on my hill last night. I’m often surprised by lyrics that show up in my mind or in a dream. I sing to myself in the car, distortion be damned. I remember the watermelon seed spitting and how much I loved it and then my sons loved it. My Missouri grandmother grew huge sweet watermelons and peaches. Cranking that peach ice cream with ice from the ice house (they lived old style) and cream from grandpa’s only cow. There’s so much emotion in those lyrics and old melodies, even if I can’t hear them now. They stay. I hope you’re feeling better.

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