WLHQ: Living in Your Given Skin
Moments after waking on Monday morning, Wanderlust California having wrapped not even twelve hours earlier, I found myself crying on the toilet. I’d come downstairs to pee and discovered this email from my mother:
“Got a call from Scott that Susan is in the last stages according to hospice…what's called terminal restlessness or agitation…caused by her body shutting down and toxins building up and the psychological stresses of being afraid. Susan was up all night last night agitated and unable to be calmed. The hospice nurse said 2 days to 2 weeks.”
My Aunt Susan was diagnosed with terminal cancer about a year ago. When my mother went to visit a few weeks ago, Susan looked terrible. She had a large tumor protruding from her neck, her scalp nearly hairless and covered in acne from chemotherapy, her face swollen and contorted. Due to the swelling, she was only able to talk out of the corner of her mouth. My mothers’ expression must have reflected such shock and sadness at Susan’s appearance because finally she told my mother, “smile for me, because I can’t.”
As a little girl, Susan loved to dance. She dreamed of being famous, with movie star looks and talent, a dancer who could glide across the room like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. When she was still quite young, her dance teacher told my grandmother not to “waste her money on dance lessons” because Susan didn’t “have the right body type to be a dancer.”
“Fuck her,” my mother wrote me later. “Hate that teacher and my mother didn't have enough power to say ‘it doesn't matter. It's already worth it because she loves it.’”
Susan grew up to be a very successful business woman. She owned an expensive home and car. Married then divorced and never had children. When my mother pointed out how successful she had been in business, Susan shrugged it off.
“I thought that was a big deal to her, to own a half million or more dollar house...a Lexus...to have material status. But it wasn't a big deal because she really wanted to be a dancer.”
As I sat in the bathroom crying that early Monday morning, I realized I was crying not just because Susan was near dying. I was crying for the life Susan never got to have, and the life I’m living now. Working for Wanderlust allows me to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world. I eat well, I laugh a lot, I dance and flirt and cry and do yoga and most days, work very hard to create something good in the world. A festival like Wanderlust helps people live embodied lives. I wish Susan could have had a piece of this, that she could have danced more and worked less.
I wonder what Susan is thinking about late at night, pacing around her house, awaiting death. If her story teaches me anything, it’s to live in my body, this body, right now. There are many days I look in the mirror wish I could change one thing or another. I imagine that life might be easier with prettier knees and thinner arms. But more than a “perfect” body, I want to embrace the fullness of being in my own skin, not because it fits a particular shape, but because it’s my birthright: to dance, to move, to play, and most of all, to choose a life where I do the things I love the most.
Her story is a reminder to us all: If you love it, do it now. Do it now, because you never know what life will hand you. Do it now, because these bodies are to be celebrated in all their forms. Following your passion is not a right reserved for those with dancer’s legs or perfect skin. And when I am that close to death, I won’t care about the Lexus or the million dollar home or what some teacher thought of my body. I will care that I danced.
~ Sarah Erickson is from Pittsboro, NC. Wanderlust’s resident southerner, she lives in a hundred-year old farmhouse on 7 acres in the woods of North Carolina. At Wanderlust, she is the Vendor Coordinator, a job she discovered via a midnight twitter post. She was raised on a co-housing community amongst therapists, artists, and organic farmers. In her free time she goes vintage shopping, reads books on spirituality and, of course, dances.