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Saturday, August 21, 2010

BEDA 21: Poof and Ecclesiastes

  When I was younger, one of my dance teachers used to tell those of us who trained with her that"success is never permanent, failure never final." She said this both to comfort us when things weren't going our way and to remind us to keep working hard when they were. We learned never to settle.. I'd forgotten she used to say that until recently, when I began to think about the impermanence of almost everything I strive for. As dancers, we work our entire lives for goals and dreams that can be dashed in an instant. Even those who reach the pinnacle of success in this business (however they define it) may feel it slip away almost as soon as they find it.
     I've been fortunate enough to have gotten this far without any major injuries. I've had my share of physical setbacks--notably, a repeatedly sprained ankle and numerous back problems, and just the completely wrong body type for ballet--but so far, I've been able to keep dancing. But every time I deal with a minor injury, just taking those two or three days or weeks off of the daily dance grind reminds me how fragile this dream is.
     Injuries aren't the only ways we can be defeated. I know several dancers and actors who've gotten the dream job: the perfect company, the Broadway show, the contract. Then, for whatever reason, it's gone. Maybe the director decided to go in a "different direction", the company lost funding, the show closed. Sometimes it's easy for these artists to move on and find a new job just as "perfect" or even better, but so often they can't. They take whatever work they can get and try to move on.
    On the flip side, the impermanence of failure means there's always potential for growth, new successes, triumph. We keep striving and working and dreaming through the failure because there's something waiting on the other side, whether it's exactly what we're hoping for or not.
     Some people find the book of Ecclesiastes depressing or hopeless because so much of the text discusses this very issue, famously beginning with the lines, "'Vanity of vanities', saith the Preacher, 'vanity of vanities; all is vanity.What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?'" (Ecc. 1:2 KJV) On the contrary I find Ecclesiastes incredibly hopeful and wise. As Solomon writes, he acknowledges the ultimate futility of our constant strife, and in response urges humanity to fully experience life's ups and downs as they happen. He advises us to "be joyful in the day of prosperity" and mourn in times of adversity (7.14). He tells youth to celebrate being young, and reminds us that man's primary duty is the "fear God and keep his commandments" (12.13). 
    I think Jesus echoes Solomon when he tells, "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6.20-21) It's a great reminder to me that my dancing and all my other pursuits only matter insomuch as they are reflections or expressions of the treasures I have stored in heaven. In my worldview, everything I do should be a way to further the Kingdom of Heaven, and extension of Jesus' work on earth and his plans for the world. Otherwise, all is "vanity." Poof. Gone someday, in an instant.

     I'd love to know if you have any thoughts on impermanence or eternity or the book of Ecclesiastes or your favorite color. 


  1. Very well written.
    Sometimes I will focus too much on one thing and forget other important things that matter to me. Then I will remember that what I do determines where I will end up and if I want to end up in heaven then I need to do everything with grace and not just focus on one thing.

  2. Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books, as well. Aside from the message, which is amazing, it is just beautifully written (and a lot different from many other Old Testament books). This was lovely, Sarah, and kind of just what I've been needing to hear :) Love you so much.