That Last Paragraph, That First Death

I’ve been preparing for this post for months now. Thinking about possible ways to open it, staring at a blank screen and aggressively blinking cursor, saving drafts that I’ll never reopen.

My favorite part of a book is always the end. It’s that final sentence or paragraph, the final goodbye from an author to his reader that leaves me breathless and yearning for the transcendent. I choreographed an entire dance to depict the ending of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I wept over the end of Jane Eyre and stomped my foot in confusion over the last paragraph of Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Even that last “I Do” in The Fault in Our Stars was enough to make me curl up in a ball and cry cathartic tears.

And that’s why we love a good ending to a story, don’t we? Our hearts are made for an end, for the “place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued (J.R.R. Tolkien).” But I rely on the masters like Waugh and Cather to weave breathtaking denouements. It’s one thing to muse on where Julia goes after Charles leaves Brideshead. It’s quite another to reach the end of a chapter in your own life.

And that’s what this post is about: This Fall, I’ll be attending the University of Dallas to double major in English and Theology. I’m setting my pre-professional ballet days behind me.

I could list a million reasons for why I’m going to school next year. Tell the stories from high school retreats, explain what was stirring in my soul while watching The Chosen, share the podcast episode that opened my eyes to what the Lord was doing in my heart, gush about the middle schoolers I got to work with this year who helped me to see that serving them is all I really want to do with my time. But none of those reasons or “pieces of data,” as Fr. Mike Schmitz would call them, are enough. Ultimately, there’s only one answer – the One who utters no answer, but is Himself the answer.1

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last fourteen months and through the profound, agonizing invitation to the Cross that I’ve experienced in so many ways, it’s a deeper confidence that He is so trustworthy. I look at all the doors that should have been closed to me and have been unlocked, all the little and big dreams that have been fulfilled (right down to teal blue kitchenware in my house), and even the doors that were slammed so excruciatingly, but have become vessels of mysterious grace. The author of life is not only faithful and wise – He is so gentle. And if He is ready to begin singing a new chapter of my life into creation, I’m ready to magnify that voice.

That voice knows me so intimately. During the Holy Hour when it was indescribably clear that I was going to go to college next year, I heard the Lord say, “Your heart cry is mine.” And what is my heart cry? It’s the cry of every artist who has set a brush to canvas, who has stepped onto a lit stage, who has choreographed movement or written a score. It’s the cry of the mystic, the song of John’s impassioned “nada,” Augustine and Monica’s draft at the fountain, Aquinas’ fingers holding straw. It’s the cry of the beloved who won’t settle for anything less than seeing the whole world set on fire for Jesus Christ. It’s the cry that Dostoevsky composes into words when he writes, “Beauty will save the world.”

The reason that I decided to spend this year in a trainee program was beauty. The reason that I’m leaving the trainee program is beauty. We need the arts. We need faithful Christians in the arts. But we also need artists to work for the Church, men and women who see the Host in the monstrance as unadulterated light and beauty, the fulfillment of every good and true dance, painting, and film.

At the moment, I want to go into youth ministry as a career, although that could certainly change. I’ll be spending the summer as a Totus Tuus missionary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, teaching kids during the day and running teen nights in the evening. I’m so excited to hit the ground running this summer and my nerdy heart has honestly been pining to get back into the classroom this Fall. But Jesus has crafted my heart in the way that He has for a reason. He has made me an artist, and switching from an emphasis on the art of ballet to the art of writing isn’t going to change that.

That also means I’m reacting to this transition as an artist would (kudos to you if you’re still reading this overly long outpouring of thoughts and emotions). For the last several weeks, as the calendar ticks down the days to my last performance, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance:

A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.

How do you prepare to die? How do you dance when your days in the studio are numbered? You can feel peace and joy about a decision, but still catch your breath when, like Mary of Bethany, you see the oil of your offering spilled all over the floor at Christ’s feet and realize that there’s no turning back. Choosing between ballet and college has been the most difficult decision of my life. I was talking to a teacher about it the other day and began to tear up. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying,” I muttered.

“No,” she said so gently. “Let yourself cry, please. Let yourself grieve and feel whatever you need to feel. Because this has been your first love and of course it’s a big deal to walk away. But don’t walk away completely. Stay connected.”

She is so right. This isn’t the end. It’s only the close of a chapter, the step into a new act. Even though it’s going to look different, I will never stop dancing. My heavenly spouse will never stop wooing my heart with the beauty and faerie that He has always used to draw me to Himself. Ballet may be my first love, but He is the Love who was always whispering to me in the wings and at the barre. And I can’t wait to share His love with others through a new form of ministry.

He is the Love calling my name. His heart cry is mine. And with a beauty like His, “you can overturn the world.”2

1 – cf Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

2 – The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

4 thoughts on “That Last Paragraph, That First Death

  1. You are such a wonderful writer it is hard to see how much you can learn; but learn you will. Your mom didn’t really leave her love of ballet because she passed that love on to you. Don’t quit dancing, even if it is just for fun and exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

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