It was my last year of college and our English literature assignment was to see a movie and write an essay about the messages we received. A girl friend and I chose “Zorba the Greek.” The music was infectious, Zorba was enchanting, the stories each of the characters brought to life were authentic and diverse. As we rode the “L” above the streets of Chicago back to campus talking about the messages received, I was astounded to hear her take on the film. My senses were saturated, hers were much less so. At home for Christmas, I convinced my boyfriend that this was the best movie ever, so we went. He offered yet another unique perspective! One film, many meanings. I haven’t watched “Zorba the Greek” for years but I know that over time good literature reasserts itself into our consciousness. A great story carries a timeless message that impacts each reader or viewer differently; it continues to reverberate long after the book is closed or the film ends. The messages evolve over time as we do. What we thought we knew then is either released when it no longer fits or deepens into our pool of wisdom.
“Zorba, why do you dance?” asked the young Englishman. Zorba’s answer was inclusive of all of the events of life; the joys as well as the sorrows that we encounter in a full life. I was reminded of this theme of the movie over the past two weekends.
Last Saturday I wrapped and packed some family heirlooms to pass on to my granddaughter. She is an Irish dancer in the manner of Michael Flattley and “River Dance.” She and her friends have been learning and performing together for years, their movements fluid, precise and energetic. These lovely and talented older girls now welcome in the new little girls, making them part of an ancient tradition, just as they were ushered in years ago. It is beautiful to behold. We, the community of parents and grandparents and friends join in their dance by clapping to support the rhythm, marveling at their rapidly moving feet, delighting in their youth and beauty and joy. St. Patrick’s Day is the highlight of the year for Irish dancers. So on that weekend we all savored two days of celebration with our precious daughters. The passing on of family treasures and traditions, the welcoming of younger ones into the rituals and celebrations, the weaving of life from generation to generation, the letting go and the picking up again; these were my thoughts as I watched the girls dance, as I wrapped and packed. I was flooded with memories and with dreams of the future, simultaneously.
The final scene in "Zorba", when everything has changed and nothing has turned out the way the young Englishman imagined, he turns to Zorba and says, “Teach me to dance.”
And so it is that we dance through all that life brings to us. We dance alone and with others, wrapping the heirlooms of our stories to pass on, keeping some to open again many times, allowing the dances to move through us as they will. Knowing that the dances we received from our elders were precious and worthy, the stories were those they had received and wanted us to remember. Knowing the messages will change. Knowing they will be danced with new meanings by our children and their children. Knowing that true stories will survive. Knowing the dance by heart.