Yesterday I learned that one of my teachers from NYU died. It happened last week, yet somehow I didn’t know about it. I was talking with my friend Kate from college, and she suddenly said “You know about Peter, right?” When she told me, I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t speak.
I’m a terrible dancer and he was my African Dance teacher. We were forced as drama majors in my school to take African Dance freshman year, and I always dreaded it. It was first thing in the morning and I was always exhausted. And there was so much drumming and jumping…and did I mention I suck at dancing?
Yet Peter, my teacher, always had so much energy. He was smiling and shining every frigging day…just beaming. It was insane how much energy he had and how much he danced in our classes all day. I remember feeling tired just watching him. Yet by the end of the year, I was African Dancing with the rest of the class. I was jumping and throwing my arms and skipping and bobbing my head and moving my back in funny ways. It was far from perfect. It was probably far from even sort of good. But it was.
And I was proud of myself.
So thanks, Peter, for giving me those moments of taking it all in- of forcing myself to do something imperfectly and to find joy anyway. For showing me that I can be terrible at something and still do it imperfectly but proudly. To find pleasure in my own ordinariness.
He posted a quote on his Facebook wall before he died, and it really stuck with me. I think it sums up a lot of what he taught me, and how I feel about those lessons. I’m posting it below.
“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”