the first image I remember bringing me to tears when I returned to visit for the first time 14 years later. I remember wishing that my family were closer - yearning for a big family gathering. Immigration spread my mother's family across Europe and my father's family to Israel and Australia. We ended up in Seattle, on a fourth continent. Large family gatherings are few and far between.
There have also been some relationships and non-relationships, connections and disconnections, romantically. The tug between career and love and the wanderings of a traveling soul. I've begun adopting cousins and brothers, sisters, and aunts in distant places - connecting with people across oceans and time zones. I'm not the best at keeping in touch, but I've found that with some people, when we do finally get together or exchange a few messages, it's as if we saw each other yesterday. Throughout all my travels, I've realized that people are overwhelmingly kind and giving.
And through tango, I've been able to connect with and understand myself in ways that in this society of staunch individualism, I had found hard to do. In tango, there are egos and hard-held opinions and divisions - all the traits you would find in most groups, especially once they grow a bit - but there is also an amazing feeling of community, of coexistence that is so palpable, of cooperation and interaction and respect between people that span generations. I think that tango has helped me find a sense of belonging that I have struggled with, that many of us struggle with.
And, although tango is very special to me, it's not unique. It's not unique in the fact that it gives people an excuse to gather. Many activities do that and many more used to be prevalent in our society. Nowadays, when we sit in boxes at a desk, each staring at our own little box, when we climb into four-wheeled boxes all facing in one direction to reach our bigger boxes and lock the door behind us, how often do we really stop to touch, take a minute to listen to another person's heart, pause enough to read another person's story? When our stimuli are overwhelmingly visual and verbal and truth is concrete and quantified, how often do we see our troubles reflected in another's anguish? How often do we feel and trust our intuition?
We are empathetic by nature. I've been hearing of more and more studies that confirm this. For hundreds of years, we have been separated and divided. Man is self-serving and self-interested. His selfishness will lead your neighbor to steal from you, Hobbes told us. Survival of the fittest. But his empathy for another human being will also prompt your neighbor to get his saw when a tree falls on your house (as my friend Karl told me recently), empathy will tug at his heart when he sees an animal mistreated, and empathy is what will bring someone who has just enough to buy food through the end of the week to still find a quarter to share with someone in need.
It's especially in the difficult times, in the vulnerable times that we can see the strength of our bonds with those around us - the connection - more clearly. When we lose a loved one, when we take a risk, when we dive into a dream without knowing where we're going - those are the moments when people stretch out a hand for us to hold, offer a warm welcome, join together to give us a push along our path. It's when we have the opportunity to help someone that we connect better with our own humanity.
Tango has been an adventure as much outward as it has been inward. A journey to find myself, an excavation of the nerves and the emotions I had begun to trim and cut away - to numb myself to heartache, to shield myself from vulnerability, to protect myself from the unknown. Tango has seen me through some stunningly beautiful moments and some deeply painful moments - through loss and growth and adversity - through emotions that span the breadth of the gamut: from elation, uncontrolled, overwhelming joy to the sad, silent emptiness that's left when nothing else is. Tango has helped me see myself from the inside, out.
Can we separate the journey from the catalyst, from the propellers, from the person? I don't think so. It's all connected. It's all one package. We are all much more than black and white – we are many, many shades of gray. Tango has helped me understand that Life is About the Connection – with those around us and consequently, with ourselves.