the "place"

To set the vibe, I recommend Promise by Ben Howard
To set the visual vibe, I recommend the above image (taken by Alicia Papa). It's me, seated on a warm bench on a beautiful autumn day. Nestled on the edge of a radiant garden that is saying it's so-longs to the blooming season as butterflies engage in their final fall dance, around this specific bench. 
To set the emotional vibe, join me through the following: I have always wanted to have a *~*~*ghostly*~*~* encounter. Now, if you know me, you know I am not one for anything spooky. Scary movies? Big nope. Loud thunderstorms? Naaahhh. Elements of surprise? I'll take a pass. So this desire for a ghostly experience is kind of odd given my dislikings of all things spook. And yet, it persists. I think though, it's not necessarily a ghostly experience (because you should know that I've watched Ghost Hunters and I'm also a big NOPE to that too) it's more of a desire to connect with loved ones who have died and know that they are still there - somehow, someway, bearing witness. And while this desire to connect is there and it's strong, an obvious connection has never been made. Now, I say obvious because sometimes I'm pretty oblivious and if I'm going to have some sort of ghostly encounter, you can bet that I want to be SURE that it's happening. No second guessing. No wondering if it's all in my imagination. I want 100% clarity. So, I continue living my life, hoping that one day, I might stumble upon this ghostly encounter. And then, I didn't just stumble into a ghostly encounter, I slept straight into one and a beautiful and magical adventure occurred. This, is the history of that ghostly, magical, beautiful encounter. 


I was a senior in college when I started blogging. As a psychology and dance double major, my dance major included choreography courses where we created our own original works, held rehearsals, and documented the journey. I documented my journey through an online blog which I used to share with my dancers so they could see our rehearsal materials before our next rehearsal. I tell myself that was the primary use, but if I'm being honest, the blog was really a place for me to get the creative jumble out of my brain and onto a digital page where I could make sense of it. The blog helped me to flesh out my feelings (my dance works tended to be a dive into emotional expression) and to connect the theme of the piece to my dancers individual experiences so they would feel connected to the work as well. It was a place where I made sense of the tapestry I was weaving that was part movement, part music, part my intention, part dancer buy in, and part emotion. It was a safe place to let my vision explode and then to pick up it's remaining pieces and create something that I loved. 

In the Fall of 2013, my senior year of college, I was working with my dancers on a piece about returning to a place as a different person. The idea that a place may have held so much meaning for you at one point in time and then years pass and when you return, the place is different, or you're different, but there is a difference. In this piece, the "place" was represented by wooden benches that the dancers visited and traveled between. What I remember of the rehearsal process was that it was a dream. My cast of dancers were astounding and they became my trusted confidants as we met twice a week to cocreate the dance work. The process felt truly beautiful and then, I woke up on October 31st, 2013 and received the news that a friend from high school had died. 

My friend, Sant, had died the evening of October 30th. Sant and I attended all of primary school together. We were one of the few students who were in the same school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It felt like there was a kinship amongst this small group of students who had journeyed through all of life's most awkward stages thus far. And there was a friendship and a support and an understanding. Our lives had separated upon graduating high school and I didn't know specifics about where his had taken him, but what I did know, was that I cared and hearing the news that he had died felt like a sever. My understanding of things shifted. We had attended twelve years of school together, how was I preparing to graduate college and venture into that talked about "real world" while he was dead? How did it get to this point? What levels of support were so drastically different for two people who read so similarly on paper? How did this happen? 

At some point, the emotions I was experiencing about Sant's death became integrated into the dance work I was creating. The "place" that is now different was the time in my mind before I learned of his death. It was the idea that people got the support they needed as they were growing and learning. I recognize that now, that was maybe a naïve understanding, but it was my understanding (and is now my hope). My original dance blog says that this piece was not only about Sant but it was him, my memories of him, and my desire to go back and recreate them. That dance piece served as the catalyst for not only a healing process, but also a holding place. A place for my heart to grieve, for my dreams to grow, and for the loving memory of a friend to visit. That dance piece, is below. 

Watch i come alone here

As grief is, one artistic work didn't wash it away, and come the second semester of my senior year, I was questioning that "place" where the difference is felt and where it happens. So, I went back the dance blog and poured out the creative mind jumble from my brain onto the digital page and I cocreated a honor's thesis in dance with a cast of beautiful human beings and friends. This time, I looked at absence and how absence doesn't actually mean something's not there, how absence actually means you now carry more with you. So, my dancers and I embarked on a journey of defining absence. We defined it with movement, we defined it with words, we defined it with music, and feelings, and space, and time. We defined absence. And we created w (o) i (u) t (t) h

It was because of my relationship with Sant, my journey through "the place," and my reckoning with absence that I entered the education field. Maybe there, I could figure out why any of this happened. So, I entered the field as an AmeriCorps member, transitioned to an intern, and graduated as a school counselor. It had been years since Sant had died and I first began questioning "the place" and absence and how in the world this all happened. And I still hadn't found the answer yet, but I was hoping I might. When I started working as a school counselor, Sant came to visit me as butterflies. It was a serendipitous and maybe *~*~*ghostly*~*~* encounter (although I wasn't 100% sure and as you know, your girl needs clarity) that I knew that it was him making himself known by beautiful butterflies. (Now that Sant comes to me as butterflies, you can bet that I see him everywhere. When I'm thinking about him, a butterfly then flies by. When I need support when I'm in the pits of despair, my butterfly Sant finds a way to come to me. It is beautiful and breathtaking every time.) 

So, years pass, and Sant visits me as butterflies. And I find myself reflecting on the beginnings of all of this. That first creative jumble dumping ground, that first dance work, Sant's death, the dance thesis, the understanding, the butterflies. I think about it all often. I think about it with the students I work with and I imagine him everyday and I hope that maybe, in someway, he feels seen. 

So, 9 years later, I go on a trip to Maine with my best friends. We're sleeping in the basement of a friends house halfway through our journey, when I wake up the next morning and recall a dream. I was standing in school, in the hallway, facing a classroom. And who was in the door? It was Sant. We were face to face when he asked me, "did you write a blog about me?" Dream me when through a flurry of emotions and thoughts. Dream me felt embarrassed that I didn't ask for permission and dream me felt confused, because I hadn't written this blogpost for The Sunrise Chapter yet, but dream me also knew that I would. So, I responded, "yes," and walked away quickly because dream me was too nervous to bear witness to Sant's reaction. I then woke up and my first thought was, "did that really happen?" and my second was, "I think that was the ghostly encounter I've always been hoping for!" I smiled as I retold the story to my friends, in a bit of disbelief. 

Our trip continued and we found ourselves at a botanical garden, more specifically, in a circular clearing with all of fall's flowers blooming into brilliance as they prepared to say goodbye to the season. I looked around this clearing and spotted a bench nestled in the edge. Surrounding the bench were flowers, and dancing in those flowers were butterflies. My mind reversed to Fall of 2013, to the creation of i come alone here, to the benches and the places where we realize there is a difference. My mind journeyed to when I knew Sant came to visit me as butterflies. And then my mind was right in the present moment, where Sant was waiting for me as a butterfly and I joined him on the bench. And in that moment, we were together again. And in that moment, we recreated our memories. 

I bet you're wondering if I'm still questioning if I've ever had a *~*~*ghostly*~*~* encounter. Not so much anymore. And not because I saw a ghost, but because my hope for connection was actualized. And because I know everytime I see a butterfly, my friend is with me. May you rest with ease, Sant, and may you know you are loved.