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Mind, body, spirit and 'Hairspray'

Shortly after settling in to watch the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Hairspray,” I fell madly in love with teen dance sensation Tracy Turnblad.

Exuding an explosive passion for life, she’s uncontainable in all the best ways. Tracy has a voice that needs to be heard, and she uses it to question the absurd notion that size, race, physical ability or gender have anything to do with how, when, where or with whom we interact. And don’t you dare tell her she can’t dance — “My mind tells me no, but my feet tell me go!’”

Tracy’s words have been echoing in my brain since I saw the play. She speaks to a discrepancy between her mind’s guidance (“I’m not supposed to do this...”) and her profound need to boogie. She’s frustrated and indignant, caught between the reality of what is and what should be.

I get it, Tracy Turnblad; I am you — with a twist. Edit that quote of yours a bit to read, “My mind tells me go, but my feet tell me no!” and it’s my story, one I share with brothers and sisters all over the world. It’s the story of disability secondary to intractable pain (a constant state of severe physical pain that has no known cure, and is not easily managed).

Along with the hits we get from societal stigma, it’s difficult when our bodies impose limitations on our lives, and the struggle goes deeper than the mind. The real emotional impact is born from incongruence of spirit and body. Our spirits are life-sustaining; they inform us we must create, write, connect, sing, snuggle our dogs, dance.

I think of my own spirit as a current of rushing stream water, mingling with fish and playing with leaves and fallen branches. It joyfully crashes upon this stone and that stone, shouting out, “Lithia Park is incredible! Life is freaking amazing!”

And then there’s my body.

My body, the physical container of my spirit, is the sludge residing at the stream’s bottom. It longingly looks up at that sunshine-dappled spirit (oh-so-close but unreachable). Not a blip of light gets reflected onto my mess of a body. Sludgier and sludgier it becomes, despite the quality of treatment it gets day in, day out.

The emergence of spirit-body conflict is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. Appreciating and honoring these parts of ourselves, sludge included, is critical so we can attend to their unique needs and give them the care they deserve. Easier said than done? Absolutely ... an ongoing process.

So, thanks, Tracy, for your vibrancy and inspiration. I’ll be back to watch you again and vicariously express my spirit through the musical wonder that is your body. Until then, I’ll be belting out “Good Morning Baltimore!” in the bath tub. Perhaps not so pleasing to the ears, but a treat for my body and spirit to enjoy ... together.

Elisa Friedlander lives in Ashland.

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