There’s a pirate who lives in town here. He’s a young white guy, beard, messy dreadlocks, might live on the street. He doesn’t carry a cutlass and he doesn’t wear an eye-patch, but besides that, he’s the real deal – swashbuckling boots, oilskin jacket, tricorn hat, piercings, bracelets, bangles. And a mean frown, most of the time. Or I thought it was mean, till a few weeks ago.
He showed up at this freeform movement circle I go to every once in a while, to get out of my head. It’s in a big dance studio, and the point is to just move, to be myself beyond my mind, beyond all the thoughts shouting at me from the inside out. Don’t dance, you idiot! You’re not doing it right! Look at you! You’re pathetic! You have no idea what you’re doing, so just don’t. Just stop. Get the hell out of here. But I keep moving anyway, through all the bullshit, and most of the time the movement slowly washes me clean. I’m know I’m clean when it becomes clear there’s simply no wrong way to do it. And when there’s no wrong way, there’s no right way, and no pressure to get it right, no expectation. That’s when I get weird, really let it loose. That’s where the freedom is – in the same wiggles and waggles that the screaming judge inside me condemns, the judge that would sentence me to a lifetime of solitary confinement in a mental prison of my own making, if I listened to him. But I don’t. I try not to. I wiggle and waggle and look like a fool and goddamn does it feel good.
This time, I arrive just before the dance begins. About twenty people are sitting in a circle, sharing names and setting intentions for the upcoming movement. “My name is Leslie, and my intention is to fly like a bird.” “I’m John, and my intention is to experience serenity.” That kind of thing. It’s a mix of young people and middle-aged folks, all of them dressed in hippy-dippy flowing pants or skin tight yoga clothes, except for one guy who’s dressed like a pirate. The pirate. There’s an opening in the circle right next to him, which I fill. He’s emanating a powerful stench, true to his pirate nature, and he’s got his arms propped up behind him, leaning back, legs laid out, nonchalant, badass. And he’s got that mean frown.
Soon it’s his turn. He says his name and then he rolls right into it without pausing: “My intention is to leave here as soon as we’re done with this circle, because if I stay I’m going to get sucked into a black hole of jealousy, anger, depression, and despair.”
Then, everybody laughed. Not an “I’m uncomfortable” kind of laugh. They laughed like it was funny, like they were entertained.
I was up next. I didn’t say anything for a few seconds, hoping it would sink in, what had just happened: how the pirate had actually been real with us, real about the suffering instead of editing it or pretending it wasn’t there, and how most of us missed it completely, this offering of realness. We laughed at him. I wish I’d stayed quiet for longer, because what the pirate did was so rare. How extraordinary, when someone gives voice to the depths of their truth in spite of all the social formulas demanding a safe and comfortable superficiality. How sacred, for someone to speak their hurt, when all the cultural trappings scream at us to put on a happy face, be witty, be funny, be smart, be enlightened, be anything but broken.
“My name is Andrew,” I said, after a silence that wasn’t long enough, “and my intention is to be grounded,” which felt so flat next to what had just been said. “I’m Sheila,” the woman next to me said, “and I want to stretch.”
True to his word, the pirate got up and left immediately once the circle was finished. The music began, and the rest of us started wiggling and waggling. I wondered for a while, before I left my mind behind, about the unspoken suffering in the hearts of the people moving around me, and the various prisons each of us might be living in, and how somewhere inside each of us – even in the meanest, or the meanest-looking – there was a being that was true and naked and longing to be free.