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Where The Children No Longer Dance

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Message Jan Baumgartner
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I remember one particular vision - the first time my small nieces came to visit me in Maine. With a glistening backdrop of sea, they ran onto the narrow stretch of grass bordering the deck. They danced. Later, and for the first time, together they ran into the cool ocean surf, gentle water breaking around tiny, pulsing legs - and again they danced. Summer sun and salt spray are oftentimes the only intoxicants that children need to break into one of the purest forms of celebration. The celebration of life through dance.

But even without sun and salt spray, children will dance. They'll dance to moonlight and shooting stars - to staying up late. To baby birds, a mother's stroke, a happy dog, favorite meals, a friendly smile, a polished stone. It doesn't take much to make a child happy, make a child want to dance. To celebrate what is vital and real - playmates, family, a full belly, a snug bed - all that weaves its small way into the warm cup of safety. Their nest.

They can't help it. Joyous bodies in motion. A beat, a song in their heart. They dance. They move to celebrate that sweet and sometimes fleeting taste of naivete. Their lightness of being. The drumbeat of life.

They'll dance for all the reasons human beings should dance - because we are thankful. Because we have to. Because sometimes words cannot articulate what it feels like to be alive. To be hopeful. They dance because they can.

Most of them.

It is hard to imagine a child not dancing. Not wanting - no life left to celebrate in motion.

Do they dance in Darfur? Do the homeless, terrified, hungry, orphaned children of Darfur, dance?

Do they remember what it felt like to lift strong, able limbs? To turn their beautiful, lithe bodies into poetry in motion? To jump high into an endless sky?

Fast forward. Skip. Repeat.

To laugh out loud while their hearts catapulted them into wild leaps and twirls. Do they remember twirling so fast and hard, they crumpled to the ground in bursts of exhausted energy - dizzy from so much living?

Things, in Darfur, are going from bad to worse. From worse to catastrophic. From life to death. From barely living to surviving, barely. Slow death by life.

No one is dancing in Darfur.

The movement there is slow, deliberate, urgent. It is a trail of bodies walking away from, running, fleeing - to nowhere. It is fast motion from burning villages, obliterated water sources, lifeless bodies, assaulted family members, and an end to future as they once knew it to be. It is dragging feet through dust to the ends of the earth.

Children have stopped dancing. Some can hardly move. Some cannot cry. It takes too much energy. Expels the last vestiges of wet from their parched, listless, and dehydrated bodies. Who would have thought dancing was a luxury? Want has become their only movement - hunger, thirst, safety. Pain has replaced Joy. Suffering is what now moves their limbs, if they can move at all.

Who knew that dancing was not just the sheer joy of being alive? Who knew it needed more than a full heart? That it demanded visions clean of unspeakable horrors. That it needed liquid motion, sustenance, hopeful wings.

Many of us know varying degrees of suffering. But most of us will never know their pain - the extent of human suffering on that cold, infamous scale of horror. Most of us need to believe, somehow, that we will always dance again. That's the crazy thing about hope. How empty and alone must one be to be void of hope?

Did the children of Darfur stop dancing when they lost hope? Or did they lose hope when they could no longer dance?

One of the slogans used to define this genocide in Darfur is, "how will history judge us?" Perhaps we should not focus so much on history and how we will collectively be judged, but rather, what we can do today. The children of Darfur are not looking to history for answers. They are surviving for the day - they cannot fathom a moment beyond. Let us focus on "how will I judge myself tomorrow?" And, make a difference today.

Tonight, my niece Shauna celebrates her twelfth birthday. She is having a slumber party. Her sister, Jessica, will be there too. I have no doubts that they will dance. With friends in tow, they will shut the bedroom door and with music blasting in perfect harmony to shrieks of laughter and joy, they will dance. They will dance to celebrate life. And whether or not they can articulate in words why they are so joyous - why their healthy, vibrant limbs are compelled to move - they will dance to hope. Because they are thankful. Because they have.

Because they can.
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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a grant (more...)

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