Every good story teller knows that foreshadow can be a lovely tool. Those little clues, those hintings, can keep a reader turning pages with anticipation. Or it can utterly catch your audience off guard, astounding them and making them revisit the story with fresh appreciation.
As a great storyteller, God does this too. In fact, He invented it.
I have a handful or two of little moments where He inserted shadows into my story long before I ever got a whiff of them. Now I glance back and smile, intrigued that He places so much care in the nuance of our lives.
When I was about two my mom stared depositing me on the floor to watch pieces of the Turning Point that she'd taped off of Television. (Nearly all of the videos we owned were TV recordings. This was A: out of Mom's faithful efforts to save a buck and B: to conserve the innocence of her curious children. She was a masterful censor. Hey mom, why did a hot air balloon suddenly appear during that scene in Forrest Gump?)
My little toddler bottom would stay glued to the carpet any time a woman in a tutu spun on our TV screen. Most little girls like ballet. But I didn't like ballet. I loved it.
I grew up dancing. As soon as my aching limbs were old enough to qualify my mother enrolled me in classes. My dad thought this was a good idea because I was prone to stumble into all forms of furniture. I had an acute need for gracefulness.
Truth be told, I was never much of a dancer. I didn't have the body for it. Some people just don't. But what my early teachers always remarked on was my excellent expression (I'd later become an actress) and my innate sense of movement. I seemed to understand dance. I spoke it, even if my own body couldn't reflect it exquisitely.
My middle school studio owner saw this as well and offered me the rare opportunity to begin choreographing ballets for regional emerging choreographers competitions. At the tender age of 15, I received a scholarship to an intensive choreographers conference out in Austin, TX. Think Project Runway for dance designers. Only there was no cutthroat competition. No elimination. No ridiculously fabulous grand prize. Just the opportunity to better ourselves, and hopefully better (or build) our reputations through two weeks of intensive, interesting challenges.
Like all artists, choreographers tend to specialize or favor one medium of dance, be it classical, contemporary, jazz, etc. I entered into the conference with a bend toward a neoclassical style. What this means is I did a fresher, somewhat updated version of traditional ballet.
On opening night we all had an opportunity to feature a number we felt represented us a choreographer. Mine involved Hayden, black leotards and a lot of pointed toes. These numbers, though, were just set ups. It pegged our territory so that the judges would know just how to pounce on us like a pack of ravenous lions.
For our first assignment, the directors thought it would be
A slow-paced traditional African chant sung by unaccompanied female voices.
It was safe to say as I listened to that recording that I never in my life had given consideration to any aspect of African culture. Never...ever. Those lions really thought they had stumped me.
Yet something magical happened as I closed my eyes and listened to the tune crackling out through my boom box. What should have scared the pants off of me actually excited me, it inspired me. I eagerly shuffled my three assigned dancers up to our cluttered attic rehearsal space and began to weave them together.
Patterns. Arms. Leaps. Turns. It happened unnaturally fast, like a wave. The dance poured out of me so casually that the girls seemed rather dazed at the end of two hours. They were lovely girls. Two Asian Americans and one Hispanic American. All dancing an African themed tribal dance choreographed by a freckled, suburban white girl.
That night at the review panel the judges and my fellow choreographers were pouring out accolades. (This would not prove true with all my numbers. I was alright, but not a tremendous talent.) I don't know whether it was the dance alone that impressed them, or the knowledge that it was dreamt out of me, this young, straightforward classical artist. I surprised them. I surprised myself. It was one of the best dances I ever choreographed. It was what I came to be known for that summer in Austin.
As a fifteen year old teenager I never suspected that Africa held anything for me beyond that. It was nothing then. The experience bore no meaning except that I achieved something against the grain of my own artistic skill, something utterly unnatural.
From this present vantage point I see it somewhat differently. I see the significance.
It has always been locked inside. That beautiful African melody that flowed up under and through my skin was the first glimmer, the first sign of a connection to a place I have now come to love. It was in me even then, this innate sense of understanding and appreciation. A beautiful shadow in the foreground.
The sweetness of it will never be lost on me.