Reir, Gozar, Vivir – Learning to Dance Again

About year ago, my father sent me a song that I now love dearly. This is for him.


The chime comes during my run.

I’m dragging myself around Magic Island, and I come to a slow stop. Normally, I ignore messages when I run, but this time I hear the three beeps that means my brother, mother, or father has messaged me.

I pull to the side of the path and catch my breath. This run feels terrible– my chest hurts, my legs feel like lead, and I am, somehow, sweatier than normal. I rub my eyes and wipe the sweat off my face as I pull my phone out.

My father has sent me a link to a Marc Anthony song, Vivir Mi Vida, a salsa number I strangely haven’t heard before. My dad doesn’t often send me Latin music and, at this point, my run could use a lift of any kind, so I restart my running watch, begin to pump my legs again, and hit play.

Voy a reír, voy a bailar
Vivir mi vida la la la la

[I am going to smile/ I am going to dance/ to live my life]

The lyrics are a little cheesy, perhaps. Well, not cheesy, but like many Latinos– me, my father, Telenovela characters– this song wears its heart on its sleeve. When it comes to our feelings, we rarely need subtext.

Which is why, as the song’s rhythms pulsate through my body, I feel myself tear up a little bit. I know exactly why my father is sending me this song, and what he wants me to know.

Voy a reír, voy a gozar
Vivir mi vida, la la la la

[I am going to smile/ I am going to enjoy/ to live my life]

I close my eyes and take a breath as I try to find my stride. I used to tell people that smiling on a run made you feel better, but I don’t feel like smiling right now. My face is swollen from crying. I don’t feel quite like I’m all here, much less enjoying anything. Frankly, until this song came on, my internal ticker tape was anything but enjoyable.

How did this happen? How did I not know? How did I not see this coming? How? How? How?

There’s something particularly world-shattering when the life you built ends, particularly when things are revealed you didn’t know. It has a particular way of forcing you to question your own sanity; every seed of doubt that sat dormant in your gut explodes through your bloodstream, making you wonder if anything was as it seemed– the relationship, the nature of “love,” the color of the sky, etc.

The past few days have been hard and my parents know that. Heartache is a terrible feeling, but only pales in comparison to the hurt, shame, and frustration that comes from having to tell people in your life that everything in your life has changed. While no one says it, or even remotely hints at it, you can’t help but feel like an idiot for investing time in something that, in the end, seems like it was far from worth it.

So, I’ve been wallowing a little. As my loved ones have come to my side to support me, I can’t help but feel like a failure. I failed as a woman for letting this happen; I failed as a person for letting thing slide I should not have; I failed as a daughter for wasting not only my time, but my family’s as well.

A veces llega la lluvia
Para limpiar las heridas
A veces solo una gota
Puede vencer la sequía

[Sometimes rain comes/to clean wounds/Sometimes just a drop/can overcome the drought]

Of course, that’s just how it feels. No one has called me a failure, least of all my parents. Like lots of things, they handled this with grace, love, and compassion. They pointed no fingers nor foisted any guilt on me. They just reminded me to be strong, know my worth, and remember that I am loved dearly. They sit on the phone, reminding me that this is far from the end of the world, that life’s experiences have a way of making us stronger and wiser, eventually leading to better things.

There is, again, no subtext, because there doesn’t need to be. They are as plain and obvious with their love for me as the rain falling on my face as I drag my tired, sad body around Magic Island.

Y para qué llorar, pa’ qué
Si duele una pena, se olvida
Y para qué sufrir, pa’ qué
Si así es la vida, hay que vivirla, la la lé

[And why cry, for what?/If it hurts bad, forget it/ And why suffer, for what?/ If it hurts bad, forget it]

From the time I was little, my father was able to help us look forward and towards growth. He would leave us notes and motivational posters in clear sheet protectors hung up on our bunkbeds or, later, on our doors: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% your attitude about it.” We would lament struggles we were having with kids at school, and he’d tell us that “we choose to take the high road.” When I’d cry over a failed test or bad performance, my father would remind me that I could wallow in my feelings or appreciate what I’d done and use it as motivation to get better. We didn’t run from our feelings– my dad often cried, laughed, and shared his with us– but we acknowledged that we had the power to decide what came of them.

From the time I was young, my dad would take the time to remind me that life– all its joys and tragedies, all the mistakes I’d make and the victory’s I’d see– would be shaped by the attitude I would choose to take.

So, as the song pumps through my headphones, I close my eyes for a few strides and take a slow, deep, cleansing breath. As the words float into my ears, my father’s clear message hits me right in the heart: Okay, this happened– so what are you going to do now? You could stay angry and sad, or you could work towards dancing again.

Voy a reír, voy a bailar
Siente y baila y goza
Que la vida es una sola
Voy a reír, voy a bailar
Vive, sigue
Siempre pa’lante, no mires pa’trás

[I’m gonna dance, I’m gonna dance/Feel and dance and enjoy/you only live once/I’m gonna laugh, I’m gonna dance/Live, always keep moving forward/Don’t look back]

My chest still hurts, my eyes are still swollen, and if I am honest, my heart is still broken. Neither this song nor any lesson from anyone could change that truth. What I am reminded, though, is that even when those facts remain, I still have the path ahead of me and a choice of moving towards anger or moving towards love.

I smile through my tears, and it feels like a real smile now. I open my eyes and look towards the horizon, the tentative sun breaking though, glinting off the Pacific ocean as Diamond Head peaks its head out of the storm clouds. I feel my mother’s hand on my head and my father’s hand on my back, protecting me like a shield against whatever comes. Their love– deep, simple, plain, obvious– always finds its way into my soul, sparking a joy in me that, even when my heart is heavy, helps me learn to dance again.

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As Hawai‘i waited with bated breath for a hurricane that my home luckily dodged, I was gifted time to reflect on my life this past year. 

I haven’t written in a while, but when I thought about life, I was incredibly happy. I have adventured, traveled, laughed, danced, and loved more this year than I have in a long time. More importantly, I began really understanding the choice and work it takes to live that kind of life. It is not always easy, but the rewards I have reaped– amazing friendships, work I love, my family, my partner– have brought me unfettered joy. 

So, when this song came on my running playlist a few months ago, I realized how much my life had changed since my father first sent it to me. It’s been a year, and I’m still so grateful for his love and the love of everyone around me. I am so blessed. 

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