Paula Sager speaking at Janet Adler Memorial
October 8, 2023, Northampton, MA
I’d like to begin with a poem by W.S. Merwin:
Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise
When it is not yet day
I am walking on centuries of dead chestnut leaves
In a place without grief
Though the oriole
Out of another life warns me
That I am awake
In the dark while the rain fell
The gold chanterelles pushed through a sleep that was not mine
So that I came up the mountain to find them
Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me.
* * *
This poem was published in 1967, during the same time that Janet was a young dance therapist working primarily with children, including some children with autism, their work together occurring in an institutional setting, the room, large and empty, with bars on the windows.
Like W.S. Merwin, Janet was called awake by the otherness of fellow beings. She writes of her early years of searching for the child who cannot be found…the child who she needs to find.
These are her words… “In my heart I call to him. I imagine that he is calling to me. I need to come nearer to this mysterious being, this unknown presence. Yet why do I feel that I recognize him? Is it the indwelling God within this child that I need to touch, that I need to be touched by. Is it his suffering or my own that I need to open toward?”
As many of us who are here today well know, it was always the poets who accompanied Janet throughout her life of teaching and living.
* * *
I am forever moved by young Janet in her 20’s, who somehow knew intuitively that we need each other in order to awaken to ourselves. Her great offering to the world is this knowing—that the spark of relational recognition is how we remember who we are.
I am forever touched by Janet, my teacher and, in more recent years, by her colleagueship and friendship.
At this time, I can imagine nothing more supportive, more life affirming than cultivating an inner relationship with Janet within the vast and ultimate unknown of wherever she is now. No longer contained within her beautiful distinctive body form, her presence spreads everywhere.
I’m thinking of all the ways we may look for her: as mother, as grandmother, as wife, as friend, as teacher, as colleague, as inspiration, and now, more than ever, as Witness.
Here she is within our memories of her, within that shape of cloud, that leaf falling, that clear cast of light on a floor beam, that wisp of wind, call of bird. For those who, for whatever reason, never met Janet in person, here she is in her writings, in the photographs of her, in the videos and audio recordings, and in the stunning film made on Galiano, with filmmaker Jens Wazel. Again and again, forever, we can continue, each one of us, finding ourselves becoming more human, more ourselves, under her loving gaze.
~ Paula Sager
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