When Mark Selinger took this photo, Cunningham was 90 years old and confined to a wheelchair; a great dancer and choreographer, his body was done, and instead his hands took on the work of his useless frame and brought his spirit to light. Even in the stasis of a photo they carry the promise of grace.
Cunningham understood the power of hands. We raise a hand in agreement, and both hands in supplication, in celebration and in worship. We take others by the hand to lead them to safety, to wisdom, to something good. We shake hands to seal an agreement, to introduce ourselves, to greet a friend. We might yearn for a laying on of hands when we are in pain.
For some of my friends the last five days have been hard, and a much harder time is coming this week. Some of you will empty yourselves of pity again and again in actions of consolation. You will extend your hands to enclose shattered students; your hands will carry grace within their touch.
Dance creates movements that vanish in a moment. It may require the most imaginative of audiences, those who can fill in what is gone, catch what is present, anticipate what is to come and then keep the whole narrative of movement in some coherent form in their memories.
Your grace bestowing measures this week (and always as teachers) will ask you as well to fill in what is gone, to catch what is present, to anticipate what is to come and to keep the whole forms of sorrow, pity and resilience balanced within your actions. But your grace will call forth grace, and you will be filled up again and again.