Meg: It must have been devastating. What came next?
The doctors were surprised that I continued to live. They concluded that the only option available now was to resume the treatments. I could not agree, but I knew I could not refuse either. I did endure five more treatments. I was advised to go home to my flat in Madrid, to eat and to rest and then we would test again. My mother left her home in Seville and came to Madrid, not just to take care of me. She turned into what the Spanish call a “madre corage” (“a fighting mother”–a warrior fighting for her son).
When the test results came back still indicating the presence of cancer, I was again told to wait for another month before resuming the “dance-of-death”, aka chemotherapy. I fell again into the abyss. I alternately felt strength, debility, self-deception, sensitivity, and energy, a desire to live in spite of everything. And, most of all, I experienced an urgent need to return to my place of birth, to return to my Sevilla…to walk the streets of my childhood…to return to the beginning.
I had finally reached an acceptance of death. The most difficult part was thinking about the people around me, the people who loved me. It wasn’t until this pivotal moment that I became aware of how loved I was by so many. At this juncture, it wasn’t prayers or religious faith that so much sustained me, but the hope and affection of friends that lifted and carried me through the insufferable months of alternating despair and hope. I asked myself ‘What would I do if I had just a little time left?’ The question had no answer.
I felt a tremendous need to move, to connect with the world…with nature. So I strolled through the streets of Sevilla and down by the River Guadalquivir…every day, for endless hours. I really saw and felt every little thing in the fiber of my being. Such tremendous suffering brought me ineffable beauty. I felt reborn. And it was precisely at one of those heightened moments, as I was strolling through the Alameda, that I heard a traditional Spanish “copla” piercing the air. The bar from which it emerged beckoned to me and I entered. I hastened to a solitary corner and watched the life of others pass by.
An “angel” appeared. We began to talk and when I became conscious of the connection between us, I backed away. I could not allow people in my life that my impending death might harm. But the minutes turned to hours and the hours to three days. I felt that I was on a very slippery slope that could give way at any moment. But it didn’t. There was a great sense of solidity. It was clear that I had found the answer to truly feeling alive while I continued to live. I knew that my “medicine” was simply that… to feel alive! We usually don’t allow ourselves that luxury. My partner made it easy for me by respecting the process that I needed to confront my existential challenge.
I was called to return to Madrid for further medical attention. The journey gave me time to reflect on our three-day idyll. My mind, heart and body were one. Things were clear. I was at peace. As soon as I returned to Sevilla, we went to the Atlantic Coast of Cádiz to watch the sunset. The exquisite beauty was overwhelming. Our lives intertwined at this moment – two philosophies coincided.
Madrid and the doctors again beckoned. The demon would not let me rest. I was being tested, in more ways than one. I could not continue to put my “media naranja” (the other half of my orange) through this torment. I insisted we part and my partner refused to entertain the notion. When my tests in Madrid revealed this time that there were no cancerous cells apparent, I received a bouquet of seven white roses from Sevilla…“seven” for luck –not for my illness, but for us–and “white” for my rebirth.
From that point, I truly began the process of rebirth…a difficult labor of pushing forth and falling back, a feeling of fear of the unknown where every decision carries with it the pressure of not allowing yourself the luxury of making a mistake.
I am still here. What happened? The up-side, the light, the equilibrium, the miracle, the fight, nature itself, my relative youth, my dancer’s “aguante” (ability to “carry-on”, “to hang-in-there”)…?
Meg: Woven throughout your responses are the words “transform” and “catharsis,” as well as “improvise” and “spontaneous.” In American society today there is a heavy emphasis on feeling good all the time and avoiding pain at all costs, as well as a desire to conform and “fit in.” Could you speak about your views on this, referencing both your personal experience and your art?
Victor: Trying to be happy in society is to struggle against it. We can’t struggle constantly. There has to be a degree of acceptance in life. We must look for equilibrium not happiness. No one is happy always and forever. We must ask the questions “Who are we?” and “Where are we?” and “Where are we going?” You cannot proceed in life going against yourself.
We artists must give ourselves over to living with a society that is both quite frivolous and, at the same time, difficult. An artist’s individual mentality is, by definition, one that is out-of-the-bounds of a “normal” world view. It is the nature of the creative process. But the artist must live in society. You must make a place for yourself. Every time you break away, you must return to “convivir” (to live in harmony with the rest). My life is a constant psychological and physical struggle against myself. But the moments of struggle pass. The colors change and I realize that I am a human being also. I continue to struggle and sometimes to fail.
Meg: As someone who seems to have connected to your “calling” very early on and who has had a “second chance” if you will, what words do you have for those who have not yet found their “calling” and have a desire to?
Victor: Society works to “resecarte” (to “dry you out”, “to squeeze out” your creative spark). Look for elements that nourish you (“que te nutran”). Everything has a process. As you experience the ups and downs, seize the moment when you are feeling good to take risks. Follow your intuition. Don’t think. And a passion will appear. It doesn’t have to be something grand. It is the small passions that will make you happy!
My “Second Opportunity” was not only something presented to me–a second chance to live, to love, to perform–it was a “Second Opportunity” for life to get it right with me.
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Muchas gracias to Judy Cotter for her translation of this conversation with Victor.For images of flamenco, see Travel Photos: http://viewfromthepier.com/travel-photos/
Check out Sevilla’s Flamenco Museum: http://www.flamencomuseum.com/
Meet Christina Hoyos: http://www.andalucia.com/flamenco/dancers/cristinahoyos.htm