A Book of Sparks
Marta Becket and the Three Temptations of Christ
They put on the show together for twenty-odd years and then one morning in 2005, Marta called, as she did every morning to wake him, and he was gone: felled by a stroke from which he died a few days later. She took one Saturday off and then she was back on stage. She painted Wilget into the circus backdrop of her next show.
She wrote a memoir: To Dance on Sands.
At 80, she was still dancing en pointe. She broke her hip in 2009 and went on to create what she called "The Sitting Down Show." She lives alone, in the back of the opera house, with a menagerie of stray cats, and still performs every Sunday night.
In this season of deserts, I can't help thinking that Marta's life, as it is for all of us, has been one long Lent. I can't help thinking of the three temptations of Christ (Mt. 4:1-11).
Man does not live by bread alone.
No one could accuse Marta of selling out or taking the shortcut. She gave everything she had, put out a huge gold-painted donation can, and continued to perform on whatever people chose to give back.
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
Her husband cheated but she didn't. She never risked compromising her work, nor betrayed the purity of her vision, by less than stand-up behavior.
The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.
I'm not sure what else you'd call it but serving something higher than yourself - but love—to put on your makeup and slippers and tutu and, decade after decade, go out under the lights and dance. To believe with your whole heart in the magic of theater, story, song; to lay down your life in the effort to bring that magic to others.
"Society laughs at old people's dreams. They even laugh at dreams . . . until they come true."
"I must keep going, alone . . . I'm determined to keep going as long as I can."
"I'm still dancing and I'm going to keep moving until I drop."
Death Valley is an easy place to picture Golgotha. The cross on a hill. That day when we will all be called to give an account of what we did with our gifts. The desert that terrifies and compels, the desert in which we are tormented and glorified, the desert in which we are crucified and if we stay the course, resurrected.
Or as Marta Becket—nearing her last season—puts it: "I listen for Wilget in the wind, even though I never liked the wind."
Heather King is an ex-lawyer, ex-drunk Catholic convert with three memoirs: Parched (the dark years); Redeemed (crawling toward the light); and Shirt of Flame (forthcoming - her year of wandering around Koreatown, L.A. "with" St. Thérèse of Lisieux). You can find Heather on Facebook. She blogs at shirtofflame.blogspot.com.