Earlier today, I saw a clip of a young Mikhail Baryshnikov performing – flawlessly – ONE, from Chorus Line. Watching it left me thinking of my sister, Mim.
Mim would have appreciated that what made Baryshnikov’s performance a triumph was how he totally blended in with the other dancers. He was indistinquishable from the company, an incredible accomplishment for someone who defined star. Mim would have gotten that, having taken me three times to see Chorus Line – twice on Broadway – where a core part of the story is whether a former star can become self-effacing enough to dance in the chorus.
It hit me, literally just a minute ago, that Mim had star power, somehow always managed to stand out in spite of seeming to fall back, to blend in with her surroundings. What strikes me is how, in reality, she was always noticed.
My sister-in-law, Pam, thought she was a neighbor when they first met, but she noticed her. In Mim’s online memorial service, Louise Rose talked about how if you went into a room & no one was there, it was Mim; about how you’d find Mim in the coat racks at an event. – – what Louise failed to notice, what I did too until right now, is how we DID see Mim, her shrinking away perversely increasing her visibility.
Mim understood the power of her perceived invisibility. In her memorial, Frank Rose wondered if Mim was aware that her extreme shyness was a spur to the organizers of a church camp making crucial & highly effective change to how they organized the programs. Yes, Frank, she did. She did more than notice – – she took great pride in being a catalyst for them changing things to better accommodate her. She bragged on it, albeit out of “adult” earshot. And it is why she rightly saw that if she changed, if she was less socially challenged & more mainstream, she’d stop getting the special treatment that she came to consider as much her right as any star of stage or screen.
For going on four years, it rankled me that Frank wondered if she was clueless about the impact of setting herself apart, hovering on the edges. On the edges – visible – not hunkered down in her cabin or the dining hall. Visible, on the perimeter. And people went out of their way to draw her in.
People who attended those long ago early Laurel Camps remember with admiration approaching awe Mim thanking Frank as the one who brought her from the back of the room to the front. That was Mim’s super power – – she made people feel that THEY were filling a void in her that one else could.
I have no doubt that Mim did appreciate Frank for bringing her to the front of the room. Laurel changed Mim, opened her to life in ways we’d never seen before. She got her bachelor’s from NYU – tuition, books, transportation (it was a night school program for non-traditional students) under written by a family friend because, of course, Mim had no money. I assume someone paid for her books & tuition, apartment & food when she got her MSW from Rutgers, because she never copped to having money.
It was amazing, what Mim managed to do without any visible means of support.
But then, Mim mastered to perfection being the person who seemed to blend into the background but managed to be uppermost in people’s minds & caring hearts. Not snide nor snarky, just fact.
Not long ago, I wanted Frank to KNOW she knew. Now, all I feel is a wistful sadness that while Frank did bring her to the front of the room & she got her BA & her MSW & even received a gorgeous official proclamation from the New Jersey Assembly – with fancy lettering & the state seal – for her exceptional volunteer work with autistic children, none of it was ever enough, To the end, others experienced her as on the edge of fading out & rushed in to let her know they were there for her.
Mim might have seemed to blend into the scenery, but make no mistake about it – the woman had that ineffable quality called star power. In every little step she took!