Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Love

By Han Nolan

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Granddaddy Opal's hair looked shocked as if an electric current were running through his head. His hands were trembling and he brought them down on my handlebars, so close to mine I could feel their heat.

"You ain't going to have any more of these bruises, you hear?" […]

"Yes. Yes, we're through with that wild music anyway. We're doing something else now."

"You durn sure or I don't know what!" he said. (6.61-64)

Granddaddy Opal's stunned reaction to Miracle's bruises from dance class seems to really disturb her—largely because she's never seen an expression of concern and love before. His emotions are a cross between anger and sadness, as though he's realizing for the first time that Miracle is a child deprived of affection.

I sat up and faced the wig heads. "I don't believe in love," I told them. "It's not real. It's not a live thing […] You can't touch it, can you? […] You can't hold it in your hand, can you? […] Love is make-believe." (15.3)

Miracle's spiel to the wig heads about her inability to believe in love reveals that she doesn't really understand abstract concepts. Because the world she's grown up in has been extremely unstable and her needs haven't always been met, love isn't just something she doesn't understand, but something she's never really experienced.

They slammed a lot of doors back and forth and Uncle Toole had to sleep in the living room on one of his busted-up sofas. Love wasn't real. If they just realized that, if they could just understand that very simple thing, they'd never fight again. (15.9)

What's funny about Miracle's rationalization here is that if love isn't real, then why are Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole even together? Why did they even get married to begin with? They had to have been in love once, right? Maybe? No? Miracle is so distanced from the idea of love that she doesn't seem to grasp the concept. And frankly, when it comes to Casey and Toole, we don't really either.

Needing people too much just drove them away. Loving someone did something to their hearts. My need for Granddaddy Opal was too much and it gave him a heart attack. I was killing him. (18.9)

We know that this isn't true, but remember that love isn't exactly something Miracle's had a lot of experience with, and she makes some odd associations in the process of figuring it out. Granddaddy Opal's heart attack has no relation to how much Miracle loves him, but she still blames herself.

"Oh, you don't think anyone else has problems like yours. Well, that's what's so nice about group. You discover you're not alone. There are people out there who have the same feelings you do. You'll get to share your feelings. Maybe what you have to share will help somebody else. Maybe you'll hear things that will help you and those scars will start to melt away." (18.22)

Let this sink in for a minute: The Cedars is the first stable environment Miracle finds herself in—ever. Sure, Granddaddy Opal's house came pretty close, but anywhere Gigi is living isn't a functional place. The fact that there are other people who have similar problems as her is a major revelation.

I took my usual seat and Dr. DeAngelis stood up and said, "No, Miracle. I'd like you to take my seat today and I'll sit in yours." (21.15)

Dr. DeAngelis is one of the first people Miracle encounters at the Cedars who teach her about love. He largely does this by identifying with her situation, and in this case, literally putting his authority aside to place himself in her shoes. Atticus Finch would definitely like this guy.

I needed someone to talk to who would understand and listen, really listen. I needed Dr. DeAngelis and Aunt Casey. I wanted to tell them everything, to share what I was discovering with them, and to let them know I needed them. (29.10)

Miracle essentially goes from believing that love isn't real to seeing it as something she desperately needs. While she doesn't use that specific word here, she seems to be acknowledging that Dr. DeAngelis, Casey, and to an extent Granddaddy Opal can offer her emotional support that Gigi isn't equipped with.

"Oh, and Aunt Casey? Thanks for wanting me to know the truth—for wanting me." (30.37)

While she may think of Aunt Casey as kind of mean and superficial for a long time, getting kidnapped by Gigi ultimately makes Miracle see exactly how much her aunt has grown to love and need her. Aunt Casey may have once seen Miracle as a reminder of guilt from the past, but she now knows that she wants to make a difference in her life.

Dr. DeAngelis once said that we would be talking about love, what it means, how it feels. I told him I didn't believe in love. "You can't touch it or see it," I had said […] "I won't believe what I can't see."

He said, "Then believe what you feel." (30.40-41)

Feelings haven't exactly been a reliable source of information for Miracle—actually, they haven't even been something she can truly believe at all. Dr. DeAngelis demonstrates, though, that emotions can be trusted and believed. Feelings can provide proof of how the people around Miracle really feel about her.

I thought maybe it was like dance, and music, and poetry. I knew how they made me feel, how the truth made me feel: real, and lit up from the inside, and like nothing in the world could ever really hurt me. I decided love might be like that, too. (30.42)

Miracle may not understand love at first, but she does understand dance, music, and Emily Dickinson. Perhaps she needs to feel the emotions that come from art and learn to trust them before she can see that believing in love is very similar.

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