I have never been a graceful man. I always wanted to be, I have always wanted to move smoothly and nimbly with the grace of a well honed athlete. Instead I tend to move with the grace and skill of a pack mule, strong and steady, not graceful.
When I was in the seventh grade everyone played, or tried to play all of the organized sports. I played football and I really wanted to play basketball. I wanted to move quickly and effortlessly to a spot, stop and spring up like a gazelle, shot the basketball and listen for the sound the leather makes as the ball drops almost silently through the nylon net. I played a grand total to 60 seconds that entire year and in those scintillating 60 seconds I got two fouls. The coaches encouraged me to focus on football.
As I got even older and more appreciative of physical grace I wanted to be able to dance. I wanted to take a woman in my arms and expertly guide her around a floor in time and rhythm to the music without fouling other dancers. I had the rhythm, or so I thought, I just didn’t have any finesse; it was a lot like my 60 second basketball career, but I forgot all of that, because somewhere in my soul lay the spirit of Gene Kelly.
I danced, I liked dancing, my dancing was mostly unfortunate. I could box step with the mothers at the country club, I could bear hug and grind at the local youth hang out, The Happening, as garage bands played the Beatles. I could move back and forth to the beat of the music, but there was no grace to any of this movement.
When Marty and I got married we didn’t do a big reception and dance after the wedding so we were spared the traditional bride and groom dance. I’m not sure when we first danced together but I suspect it was like all of the other times, I wasn’t skilled at leading, she wasn’t a follower. Dancing without a good leader is like driving bumper cars; it can be kind of exciting but the collisions can leave a mark.
Somewhere along the slog of life I two-stepped, waltzed and line danced, it is Texas after all. Marty and I went to dances when forced to and I mostly avoided dancing with other women for fear I would cause a major dance floor crash. Marty and I struggled for control on the dance floor, she really seemed to do better with more skilled dancers she trusted, I pined for a smooth step.
By the time our son married Marty and I had mostly given up dancing. We just didn’t do any boot scottin’ or anything like that. It didn’t mean I didn’t want to be able to dance; I harbored a desire to take lessons, to really learn how to lead, to learn how to glide and move smoothly to the music. Marty would have nothing to do with it.
So we didn’t dance, we didn’t find a way to dance until it was almost too late.
This past January, five years to the month after Marty’s second stroke, our baby girl got married. Baby girl Erin and I did the father daughter dance to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”. We twirled and whirled and to my knowledge her feet came out of the event relatively unscathed. They don’t call me twinkle toes for nothing; actually no one calls me twinkle toes.
I watched as Erin danced with her new husband Lyle, I watched as my son and daughter-in-law danced, I watched as the father and mother of the groom danced, I watched as friends danced, as children danced, as my father danced, I watched and even danced once with the mother of the groom.
Marty sat in her chair and I can’t say I know what she thought of the dancing, or even if she thought of the dancing. She stayed up late and watched as people hugged as they swayed as they slid across the dance floor to the different strains of music.
I wish I could remember what the song was that got my attention. It was something familiar, it was something slow, it was a song that made me remember, remember dancing with Marty a long time ago. I was sitting with her and pulled her around to me and I asked her if she wanted to dance.
Marty does not like to call attention to her new self at all. She is very self conscious about her post stroke state, she doesn’t want people looking at her, staring at her or watching her at all. I’m not sure if it was the wedding, all of the dancing, or the song, but she said, “Yes, take me out there.”
So out there we went, in front of God and everyone else, I spun her wheelchair around, put my hands on the front of her chair and started shuffling and pushing in time with the music. I don’t remember who else, or if there was anyone else on the floor, but there we were, gliding across the floor, me finally getting to lead.
We made it through the whole song. We danced, we laughed, we even managed to get cheek to cheek a couple of times. It was good, it was meaningful, it was almost normal in a very abnormal time. Marty smiled and just for a minute all of the self-consciousness melted away and we both simply enjoyed the moment, a moment together. I don’t know if Marty and I will ever dance like that again.
Maybe, in its base form dancing is really nothing more than the coordinated movement between two people. Maybe to dance one doesn’t have to waltz lightly on your feet or be as graceful as the guys on “Dancing with the Stars”. If that’s the case Marty and I dance beautifully every day, as I help her move from chair to chair, as I slide the catheter down her throat, or as I roll her back and forth to help her get dressed.
I know I will never be graceful. I will never glide across a basketball court stopping just short, jumping and shooting the basketball. I will never smoothly guide my partner dipping and swaying on the dance floor feet barely touching the floor. My body didn’t work that way when I was young, it damn sure doesn’t work that way with a little more age. That’s okay, Marty and I will keep dancing in our own way and I don’t have to be particularly nimble to do it and I do get to lead, as long as I lead like Marty tells me.