Waltz

When I first met Ezra and Michael, I was thirty-three years old and a retired professional ballroom dancer. I had competed in many international competitions with some of the best male dance partners, won titles, prestige, and then, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, one of my knees gave out during a Samba. Suddenly, it was time to end my glorious career. To earn a living, I put my efforts into teaching and opened my own studio. Some of my students were up and coming stars in the dancing world but most were men desiring to find a way out of their shells and add spice to their life or couples who wanted to have an active weekly “date night” together.

One afternoon, two handsome smiling men in their mid thirties walked into the studio together and asked to sign up for lessons. I happily agreed and we sat down in my lounge area to get to know one another and discuss a contract. Admittedly, they were the first gay couple that had ever sought me out. Ezra was the smaller of the two, by about a head, so I told him it would be easiest if he took on the role of the female dancer and that ballroom dancing was traditionally centered around the male/female dynamic but I saw no reason why two men could not be dancing partners.

Michael chuckled when I said this.

He said, “That’s fine by me; he’s the boss at home so this is finally my shot at wearing the pants!”.

Ezra slapped Michael’s shoulder playfully and tried to hold back a sly smile. I liked them already.

Before we signed the contract, I asked why they had decided to start dancing together and explained that this is something I like to ask all of my students. People want to dance for different reasons and it is my job as a dance instructor to not only teach people how to dance but also to help them have the experience they are looking for. Ezra reached over and took Michael’s hand. Ezra softly told me that he was dying. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the doctors had given him 6-12 months to live. He admitted that they had been together a long time, experienced a lot of hard realities in the previous few years, and now they just wanted to have fun with what time they had left. I tried to find the right response but all that came out was, “Well, let’s have fun then”.

Week after week, they showed up to their lessons smiling and they quickly became my favorite students. They both had this unusual light in their eyes, a perfect blend of sorrow and joy. When I looked at them, I could see that in spite of the hardships and challenges of their lives, they both had hearts that refused to harden. I started them off  with the Foxtrot. Like all couples new at dancing, they were awkward at first, sweated profusely, stepped on each other’s toes, and laughed nervously. After some time, they found their own rhythm and began quickly mastering the steps. We eventually moved on to Waltz, Rumba, Mambo, then Cha Cha, Paso Doble, and Tango. With each new dance I was able to glimpse into a beautiful partnership and see the infinite ways in which the two men loved one another. They always ended each lesson with a kiss and I could often glimpse them through my window walking to their car holding hands. Before we knew it, a year had passed and they were stilly happily dancing together. I decided to surprise them for their one year “Danciversary” with a bottle of champagne at their lesson and we had a toast.

On one occasion, they arrived together and, though I said nothing, I noticed that Ezra looked thinner and a touch more pale than usual. The next lesson, he was even smaller and he grew smaller yet after that. Eventually, they decided to cut out the rhythm dances as they had become too taxing on Ezra’s frail body so I had them focus on their Rumba and Waltz. With each lesson, Ezra’s feet touched the floor less and less and I could see that Michael was carrying him through their steps. Watching them dance together during these lessons was the most heart breaking yet stunningly beautiful thing I have ever seen. I knew that, right before my eyes, I was witnessing a profound love. Though their time left together was growing shorter, their smiles when dancing never changed.

A week came when Michael called the day before their lesson. He apologized and explained that Ezra was feeling too sick to come and, hopefully, they would see me the following week. He promised that he would notify me if they had to cancel again. I told him not to worry at all and that I hoped to see them both soon. The following week arrived and Michael walked into my studio alone. His face was full of an inexpressible grief.

“Will you dance with me?”, he asked.

“Of course” I answered, choking back my tears.

“What would you like to dance?”

“Waltz” he said back.

I turned on the music, we stepped out onto the floor, he took me in his arms, and we began to dance. I tried to look at him but his eyes were closed and tears streamed down his cheeks. Despite this, he didn’t miss a step. I will never forget that Waltz. Though I knew it was not meant for me, I have never been touched more tenderly or felt more loved.

The Night That I Died

I remember that it was snowing and nighttime. I had gone several days without sleep or food, had a black eye, and was strung out on crystal meth. I had lost my job, had no money, lived with a drug dealer, couldn’t pay rent, and was about to lose my vehicle to repossession. As I got into my car I had the intention of somehow convincing the man I loved that he should still be with me despite the fact that we had broken. We were meeting at a coffee shop under the premise that I needed closure. I was hoping for reconciliation.

When I met him there, I don’t really remember what I said. I don’t recall much of what he said back. The only thing about that conversation that remains perfectly clear in my mind was looking deep into his eyes as he told me there was no longer a single drop of love for me left in him. To this very day, the image of his face as he said that is one of my most vivid memories. I tried to look deeper to see if it was true; I found only disgust. Then, the doorbell went off as a man walked in and ordered a coffee. I knew it was the guy he was newly seeing, who had driven him there. I left.

I got into my car and began the 15 minute drive home. As I turned onto the highway, I felt something inside of me break. Then came the howling. Rage. Anguish. Sorrow. Hopelessness. It all came pouring out of me until I could feel the shattered pieces of my soul splintering themselves and turning into nothing more than dust. Tears streamed down my face and I could barely see. I couldn’t stop screaming. I don’t remember anything about the drive home besides the sound and the pain. At some point, I was back home sitting in the parking lot and there were no more tears to cry. My body was probably so dehydrated that it could no longer spare the moisture. Then, silence. Still gripping my steering wheel hard enough to choke the life out of something, I listened to the snow layering softly onto the outside of my car and floated in the vast chasm that had just opened up inside of me. There was nothing. I had nothing. I knew nothing. I felt nothing. I was nothing.

I was dead, metaphorically speaking. Despite the fact that I am now writing about it, there are no words that can describe what this experience was like. I had gone through pain, suffering, and loss before but this was something totally different. I had died. The person I had been was no more. I remained an empty shell full of the deepest and most profound darkness I have ever known. There were no more feelings. There were few coherent thoughts. I later learned that philosophers refer to such an event as “the dark night of the soul”. This was my darkest night.

The redeeming thing about moments like that, when you have hit rock bottom and the very last threads that secured you to the sorry life you were living have violently snapped, is that you have a rare opportunity for resurrection. Experiencing this was almost like being locked in a shadowy room with nothing but myself and a mirror. In the following days and weeks, there was no one for me to project blame for my state of affairs onto except the image that I saw in the mirror…but…that was me. It was my fault. I was living the life I had created for myself. Every decision that I made, for better or worse (and most of them were for the worse), led me to that soul-shattering moment.

I came to understand that the only way out of that dark room was to accept that no one was coming to save me and then to take full responsibility for the life I had lived. As soon as I did that it’s as if an illuminated opening the shape of a person appeared. The problem was that the shape of that person was not the shape of the person that I had been. I had two choices: I could either stay in that room in stubborn denial and face lasting madness and eventual death or I could change myself to fit through that opening. In order to fit through, I had to think differently, see differently, hear, walk, talk, live differently. There could be no half measures. There were no corners that could be cut and no more short cuts to be taken. There was nothing left for me to lose but my life and I wanted to live. At that point, I had finally discovered something that was more powerful than the hold my wounds had over me: love. It was real, I had felt it, and I had to live for it. So, I changed. I made it through the exit that appeared and…here I am.

 

Deepen

The storm of suffering howls to eternity around us.

You have but two choices:

Allow yourself to be blown away,

Lost in the gale or…transform.

 

Become, like the trees.

 

Deepen.

 

Snake your roots into the earth.

Grow tall and strong.

Be  mighty.

Stretch your arms to the heavens

And dance

In the glory that is the raging wind.

Extraction

At some point in our lives, perhaps several, we all experience a metaphorical snake bite. Maybe we made a few bad decisions, wandered down the wrong path, or were just victims to misfortune. One day, we are just walking along and the next thing we know venom is being pumped deep into our veins.

It’s not being bitten that is the difficult part, is it? It happens and is over in an instant. It’s extracting the harmful venom that is the true challenge. Drawing it back to the surface for removal means re-experiencing the original wound. It is an incredibly painful process and often take a great deal of time and effort to complete. If only the venom could be sucked out as quickly as it got in!

Many people are totally unaware that they have been bitten or by what and just know they are unhappy, not knowing why. Some people know but are too frightened of the pain that healing the wound poses. Sadly, once the venom is there…it is there…and it slowly but surely does it’s work in degrading our mental, physical, and emotional well being until all our vitality is gone and our life is spent far too soon.

The first step towards healing is to accept that we have been bitten in the first place. Next, we must identify what we were bitten by so that we can apply the appropriate anti-venom. Lastly, we must commit ourselves to carrying on the difficult and arduous work of pulling it back to the surface and extracting every last drop because WE ARE WORTH SAVING. We have a choice, we can take a back seat and watch our life force we wicked away or we can become our own hero and, in doing so, transform our wound of misfortune into a personal strength.

If you have been bitten and manage to pass through the ordeal by healing then you have accomplished something truly incredible. You have saved your own life. Then, as you walk on this earth, instead of plaguing you, your wound becomes a wealth of knowledge. You can use it to change the world around you in a positive way, be the kinder, stronger, more compassionate person you always wanted to be, and show other wounded travelers that it is possible to save themselves. Nothing is more gratifying.

 

Take

Take

My arms; they’ll lift you up.
My legs; they’ll carry you far.
My eyes; they see in the dark.
My skin; to cover your scars.

Take

My tears; they’ll revive the earth.
My smile; to light up your day.
My touch; to keep your soul young.
My heart; the thing that won’t stray.

Take

My voice; when you cannot speak.
My breath; if you’re on your last.
My ears; to hear that you’re safe.
My strength; so you hold steadfast .

Take

My song; when the stars just wont sing.
My joy; when you need a friend.
My hope; when yours is all gone.
My love; it will never end.