From the minute I decided I wanted to propose to Claire, I knew we were going to have the conversation. My diehard Dancing with the Stars fan-future wife was going to want to dance with me at our wedding, and I knew I was going to break her heart with my refusal.
Anyone I’ve known since before my injury remembers me as being in perpetual motion and loving to dance. I like to remember myself as a vigorous hand talker, but the truth is that I was more of a spastic body talker – I couldn’t tell a story without acting/interpretively dancing it out. Hell, I even danced while warming up for wrestling matches. Here’s proof.
Okay…. Easy Turbo, I didn’t say I was a particularly good dancer, I said I liked doing it.
Flash forward to my accident and I was instantly robbed of the physicality that was my primary means of self-expression. I remember waking up in the hospital, feeling as if every dream I’d had for the future was disappearing as fast as I could think one up. High atop that list was dancing at my wedding. Nearly a decade and a half later, it was still a raw spot that hadn’t quite healed, and I wasn’t sure how to tell Claire.
I thought I had a little bit of time to prepare myself, but the very weekend after she said yes, we wound up at the wedding of one of her sorority friends, Sam, who was on the effing UW dance team, had an epic first dance with her new husband Ryan. We reluctantly had the conversation that night and, while Claire took it well, I could see the disappointment in her eyes.
A couple weeks went by, and the longer I sat with the idea, I realized I didn’t want to start this chapter of our lives with the narrative that there were certain things I wouldn’t do because of my insecurities surrounding my life in a wheelchair. I didn’t want the story my future children heard about their parents wedding day to start with anything like: “Well, Dad doesn’t dance/make a fool of himself/(insert comfort-zone-stretching-opportunity-for-growth-type situation here) because he’s scared/insecure/whahwhahwhah.”
Besides, Claire more than deserved the wedding she had always wanted. As one of my best friends, Ian “Dreadlocks” Mackay, would hilariously point out in his groomsmen speech, she’d already put up with having to be seen with me through years of terrible hair choices, the least I could do was embarrassed myself for a few minutes in front of friends and family. Case in point:
So, when a friend referred us to World-renown wheelchair dancer from Seattle named Charlene Curtiss and her dance partner Joanne Petroff, I reluctantly went along with it. But it only took a couple of minutes and a handful of suggestions to unlock something deep within me that I thought was long gone. Suddenly I could see a way to put it together in a way that felt genuine and made me a little more comfortable with the idea.
We practiced a handful of times in the run up to our big day and were a ball of nerves when the time came, but then something unforeseen happened. When the lyrics of Jason Mraz’s “Best Friend” chimed in with the words “Love is where this begins,” the whole crowd disappeared, and it was just the two of us out there having fun. By the time I spun her around one last time as the music faded, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was easily my favorite memory from one of the best days of my life. Check it out.
In his essay about spiritual experiences in the back of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA founder Bill Wilson uses this quote from Herbert Spencer to help explain how a negative attitude can limit our ability to see a new way of life for ourselves: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
It’s fascinating how – even with ample evidence that life begins at the end of my comfort zones – I can still get mired in that negative thinking that would rob me of potentially life-changing and memorable experiences. That’s where I’ve been blessed to have not one, but two incredible women to help me reach for those depths within.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both Kristen and Claire’s respective moms’ songs for their daughters happened to be Lee Ann Womack’s “I hope you dance.” It’s exactly what Doing Life is all about, a mission Kristen sent me on seven years ago. And time and again, Claire has constantly proven to be the partner I’ve always needed, sometimes leading, when necessary, always the perfect complement to my every move. I am, without a doubt, one of the luckiest guys on the planet.
The next time life shows up with the choice for you to sit it out or dance in some way, shape, or form, I hope you’ll dance, too.