Hopeless romantic, my "tribe", paralysis analysis

I Hope You Dance

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 real 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, and 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 embarrass 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, long probably 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.

Hopeless romantic, my "tribe"

I have a secret…

It’s been nearly 3 years since those four words made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “You know…If you weren’t my boss, I’d kind of want to date you.” We’d bonded over long existential talks and reading psychological texts while I was stuck in bed battling a pressure sore for an entire summer. Granted, a set of gorgeous blue eyes and a cute butt didn’t hurt her cause, either. In my mind, there was only one way to respond. “So… you’re fired?”

All that’s happened since is my life becoming remarkably better. She’s helped push me to new levels in my spiritual growth, as well as literally pushing me up and down long stretches of both coasts during countless calamitous road trip adventures. Her uncanny emotional fluency and unshakable positive attitude have helped keep my troubles in perspective and find the silver linings in all situations.

She’s taught me the importance of putting family first, the power of simple gestures like giving random strangers a hug, and that hours of fun can be had with a few games of cribbage, dominoes, or even a jigsaw puzzle. I look at the man I’ve become over these last few years — the healthiest, happiest, and most productive version of myself yet — and she is the one common denominator throughout that story.

Fittingly, we found ourselves in yet another precarious situation this weekend when heading down to the Oregon coast for a little vacation. While attempting to join the rest of the tourists out on the hardpacked sands of Long Beach, Washington, we managed to auger in the front tires of my adaptive van deep in a loose patch. Four different times. Thankfully, a few good Samaritans were on hand to push us out. All four times. Saints, those folks.

It was a great metaphor for the last few years of our lives; getting ourselves in over our heads, but always managing to find our way out with a a hand full of lessons learned and a couple of laughs. But when we got down to Cannon Beach, and I told her I had a secret of my own, she didn’t quite understand. She also didn’t notice the ring carabinered to Hank’s collar until I asked her four very important words. Her response, “Of course!”


Hopeless romantic

When you sleep just to dream…

It was one of those mornings where you wake up heartbroken.  It was only a dream?  But it seemed so real!  Every image so clear.  Every smell distinct.  Every feeling so intense.  You try to will yourself back to sleep and continue dreaming, because you know it has worked on a few occasions.  You just need a few more minutes inside that moment.  But this morning sides with the majority, and you just can’t.  You lay there in bed, savoring the echo of another perfect dream…
It began with a crisp night.  For some reason I am not tired, but beside me she is asleep, peacefully.  As usual, she has had a long night.  Ever my stubborn overachiever, she always has a thousand things going at once.  But she wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s cute.  She is dressed in her usual bedtime attire; pair of sweat pants, some random wrestling T-shirt of mine from college, and her hair pulled back in pigtails.  By far my favorite look for her.  She lies beside me, one arm thrown over my chest, one leg draped across mine.  My arm wrapped under her, her face rests in that spot where your shoulder, neck, and chest collide.
The window is open, and I can hear the rain outside, dancing on the tree leaves and concrete below.  The magical cadence is hypnotizing.  Shadows jump randomly across the wall from a candle she left burning.  The air holds a faint aroma of some cucumber concoction. A slight breeze coming from the window feels cool on my face.  Feeling the same chill, she releases a slight shiver, and buries her face a little deeper into my shoulder.  Just that minuscule movement, and suddenly I am overtaken once more by that "home" smell.  It’s just that smell that is all her… it can’t be explained or re-created, it’s just her.  Lightly playing with her hair, I kiss her softly on the forehead.  At that, she stirs just a little, and I wince, thinking I may have just awoken her.
She lets out one of her trademark half asleep groans, and her hand slides up to my cheek.  With another soft sigh, she gently brushes her nose up against my scruffy face.  She pulls away just enough for me to turn my head to face her.  Yet another little noise, as she opens her eyes just slightly.  Seeing my blues, a tired smile.  She asks me what I’m doing still awake, and I reply, "just watching a beautiful girl sleep."  She playfully nudges me in the ribs with her elbow.  "Hey, be nice."  A sleepy little laugh.
"Crazy boy," she says, fingers running through my hair.  Pulling my head towards her, she kisses me on the cheek, and hugs me tightly.  Again, that home smell.  She turns away, grabbing my arm and pulling it around her waist.  With a gentle ease, I pull her hips to mine, so there is no space between us once more.  Her fingers wrap across the top of mine, and I feel her body begin to give way to slumber again.
"Goodnight.  I lov………" and I’m awake.
Hopeless romantic

Square blocks, round holes

Everybody had a version of that toy as toddlers.  You know, that board with various shapes cut into it, and the matching blocks that fit them.  As a child, you try to force the wrong shapes into the wrong holes, relentlessly.  As adults, we find ourselves playing that very same game, just on a broader scale.  The board is our lives, and the blocks are the people we surround ourselves with.  Be it friends or significant others, we are constantly looking for those perfect fits.
We were too young to remember struggling for hours on end, but we sure did.  Constantly trying to push that square block through the round hole.  It seemed logical to us at the time.  They were almost the same shape, except for those damned corners!  I somewhat recall thinking to myself, if I can just push a little harder, or at a different angle, it will fit.  Now as a grownup, you find yourself doing the same things, but the holes in our hearts are far more complex.  You fall for some person that seems absolutely perfect… well, almost.  If you can just round off a few of the edges, they just might fill that hole in your life for the most part.  But in time, we see the gaps widen, and it becomes obvious that this is not the one.
But isn’t it the most beautiful look on a child’s face when they discover the right piece that fits in the right place?  You can almost see the little epiphany that they have, where they think, "Of course!  This fits perfectly!"  It always seems obvious to us, because we learned long ago what pieces went where.  But this is also the same feeling when we find that one person that fits our lives seamlessly.  You think to yourself, "This is the person I’ve been looking for my whole life.  How did I ever survive without them?"  It is only then that you can look back and recognize that you were forcing all the wrong people into this person’s role, and it all makes sense.
So how do we find that puzzle piece that perfectly complements us?  As you well know, there is no clearcut answer.  All we can do is play the game the way we were taught at that very young age.  Pay attention to the pieces you put into the board.  Examine and analyze them thoroughly before attempting to fit them in that space.  The more critical you are of each piece, and more selective you are with those attempts, the less those corners will get rounded, making that one true piece fit effortlessly.  But be patient, for I know that once I find my perfect complement that fits me completely… it will be Heaven.