Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Shall We Dance, The Good Lady Said

Dance As Obsession

Kathryn made it clear to me very early in our relationship; she was, is and always will be a dancer. As a child, she relished her weekly ballet lessons. She danced in junior and high school, mostly on the stage as budding ballerina. She danced in high school, mostly ballroom cadences to the big band sounds of the time. While we were in Russia, she must have gone to see Swan Lake 5 times, each with a new visitor or friend. She has followed the current reality shows, “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” as much as time and prudence will allow.

Dance As Metaphor

Ours was a whirlwind courtship. We first met on a blind date, arranged by our already married friends, Lorin and Judy Pugh, who could not have suspected the immediacy of our attraction for one another. I think my feelings began shortly after her mother answered the door on the first date and Kathryn skipped happily into the room, total elapsed time from recognition to love measured in fractions of a second. She was a bit slower, yet both of us knew we had perhaps met our soul mate by the end of that first, marvelous date, spent snowshoeing with the Pughs. That was mid February 1965.

On April 1st of that year, she challenged me, saying, “If you kiss me again like that, I’m going to have to marry you.” I gladly accepted the challenge. Seconds afterwards, she asked if I were familiar with the movie, “The King and I” starring Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr. I was, suspecting she was intending to say something about the tendency of my hair cut to evolve into a Yulian doo. Rather, she asked if I remembered the line Yul used when it was clear that they shared feelings and were attending a royal ball of some sort. I did not. Kathryn reminded me that he asked, profoundly, “Shall We Dance?”

To Kathryn, the question symbolized the covenant, eternal in nature, two people must be willing to make before proceeding to the alter. It must govern all their actions fthereafter. We talked long and late that night and over the coming few weeks, not because there was doubt. We were exploring and trying to understand the nature of the commitment. Neither of us could possibly know what awaited us as we surged ahead with life. We did know, however, we both were committed to the big Dance. It is now some decades later. Looking back, I realize the complexities and elegance of the dance we have performed so far, and am deeply pleased by it. Though not done perfectly, it has been rendered with deep love, commitment, openness, and joy. We will continue to dance our metaphor.

Dance as Entertainment

The Dance, Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Cha Cha, East Coast Swing, Triple Step, Nightclub Two Step, etc are ours, not that we do them particularly well. It’s just that we do them together. They are romantic. They are fun. They are good exercise. They are tools of sociability. We’ve danced together at a small club in Brighton when we were first courting. We’ve gone to Lagoon when there was a dance floor there. If Saltair and the Rainbow Rendezvous had survived, we would have danced there. We’ve danced at church parties, high school reunions, private parties, etc. Lately, we spend most of our dance time either at the Murray Arts Center on South State Street or at a Senior Center on 10th East between 2nd and 3rd South. There are live bands in both places. There is some overlap in the clientele so there are always familiar faces. We’ve become very well acquainted with many folks at the MAC, but especially Dave and Becky Farnsworth, with whom we trade stories about our and their travails. Olga and Ed, both professional dancers, have each tried to teach us steps. The memory bank at this age just is no longer capable of holding the instructions to muscles required to do new moves. We’ll just be satisfied with what we can do now.

Dance as Approach to Life

When the third year of our stay in Russia was coming to a close, I began to note some difficulties Kathryn was having in doing things she had previously done well. I thought it due to the fact we were both getting older. Between the time of our return in mid 2003 and our departure for Belgium in early Spring of 2009, there were other signs of cognitive disability, which I again took as signs of aging rather than illness.

The pressure of our situation in Belgium however greatly exacerbated the problems and we sought church and medical counsel. We were instructed to come home as quickly as possible. One week after returning, we had a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Though we were both totally ignorant of it, Kathryn had probably experienced the first signs of Alzheimer’s savage toll during our last year of service in Russia. The pressure in Belgium inflated the symptoms. As we got our arms around the diagnosis, we began sharing the news, first with family of course and then with close friends. In response, one couple sent us the following couplet:

Life is not about
Waiting for the storm to pass.
Rather, life is about
Learning to Dance in the Rain.

Once again, dance entered our life’s equation. The commitment made, “Shall we Dance,” had long been sealed. The last line of the storm refrain has become our mantra, our hallmark, our motto, our refuge. We shall dance by learning to dance in the rain. The theme has expressed itself in many ways, from volunteering at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Road Home, to becoming deeply involved in the local, state and national fight for recognition of the immensity of the Alzheimer’s Disease epidemic, now just breaking over us. On the other side of the coin, we are living life now to the fullest, dancing in whatever way we can, as often as we can, however, wherever and whenever we can.

Learning to Dance in the Rain involved us in one of the most beautiful and emotional experiences of our lives. We were in the midst of a 15 day odyssey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Tour West was our guide, supplying 10 persons to address every aspect of our trip. Joe and Lee Bennion had arranged the charter and found 18 folks willing and able to make the trip. One day, we hiked up a small, narrow canyon, whose stream fed the Colorado. We agreed to hike that sacred canyon in silence. We came to a wide spot in the draw, perhaps 12 feet wide by 60 or 70 feet long, at the bottom of towering canyon walls, perhaps 100's of feet above us. We were signaled to sit and take in the beauty and serenity of this place, holy and sacred to the Indians who had lived here. After being lost in our thoughts for perhaps 20 or 25 minutes, Katrina, one of the guides, a beautiful young woman with a powerful singing voice, began serenading us and the canyon. Our reverie deepened intensely as she sang. Soon, she announced a number she had written herself. It was about the thoughts of a lover, recalling the beautiful memories of a relationship now ended, I supposed through death, and how much she wished she or he could be with the cherished lover again. I was overcome as she sang, knowing that if Kathryn’s disease took the course of all Alzheimer’s cases, my lot would be the same as the absent lover Katrina was singing about. I began to weep, almost uncontrollably. Everyone knew it, but I could not stop. The song came to an end, and Katrina then invited Kathryn and me to dance a waltz, there in that canyon on a dance floor of pebbles and rocks weathered and eroded for 2 billion years into round, smooth stones. I thought I would collapse. How could she have known how much we love to dance? How could she have known that “Shall We Dance” was the theme of our lives? How could she have known that we were intent on learning how to dance in the rain? She played a slow waltz. We danced the best we could on that uneven floor, now holy to us, scraping one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three over and over again, awkwardly turning and swaying, stepping and pausing.

We both wept and smiled, knowing that there could be no better place to dance then than there, in that canyon, on that day, with those people, to that music. At the end, many of if not the entire company, wept together and shared a moment as one and in our individual odysseys that will never be forgotten, nor perhaps repeated. It may however just be repeated over and over and over in the minds of those who were there. One dear friend, Lee Ann Taylor even named the experience, "Our Three Hanky Hike." Bert Bunnell later offered that the event, which included all of us, may have constituted a signal to the troubled souls many believe inhabit that place at night that there is beauty, love and even healing for them in that place because of our last dance in Blacktail Canyon.. It is one of the most cherished moments of my life and gave perfect voice to our leitmotif, “Shall We Dance.”