A number of years ago I did something I’d wanted to do for a long time—I took ballroom dancing lessons. Every time I’d see couples floating across a dance floor, I’d think, “I wish I could do that.” So when I saw a listing for a beginning ballroom dancing class, I decided to enroll.
The first Thursday night was pretty scary. There I was with this group of strangers—sure that I would make a fool of myself. We were a pretty motley crew of would-be dancers. And we were bad—really bad.
But once we discovered that we were all equally bad, we relaxed and began to talk and laugh with each other. And, almost in spite of ourselves, we even learned a few basic steps during the course of those weeks.
Toward the end of our lessons, a friend in the class decided that a group of us should go to a real ballroom dance on a Friday evening. So we mustered our courage and went. Talk about scary. As soon as we entered the room, we realized that these people knew how to dance—really dance. What they were doing didn’t look anything like what we’d been doing in class. They moved around the dance floor with sheer grace. And not one of them was counting, “One, two, three . . . One, two three . . . One, two three.”
We found a table and sat down. We had a plan—if we stayed away from the dance floor, no one else would know how bad we were. What we didn’t count on was that some of those other people would come and ask us to dance. When it happened to me for the first time, I heard myself saying, “I’m really horrible. You should ask someone else.” But my soon-to-be partner wasn’t easily discouraged.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that
if you just show up and try to do the right thing,
the dawn will come. You wait and watch and
work: You don’t give up. – Anne Lamott
If Anne Lamott is correct, then the past year has been filled with countless opportunities for hope to begin. Darkness seemed to wait around each corner—and yet there continued to be the possibility of new dawns.
Let me share just a few examples from what I’ve come to refer to as the year of the four Cs—canine, COVID, cancer, and change.
In February my canine buddy Wilbur ruptured a disc. I had to decide about surgery that might or might not restore the use of his hind legs. The first two weeks of Wilbur’s post-surgery recovery were pretty dark. He was unable to walk—much less run, jump, or navigate stairs. But hope began to emerge as Wilbur slowly returned to his old self. Each time he seemed to reach the limit of his recovery, he would surprise me. And through it all, he never lost heart. He reminded me almost daily about the importance of not giving up.
It was an Advent Sunday twenty years ago. We’d just finished a hanging of the green service at the congregation I served in Washington, D.C., when a friend with whom I worked at the church walked down the center aisle and quietly said,
I think we need to go home.”
Before I could ask what Paul meant, he added, “There may have been a fire.”
“Home” was the co-op development where Paul and I both lived. Other members of our congregation also lived in the development. When they arrived home that Sunday, they saw fire trucks outside my building. After asking some questions, they figured out the fire had been in my unit. That’s when they called the church and spoke with Paul.
The fifteen-minute car ride home remains something of a blur in my memory. Paul and I had ridden to the church together that day. As he drove my car toward our development, I sat in the passenger seat and wondered aloud how the fire might have started. But more than anything I kept voicing the hope that my dog Max was OK.
Paul parked the car in my garage spot, and we took the elevator up to my floor. As soon as the elevator door opened, we could smell the smoke. Soot marked my front door, which we opened it to go inside.
Although the fire fighters were finished, signs of their work were visible throughout the unit—windows broken out, a hole chopped through a wall, furniture shoved out of the way, pools of water on the floor. There, however, was no sign of Max.
As Paul and I walked back toward the elevator, we saw a building maintenance person. Paul quietly asked if he knew anything about the dog who’d been in the unit.
Although the fire fighters hadn’t been able to save the contents of my unit from smoke and water damage, they’d been able to rescue Max. He was waiting for me in the co-op office.
As Max and I walked with Paul to his unit that afternoon, I had no idea that it would be six months before I’d be able to return home.
Associate Executive Minister