“How do you live with the pain?” he asks.
While I don’t remember exactly where I started or in what order all my meanderings spilled out, this was my first key point:
You have to accept it’s rhythms.
You have to let it swallow you.
And then you have to learn how to dance on it.
Deep into twelve rounds of chemo in 2012, my wife saved my life. I just didn’t know at the time that’s what she was doing. It felt like nagging. Or a brawl, to be more precise. She had been invited to a line dance lesson and wanted to go. And she wanted me to go with her.
The half-dead man.
One week in the tomb, one week out.
The man who couldn’t feel his feet half the time anymore.
The man possessing a sense of rhythm like Steve Martin in The Jerk.
Introverts don’t belong on dance floors – and I was pretty sure pastors aren’t allowed, either.
I wouldn’t go.
But she did.
She didn’t wait. She danced. And danced. Good for her.
I stayed home and slept, mostly.
Good for me.
Each lesson, each dance, she would invite with a smile, and I would tell her how happy I was that she had found something that was filling her so, but it simply wasn’t for me.
There were no naggings, no beratings, no pleadings.
Just a smile on her increasingly glowing face and an extended hand.
But it took the subtle arm-twisting of Mother’s Day the following year to get me on the dance floor just this once. That’s all she wanted, she said.
So I went and stumbled through the night on introverted, neuropathic feet.
The next month it was Father’s Day.
The month after that it was our anniversary.
The month after that I started line dance lessons with her.
Never believe anyone who says “just once.” Never.
But in this case, it was a good thing.
I increasingly realized that in dancing I was literally learning to dance upon my own pain. Feet that would normally be shackled by neuropathy were doing the two-step, dancing grapevines, and doing the Bombshell Stomp. I still welcome prayer when offered for the pain that is always there, sometimes as background noise, sometimes searing as a knife.
But dance is itself prayer for me, a tangible expression of hope.
As is wearing springy shoes.
I am not fighting you. My goal is not eliminating you, for if you leave, another pain will simply, ultimately, take your place. If a pain-free existence were the point of life, we would not still be on a planet with thorns and thistles and sweaty brows struggling through all of life to make ends meet. If the Gospel of Christ were the ticket out of such a thicket of pain and struggle, then trusting ten-year-old girls with thousands of believers praying over them would not still die after struggling with cancer for two years.
I will never love you, pain, but I’m learning to fear and fight you less. I’m learning to be obsessed with you less, because I’m learning to dance on you – even though the dance be a dirge, it is a dance, still.
Yeah, I said something like that to him.
And then I took another breath…