When I was young I remember thinking that I would be lucky if I lived to be 30. I don't know why I picked that age but it seemed so far away at the time that as a child I probably imagined that the world was going to end or that I would get sick and die. I grew up both during the cold war and the beginning of the AIDS crisis. There was not a lot of hope for me and other young people that the world and our lives would go on forever without some calamity ruining the whole thing.
A few weeks ago I turned 45. I now can barely see 30 in my rear view mirror and yet I am still here. I don't reflect on age much as I try not to dwell too often on things over which I have no control. Worrying about getting older to me is a lot like worrying about winter coming. You can move to a warmer climate to escape winter just as you can make a visit to the plastic surgeon to calm the effects of age but that doesn't mean that winter isn't coming or that you have stopped getting older. So I try to age quietly. My hair is a little grey and sometimes I have to wait a few seconds for my left hip to decide it wants to join me on my walk but I'm doing alright.
What you realize more and more as you get older is that life really is kind of like a game. You are constantly setting goals for yourself and often you achieve them and sometimes you don't. When you are successful the game is fun and you keep playing. When you fail you think the game is stupid and you change it or change the rules. Sometimes you give up for a while and let others play for you. Regardless of how you play the game it continues to go on for you win or lose. As you get older you realize that making the game fun is essentially up to you. I have made the mistake often in my life (and still do) of thinking that my part in the game was greater than someone else's part or that winning the game was somehow possible. The problem with that mindset is that even if you are winning you find it difficult for anyone to want to play with you. You find yourself alone challenging yourself and celebrating hollow victories at a table for one.
A few months ago I was asked by a friend of mine to participate in "Dancing With The Canton Stars", a fundraiser for our local Canton Palace Theatre. She actually asked Brennis and me at the same time. Brennis was silent. I was silent for several seconds waiting for Brennis' voice and instead heard my own voice say "I'll do it."
I know why I did it. I love The Canton Palace Theatre and I know what a huge undertaking it must be for the people who run and manage it to keep it going and productive more than 85 years after it opened. The historic theatre had, as a matter of fact, not three decades before gone silent and its doors closed because of neglect and disinterest. I wanted to be able to play a part in keeping it alive and thriving in our community. If my position as a local business owner qualified me as a "star" for this purpose I was happy to do my part to help.
The point of "Dancing With The Canton Stars" was for each of the 13 "stars" to raise as much money as possible for the theater. The person who raised the most money was the winner. Oh yes.....and we had to dance on the Palace stage. Now I am all about raising money for worthwhile organizations or people who need help. God knows people were there for Brennis and me when we needed it. The dancing, on the other hand was going to be a bit of a challenge. We had two and a half months to meet with the professional dancer we were teamed with and have them teach us the dance they had choreographed for us to perform. Now even as someone who is not a dancer with enough practice anyone could learn to do a short dance with a personal instructor helping you out along the way. That part, I knew, was possible.
As time went on and the concept of the event was beginning to merge with the actual event I have to admit my heart began to beat a little faster. What had begun as something that sounded like a fun challenge was now quickly becoming a very real public performance on a legitimate theatrical stage in front of more than a thousand people. I sometimes find it difficult to speak to a group of twenty people about something about which I am very knowledgeable.....dancing in front of an audience of people who have paid to watch me was becoming very frightening.
As the day approached I was more and more nervous. I practiced my dance with my wonderful, patient partner and by myself whenever I had a free moment. I knew that I was going to have to know this thing backwards and forwards in case a bout of stage fright threatened to erase my memory. Everyone in my life had to listen to me kvetch about my upcoming performance like I was the only person on earth who had ever had to perform on a stage in front of people. I fluctuated between anxiety and panic most of the time during the two weeks before the performance date and wanted so badly for it to be over that I began to lose sleep at night.
Then all at once it occurred to me.......this game could be fun if I simply let it be. Why was I taking myself so seriously? Nobody really cared in the end if I danced well or not. This was not going to further my career. This was supposed to be fun! It was a fun game that I had turned into something else. I was once again taking myself too seriously and allowing my ego to ruin the fun. So I started to play. I understood immediately that what I had been given was a gift. I was one of only a handful of people in the world that was going to be able to perform on a stage in front of a sold out audience of people cheering wildly for me! They didn't care if I fell down or if I missed a step. They were coming to have fun and support the people on the stage and to donate money for this glorious theater.
So I changed the game. It was no longer about everyone watching me....now it was about me doing my very best to entertain the 1500 people who had paid to see me and the other twenty five stars and dancers who had come out that night to raise money for the Palace. It was about having fun with my friends and some other really great people who all wanted the same thing. At that point I knew that no matter what the outcome of my dance, whether I forgot it or fell down or stepped on my partner's toes it was going to be one of the most exciting things I had ever done in my life and I wanted to be able to experience that excitement, that joy without smothering it with self-doubt and fear.
The night of the show as I was standing backstage waiting for my cue to go on my heart began to beat faster and faster and I felt I was once again in danger becoming overcome with anxiety. Then I heard a voice. "You are blessed", it said. I smiled.
As I stood backstage I repeated that over and over to myself. "You are blessed....you are blessed....you are blessed". I looked to the side of me and saw the paint chipping off the wall of the 86 year old theater and held my hand to it as if to feel the heartbeat of this beautiful building that I had come to help. "You are blessed," I repeated knowing how fortunate I was to now be able to be a part of this building's history.
I stood and I breathed and I repeated my new mantra over and over again and I could feel my nervousness turn to excitement. I looked over at the other end of the stage and saw my partner smiling the most beautiful smile as though she could hear the voice too. Then as I heard the emcee say my name the lights dimmed and the music started. I was alive. I was blessed. I was having the time of my life......and I danced.