By Mark E. Smith
I heard a woman who uses a wheelchair note that among the saddest parts of her having paraplegia is that it’s kept her from slow dancing, that she longs for a cure so that she can slow dance with a man.
It was a heartfelt longing that I’m sure would resonate with those who are able-bodied, as well as some with disabilities, truly personifying the tragedy of disability at the most poignant level: One’s loss of the ability to simply slow dance, life unjustly constricted by a wheelchair.
However, there was another poignant component to the woman’s experience: It was totally specious nonsense – that is, while it sounded true, it was completely false, a made-up construct in her mind about her disability that simply wasn’t based in reality.
See, those of us who use wheelchairs slow dance all of the time. In fact, we ballroom dance, line dance, and generally boogie down like everyone else. And, when a song comes on for a slow dance, the DJ doesn’t kick us off of the dance floor and the party doesn’t stop; rather, when a song comes on for a slow dance, we naturally cuddle up with our partners and sway to the motions of the music. It’s not climbing Mount Everest, nor does it require one to be a rocket scientist. It’s just two people slow dancing, where one – or both – happens to use a wheelchair.
So, why then would the woman see slow dancing as out of the realm of possibilities for her as one who uses a wheelchair, making slow dancing entirely contingent upon her being able to walk?
The answer is, she’s not basing life on its realities, but basing it on her own outlook, one that’s skewed, where she is the only factor limiting her life, tragically defeating her own happiness. We know that, logistically, slow dancing while using a wheelchair is effortless, and we know that the intimate experience of slow dancing with someone you’re passionate about is no less gratifying when seated than on two legs. Therefore, not only is the woman technically wrong about being unable to slow dance while using a wheelchair, but she’s likely going to go through her whole life depriving herself of a wonderfully intimate experience with another person.
Here’s the real question, though: How often do each of us get in our own way – how often do we tell ourselves we can’t slow dance, so to speak? – creating roadblocks in our lives that aren’t based in reality, but in our own minds? I’m not looking for a better job because I know they won’t see me as qualified. I’m staying in this unsatisfying relationship because I know I can’t find better or won’t be happy alone. I’m too physically unfit to get in shape. I could never save up enough money for the down payment on a home. I don’t have time to go back to college at night. …The list goes on and on.
While such life hurdles can seem totally out of our control as we run them through our heads, the opposite is true. In virtually every challenge we face, it’s not life’s circumstances or someone else holding us back, it’s simply ourselves – we’re getting in our own way. In the long term – and goals of great personal reward do take time! – no one but ourselves keeps us from seeking a better job, getting out of an unsatisfying relationship, getting in shape, saving money, or going back to school – we have ultimate power over these and most other aspects of life if we put forth courage, effort, and time. I tell you from my own experience that the only one who’s ever stopped me from pursuing my potentials has been me, and once I’ve pushed that fool out of my way, a world of possibilities has always opened up.
When I look chronologically at among the three biggest seeming challenges that I’ve ever faced – going to college, moving cross country, and becoming a full-time single father – prior to my committing to each them, I could have written a book on why they were completely unrealistic and unfeasible, why I couldn’t slow dance, you might say. Yet, when I got out of my own way, and based my reactions not on skewed emotions, but on reality, and said, “Not only can I do this and survive, but actually thrive,” I succeeded.
Indeed, life is a lot like slow dancing at a wedding reception: The only deciding factor between failure and success is whether we choose to simply move from our table to the dance floor. …And, I say, never pass on an opportunity to slow dance.