December 20, 2013

Childlike Hearts

Every time I hear the song Tender Tennessee Christmas, I think of Michael. I was in the fifth grade, a kinda chubby kid with frizzy hair and coke bottle glasses. When our school started preparing for our annual Christmas program, I could hardly wait. 

There were to be two different choreographed dance numbers and we could choose which one we wanted to participate in. The options were an all-girl dance and a boy-girl dance. Since boys didn't pay much attention to me, I thought this might be my chance to make an impression, so naturally I opted for the boy-girl dance. 

I was hoping to dance with my then crush Jason or one of the cute B.J.s (there were several). 

On the first day of rehearsal for the boy-girl dance, all the students participating were gathered in the school's gym where the teachers attempted to corral us into some semblance of order. 

They made us line up from shortest to tallest, one line of boys and one line of girls. Did I mention that I was also tall? As the tallest girl in the group, I quickly realized how they were pairing us up with our dance partners. By height. 

I scanned the line of boys to see who might be matched up with me. Then I saw him...the tallest of the boys. Michael. Why this boy had ever agreed to be in the boy-girl dance was beyond me. He scared me. He got in trouble. He wore Metallica t-shirts. I played with My Little Pony. 

As I suspected, we were paired up. There was no dancing to take place that particular day and I can't tell you how relieved I was. I remember all my friends talking at lunch about who they were paired up with and when I said Michael, they all looked aghast. 

Looking back, it absolutely breaks my heart that we would see another child as being so different from us...but that's what happens when you don't know someone and don't take time to understand where they come from. 

For the Christmas program, the boy-girl dance consisted of three large circles of dancers across the gym. Each circle rotated as we right-together, left-together'd to Amy Grant singing about childlike hearts and the love circling around us like gifts around our tree. 

Michael never said one mean word to me, or really any word at all. He just showed up to rehearsals like everybody else (in his Metallica t-shirt) and did the dance. I remember trying to get him to look me in the eye while we danced, but he mostly stared at the floor. His hands were dry and sand papery. 

I learned later that his mom had been killed in a car accident. I think he lived with his aunt. I saw in the paper recently where his younger brother had been arrested for some reason or another. I lost track of him after middle school and I always wondered what happened to him. 

It's such a small thing to remember, but for whatever reason it left an indelible mark on me. Every time I hear the song, I am sort of taken back to that elementary school gym. Awkward and nervous, so unsure of myself and who I was to be. So afraid to make one misstep, both in the dance and in my life. It felt safe to see him as an outsider and to treat him as such. Even if I knew in my heart it was wrong. 

I wish I could go back and be nicer to him. I wish I could go back and do a lot of things. But I think it's memories like this that remind us of things we want to do differently moving forward.