I shuffled down the hallway toward the living room as the setting sun cast an amber glow across the hardwood floor. The honey-colored light revealed cat hair, scratches from the unprotected legs of a chair pushed into the room, and a few ladybugs still hanging around after warm weather earlier in the week.
As I took inventory of the floor, feeling the weight of winter, shorter days, and the state of the world, a thought popped into my head.
“Look up, Cheryl! Life is up!”
I smiled at the familiar voice, one that’s been with me for more than thirty years.
I first met Carleton Jones at the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio in Boston in the late 80s after accepting an invitation to take a “street funk” class with my friend, Chris. Chris was a trained dancer who wanted to explore this new form and I agreed to go along thinking it would be fun and challenging. I loved music and dance and had been obsessed with MTV videos, and I also wanted to expand my comfort zone. I should have known better. Honestly, I think I cried before every class because I was so scared.
Carleton was a dancer and choreographer who had worked with Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Not only was he an extraordinary talent, he was a gifted teacher. He used his dance classes to educate students about life. Carleton could see the shyness (aka terror) written all over my face and one day, after watching me rehearse, he stopped the class walked over to me, and softly whispered in my ear, “Cheryl, you need to look up. Life is waiting for you. Look up!”
How many times have I heard Carleton’s message when I’m feeling down, tangled in thoughts of despair, or walking through life head bent, eyes glued to the ground? He barely knew me but he cared and he paid attention. I suspect he realized I needed more than dance lessons. I needed someone to encourage me, to tell me to stop hiding, and to invite me to show up for life in a bigger more engaged way.
Carleton died of AIDS a few years after our class and I have no doubt I was one of many who grieved the loss of this special man. But his legacy continues not only in my head but in the way he serves as a reminder that each one of us has an opportunity to make a difference. A word, a hug, or a smile at just the right moment may mean more than you’ll ever know. And it just may stick around for a lifetime.
By the way, here’s a picture of our dance troupe at our final recital long ago. If by some strange coincidence, you see yourself in the photo, please hit reply and let me know.
P.S. – Discover new ways to practice good self-care in your wisdom years by listening to the audio workshop, Self Care for the Wisdom Years. You can learn more, here.