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GROB: Dancing lessons from God

By James Grob,

This is the winter that made us dance.

Last weekend, for the umpteenth time, the season dumped an oversized load of snow on us, and our world was frozen.

Local law enforcement and emergency management sent out a clear message: “Don’t try to travel, you idiots. We might shoot you if you do.”

James Grob
James Grob

The local school district has called off classes 11 times now, and the final day of the academic year is now approaching the Fourth of July. Ball games rescheduled, community events rescheduled, school concerts rescheduled — it never ends.

I’ve had a very important medical appointment in Iowa City twice canceled due to poor road conditions this winter. I’m hoping the third time will be the charm.

I was planning on driving to the Quad Cities last weekend, to see my 14-year-old nephew perform in a stage musical.

I saw his theater debut last year, which was a junior-version production of Disney’s  “Beauty and the Beast” at the Brunner Theatre Center at Augustana College in the Quad Cities.

It was presented by the college theatre, the local arts center, and something called the “Penguin Project.” This year, it’s “Seussical.” My nephew is a monkey, I’m told.

The Penguin Project is a national non-profit organization with the vision of creating unrestricted access to the performing arts for children with special needs. This is accomplished with the assistance of multiple sites across the country that produce a modified version of a well-known Broadway musical. Artists with special needs fill the acting roles.

The cast is made up of kids and young adults. Last year, the youngest were still in the single digits in age, while the oldest were in their early 20s. All have special needs. Some of them have Down syndrome, some are on the autism spectrum. Some have cerebral palsy. Intellectually disabled, congenital heart disease, cognitive and developmental delay. Hearing impaired, visually impaired. One of the kids last year was in a wheelchair.

Call them ailments or handicaps or disabilities or whatever you want to call them, but just know that whatever disadvantages the cold hard world has heaped upon you or me, there’s somebody out there fighting out of a bigger heap. And that person is fighting to pursue the same happiness that you and I are.

Maybe you’ve had to fight through a huge pile of snow this year, but it’s nothing compared to what these kids fight through, every day, just to live.

I was emotionally moved by last year’s show, and was truly looking forward to driving down this year. But God and Mother Nature didn’t cooperate.

Instead, I shoveled. My wife and I have designed and maintained an elaborate tunnel system in our yard this winter, so that we may leave the house and crawl through the tunnels to our vehicles. Tunnel system maintenance requires a good amount of shoveling, we’ve found.

I hate shoveling. I once read a report that of all the regular physical chores, shoveling snow is by far the worst thing for your health.

Or maybe I didn’t read a report; maybe I just made up the report in my mind.

Regardless, the report said that one hour of shoveling heavy snow takes more years off your life than smoking 12 packs of cigarettes per day. In fact, there’s a city in Canada where shoveling snow while smoking 12 packs of cigarettes is the most common form of attempted suicide.

The last couple of paragraphs probably aren’t true. Did I mention I hate shoveling?

As I shoveled, I thought of a question my youngest daughter once asked me, when she was about 3 or 4 years old.

“Dad, when snow melts, where does the white go?”

I was stunned. Little girls are perpetually inquisitive, but usually I had an acceptable answer for my daughter at that age.

I did not. I have no idea where the white goes when the snow melts. I assume it goes somewhere tropical, to a beach, and enjoys a strong but sweet drink with an umbrella in it. That’s just a theory.

Another theory I’m fond of is attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut, who is credited with writing, “Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

I believe Vonnegut was trying to say that when something happens to alter your schedule or routine, that’s God teaching you how to dance — and how to live.

Whether caused by a funeral or an illness or a blizzard, an unexpected route forces you to do a little dancing — it takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you live life a little bit differently than you had planned, if only for a moment. It makes you think differently. And ultimately, that’s a good thing.

I’ve rescheduled my trip to the Quad Cities to visit my nephew and witness him performing in another Penguin Project event. It just so happens that the day my wife and I are planning on attending is the same day my parents will attend.

As my mom said, “Great! Now it’s a family reunion.”

So it’s even better than before. Now, I’m not only going to experience another amazing, heart-warming show, I’m going to get to spend time with my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law and my nephews.

Unless, of course, God decides to send another heap of snow this direction.

Then, I guess I’ll dance.