We Wanted to Dance

14 Jun 2007

We wanted to clap, we wanted to sing, we wanted to dance. But then we didn’t. Because we were too concerned about how we’d end up looking, although Sarah didn’t care and neither did Marlee. But you remember Sarah and Marlee, don’t you?

In 1986, a young Jewish woman from Chicago won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. She was (and still is to date), the youngest winner on record for that Academy Award, being only 21 at the time. Of course this interesting piece of trivia is not nearly as astounding as the fact that this particular actress, Marlee Matlin, became deaf at the age of 18 months, following a childhood infection.

Matlin plays opposite William Hurt in Children of a Lesser God, the story of a speech teacher who works at a school for the deaf. Hurt ultimately falls in love with Matlin’s sign-language using character, a woman named Sarah. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, the independent-minded Sarah slow dances to the Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There, while everyone else around her is able to disco dance to an audibly faster tempo.

Which is exactly why I’ve been thinking about a particular wedding I attended many years ago. There were several of us standing around and we wanted to clap, we wanted to sing, we wanted to dance…but then we didn’t. We knew that we’d become all undone and messy if we danced, and we were too concerned with the way we looked. Because right at the moment of maximum-messiness is when a photographer will typically show up and start snapping away.

And this was such a beautiful wedding on a glorious day where everything was simply gorgeous and picture perfect down to the last detail. There were spectacular floral arrangements and fantastically artful ice sculptures and such a tasteful mix of luscious colors that it hurt our eyes just to look at it all. And when the bride finally stepped into the room, she looked like something that had come to life off the pages of a fashion magazine while her groom radiated white-knightness and the rest of the family looked positively regal.

But then, of course, there was the photographer, just as we expected. He was snapping pictures all around and even though we wanted to clap and to sing and to dance…we didn’t because everything just seemed to be too picture-perfect for messing up. And several years later, when the ideal couple who’d had such a perfect wedding produced a less-than-perfect child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome…I wanted to cry. But then I didn’t do that either. Because at that point, I already knew a thing or two about raising a special needs child, how tears will get you nowhere, and how messiness rules supreme.

And that’s exactly how it was recently at Yachad’s 21st annual family shabbation in Monticello, New York. There was plenty of clapping and singing and dancing (and plenty of messiness) with a crowd that had grown from 50 original attendees staying in bunk houses to over 600 participants who came from all over the United States to take over Kutscher’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains for a couple of days.

It was imperfectly perfect; a few hundred tots, teenagers and young adults with a broad range of physical disabilities and developmental delays, together with their parents and siblings. We spent shabbat together, connected with others, shared our experiences, and resourced with an inspiring group of professionals. But most of all…there was clapping. And there was singing. And there was dancing. And that included my son who has cerebral palsy and who can barely stand without support.

But this time there was no hesitation. We wanted to clap, we wanted to sing, we wanted to dance…and so we did! We rejoiced together with all these children of a lesser god, who are certainly not any lesser themselves because of it, and who certainly have enough potential to win Academy Awards or change the world in infinitely meaningful and profound ways. Besides, we don’t believe in a lesser god because we already know that there’s only one. And if we got all undone and messed up a bit…and if a photographer was there snapping pictures, so what?

Life is often messy and life isn’t perfect. And sometimes in life, less (and mess)… is more.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.