Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The dancin' man and me

His clothes are as worn as his smile. He bears scuff marks on both his shoes and his face. I want to ask about the origin of his scrapes, but I restrain. For now. I hear a faint accent of something in his speech and feel that's a safer question to pose. He's from Serbia and appears to be in his 40's. This is a man who has seen conflict. I venture a safe and silent guess he immigrated to Canada to escape conflict, but by the looks of his hardened exterior, he hasn't made a complete getaway.

His name is Jed but I know him as "the dancin' guy," and so does half of my city for that matter. He's got his very own Facebook fan page over 6, 500 adoring and curious fans strong. I've seen him dozens of times gyrating down Main Street in Hamilton, Ontario, but only from my car. I'm giddy his dance steps have finally found their way onto my path and I'm grateful for this encounter as my first sighting of him over a year ago was so unforgettable it was worth noting: 

I have somewhere to be and quickly. But my husband's brother has just been diagnosed with cancer. He is too young to have a staring contest with death. My husband knows this and I feel like I'm losing him to the fog that cancer brings to a family.

I'm losing focus, and driving distracted is never a good thing. In the midst of my own fog, I am jolted by a sight that only my city can bring.

I see a very thin man, dressed in very used clothes, his hands like props in his coat pockets. And I cannot believe this, but he is dancing down the street sidewalk. Alone! I can't see earphones to suggest he's listening to music, which makes the scene even more amusing. He looks like the type of fellow who might not make his rent this month, or who finds his second home at the local liquor store. But he has not a care in the world, and is skipping Fred Astaire style down the the sidewalk. I look to see if passerby will stop and stare. Instead, they just casually pass--him--by.

In the moment it takes my car to speed by, he's gone. But I laugh. Incredulously. And shake my head and continue to laugh. Later, I try to describe the scene to others, but the story falls flat and I'm convinced I was the only audience member for whom the movie was meant. For a moment, life is less blurry and a precious moment of clarity sweeps in. 

In the end, my brother-in-law lost that 10-month staring contest with death. His beautiful baby blues shut forever, no match for the steely gaze of cancer. 

Why does Jed dance? The answer for him is hard to unpack because it's so complex, but for me it's simple--because I need him to.

Too often we write off the dancin' guys in our life because they're a little too eccentric for our straightforward tastes. Their uneven strides don't jive with our careful two-step. But there are days when a polite joke or pleasant company just doesn't cut it for me. I need a guy like Jed to jar me from my senses, to remind me that a joy that lasts despite your circumstances, comes from something deeper and sometimes unrestrained.

I ask about blisters and he waves them off with his hand. Sure he gets them, but they're worth every smile he draws from a complete stranger. A stranger like me.

His vagabond attire seems just a ruse when he pulls out a business card set between the pages of a crusty Gideon's New Testament. I note aloud his unconventional card case and without shame he announces, "I'm a born-again Christian." He tells me that he was given a gift that must be shared and an old Bible memory verse slips through the cracks of my jaded belief: "to whom much is given, much is required."

Before I can ask about the music in his head, the dancin' guy is off again marching to the beat of his own joyful drum, leaving me behind in his sonorous trail to pause and to smile.

You can learn more about The Dancin' Guy and his story at www.dancinguy.com.

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