I skipped Fred’s Tuesday night and climbed into bed before 8:00. The next morning, I was the first to wake only to find a video message on my phone from the night before that I had missed. I poured my coffee and sat down in my dark kitchen to watch. I hit play and instantly recognized the smiling faces that appeared on my screen, disco ball lights twirling behind them. My friends from Fred’s.
“Hi, I love you!” Janice beams into the camera.
“I love you too, honey!” Matt yells from the side.
Stephanie hollers from the middle of the crowd, the reflection of the recording phone visible from her glasses, “Wishing you the best! We love you and miss you! Please have that baby!”
They are smiling and waving and can barely stop dancing enough to stay still for the video.
I wipe tears and smile, hitting the play button again. How much these friends have taught me about love.
Saturday evening, I attended our local Civitan Club’s Valentine’s Day Dance for adults with special needs for the second year in a row. It was a lot different this year. I know these friends now. I’ve danced with so many of them for months at Fred’s, and I am slowly but surely being desensitized to feelings that used to pulse blatantly within–feelings like “this isn’t what I dreamed my kid’s future would look like.” Truth is, it isn’t. And if I wanted to, I could let that realization bear its weight so heavily on my heart that I’d miss everything else I noticed at that dance.
There will always be sensitivities, always be moments of sadness where I listen to and acknowledge the voice within that says “this is hard.” Because there is no doubt, being present at that dance, that I understand this road will be challenging. There’s no doubt that these friends’ mamas have cried rivers over the years, have watched their children struggle to make friends, have fought hard and made sacrifices just so their children can enjoy Valentine’s Day together, at a dance in a church gymnasium.
But there is also no doubt that they’ve learned something about love that stretches deeper than any card could ever express.
I noticed everything Saturday night. I wanted to, and so I took pictures and recorded video and told myself to look for all the hidden things that would teach me more about love.
Like the way some friends arrive to the church at 3, just to sit quietly at a table until 5 when the dance actually starts. Or the way Jamie jumps out and starts dancing by herself, without any music. The way Nottie and Jeremy hold hands the entire night because they are in love. I watch Todd and Christine accept their crowns as King and Queen of the dance, and I cry as they proudly walk through their procession, friends clapping by their side. I laugh every time Ron makes his rounds through the gym, stopping at our table, asking the same questions every time. And when Matt begs me to dance and I jokingly tell him I’m taking it easy, the baby could be born on the dance floor, we all laugh as he rolls his eyes and says “Oh my God, that’s so not going to happen.”
I smile as high school students humbly serve these precious friends, and I think to myself that every teenager needs to do this–needs to be here, serving, dancing, learning. I watch as the girl who bags my groceries–the one who’s always shy and quiet–comes alive in a way I’ve never seen on the dance floor. I marvel at the love they all have for each other. They look out for each other, these friends–they’ve been in this together for quite some time now. I see girls that remind me of what Nella might be like at 25 or 30 and I study their moves, their smiles, their confidence.
And I know that I still have so much to learn about love. But this is a really good place to discover it.
Friends, this is what true love looks like. Happy Valentine’s Day.