Conclusion
Home Up

 

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART FOUR: RETROSPECT

CHAPTER THIRTY
CONCLUSION

Written by Rick Archer

 © 2015, Richard Archer

 

Rick Archer's Note:

Before we begin this final chapter, I have something important to say. 

Throughout this book, I have asked you the reader to trust me.  This has been our unspoken covenant.

Now I would like to reassure you that I have not wasted your time by playing dirty tricks.  There have been no tall tales, no embellishments, no exaggerations.  I told my stories just the way they happened.

While I freely admit the acid of time may have dulled my memory on a detail or two, this book has been an honest accounting of my childhood as I remember it.

In particular, I have reported my participation in several experiences that are way out of the ordinary.  Yes, I speak of the various coincidences such as the Maria Ballantyne conversation and that strange séance encounter with Terry, my dog.

These stories are absolutely true.  I even have an unusual way to prove that they are true if for some reason it matters to somebody.

Throughout this book, I have repeatedly stated I am not a mystic.  I am absolutely sincere when I say this.  I have no second sight and certainly no more psychic powers than the next person.  All I have is my sense of reason.

Although I can't give 100% certainty that I have always drawn the correct conclusion on the various events that I suggested might be supernatural in origin, I can at least assure my readers that I have related the details of these stories with integrity.

In other words, I didn't ask you to come on this long journey just so I could lie to you. 

One of my main reasons to write this book has been to share my lifelong quest to learn the meaning of life.  We all wonder if there is a God.  While I can't say for sure one way or the other, I will say that the strange events of my life have made me quietly confident of His existence.

RJA

 

 
 


SUBCHAPTER 133 - THE SCARS

 

This picture comes courtesy of my 1968 St. John's Senior yearbook.  Thanks to our perpetual shortage of household funds, there was no camera in my home. Therefore this photo is one of only two pictures from my high school years. 

The yearbook was free for all seniors which explains why this picture came from the only SJS yearbook I own.  Katina Ballantyne was the editor, so I have my talented Jones Scholarship counterpart to thank for this graduation gift. 

Take a look at how short those jeans are.  Oh my goodness.  My khaki school uniform pants still fit, but not those jeans.  I grew in my Senior year and hadn't bothered to buy new jeans in some time.  And what about those white socks?  My lack of fashion sense speaks volumes.

Here we have a young man, 18, with the tall, lean body of a basketball player and the damaged face of a boxer. One can't see just how badly my face is scarred for the simple reason that I refused to have a close-up taken.  I was still sensitive about the acne scars.

As I reflect back on my years at St. John's, I am constantly reminded of the famous quote from Nietzsche.  "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

That's a good quote, but I am not sure I agree in full.  Nietzsche contends that I grew stronger for my travails.  Maybe so.  Thanks to the chip on my shoulder, I suppose I did draw my powerful sense of determination from my bitterness.  So yes, no doubt my difficult childhood toughened me up in many useful ways. 

That said, I do not recommend raising children the way I was raised.  Not by a long shot.  When it comes to raising children, I highly recommend nurture over neglect.

   

Throughout my memoirs, I have spoken of my acne scars and their effect on my psyche. It is difficult to explain the crippling nature of those scars to someone with a normal complexion, but take my word that the arrival of those scars completely changed the direction of my life. 

At the start of the 9th grade, I had a sunny future ahead of me.  I had just been given a full scholarship to St. John's.  I had spent an entire summer becoming one of the best basketball players in my grade.  And, if you will excuse my immodesty, I was a fairly good-looking boy.

I would venture to say I had a golden opportunity to use my looks and athletic ability to gain a measure of popularity.  Not only did I want very much to become an accepted member of my class, I wanted to begin dating just like every other boy my age.  

But it didn't work out that way, did it?  Thanks to the bombshell of my acute disfigurement, my life shifted to an entirely different track.  There would be no basketball and no dating for four lonely years at a time when most boys begin to get their confidence.   

What went wrong?  Well, we know that I had a very mild case of acne.  One night my mother decided to attack those pimples with a needle.  When she was done, she wiped away the pus and blood with alcohol and pronounced my complexion would be much better in the morning.  We already know how well that prediction turned out. 

Then my mother compounded the problem by allowing three days to pass before she finally had the sense to think that just maybe I should go see the doctor.  What a genius.

The doctor shook his head.  Too late.  The damage was done.  Why didn't I come to see him sooner?  It took an entire year to get the acne under control.  When the acne was finally gone, a new horror took its place... the scars.  The doctor told me don't worry, the scars aren't permanent.  A skin planing operation would smooth out the peaks and valleys nicely. 

Unfortunately, he was overly optimistic.  The damage was far too great.  My face was 50% improved.  A second operation improved my face another 50%, but there was still noticeable scarring.  At this point, Dr. Spiller said me that one more operation would do the trick.

Freshman year.  I refused to have another
picture taken until my Senior year picture.


Dr. Spiller was adamant about this.  He liked me.  He understood the agony I was going through.  He wanted one more chance to make things right, so he told my mother he would only charge half-price for the third and final operation.  He was confident that my face would return to normal.  My father said no.  My father said his deductible had expired and even at half-price the operation was still far too expensive.  I was crushed beyond belief.

The stupid thing is that I believed my father.  When he said his deductible had expired and that it was too expensive, I did everything in my power to accept his decision.  At the time, he never shared the price tag.  He simply said it cost too much.

Three years later I learned what that half-price operation would have cost.  When my father handed me the $400 in college money, he had the nerve to add that most of my college savings had gone to my skin operations.  Curious to check his numbers, I went to my mother that night and refigured the math.  That is when I realized the third operation would have cost only $260.  The stupid jerk wouldn't even pay $260 to give me my life back.

So I was stuck with this battered face for the rest of my life.  Everyone says, "Oh, Rick, you are too sensitive.  No one even notices those scars."

Maybe yes, maybe no.  I don't know the truth.   Perhaps it is true other people don't notice or don't care, but I do.  Every time I look at those scars in a mirror and let the light catch every crooked line, I still feel sick to this day.

Those scars are a fitting metaphor to my suffering as a boy.  Due to my parents' neglect in so many different ways, I emerged from childhood badly scarred both inside and out.  I am well aware that every child has issues with his or her parents.  And yes, there are lots of kids out there with far worse parents than my own.  Any random sweep of the ghetto or the slums of Mumbai would surely yield horror stories that would make my own childhood seem idyllic.

That said, I contend by the standards on which any educated, middle class parent can be judged, my mother and father were mediocre... and that might be putting it mildly.  

Thanks to my parents, I left high school with all kinds of psychological time bombs just waiting to sabotage my life down the road.  It was only a matter of time before my shortcomings landed me in serious trouble. 

There are two ways to look at these scars... realistically and mystically.

Realistically speaking, yes, I overcame my childhood, but not completely.  Confidence has been an issue my entire life.  There were just some scars that refused to heal.

For example, I can think of several times later in life where I held back out of fear.  Although I am proud of my accomplishments at the dance studio, I know for a fact that my lack of self-confidence kept me from taking bold steps that would have expanded the operation dramatically on several occasions.  I never quite understood the secrets of popularity.  Consequently I never made useful connections with other dance studios and other dance instructors.  In other words, I had no idea how to play politics and develop business partners.  I just stuck to my own dance studio.  I was always the lone wolf.

Another area I avoided was exhibitions and dance competitions.  I certainly was never a top-flight dancer.  I never won a dance contest in my life.  I tried performing and realized I didn't enjoy that either.  There is a part of me that always told me I was ugly and had no business being on a stage with a face like mine.  The thought of a spotlight focused on my battered face turned my stomach.  By not performing, I failed to utilize one of the most basic tools of running a successful dance studio.  By failing to demonstrate my ability as a superior dancer, once my students reached an advanced stage, they would go elsewhere in search of flashier instructors. 

Another weakness was my inability to work a crowd.  Although I had no trouble teaching a class, I tended to hide at my studio when I wasn't teaching.  Always the loner thanks to those years spent hiding in the shadows at St. John's, I never quite mastered the basic tricks of being a good host until the final years of my dance career.  I was very reluctant at dance parties to go around the room and visit with the guests.  It was far easier to hide in the DJ booth than to talk to people.  I also learned to hide on the dance floor.  By asking one lady to dance after another, I didn't have to stand around making small talk. 

In other words, those scars have made me miserable for an entire lifetime.  To this day, I still can not look at myself in the mirror.  That is the truth.  I would rather shave in the shower than stand in front of the mirror feeling sick at what I see.  This handicap prevented me from becoming an excellent host.  As I said, I did improve in this area towards the end of my career, but my weak people skills were a lifelong handicap to be sure.    '

Who knows how far the studio could have grown if I had possessed some actual people skills?  I lay the blame directly on those scars.

On the other hand, in a mystical sense, without those scars, there would be no dance career.  Those scars led directly to the start of my dance career.  Feeling unattractive and lacking in personality, I began dance lessons as a way to meet girls at dance clubs.  Taking my first dance class on a whim, I certainly had no idea those lessons would change my life. 

I believe in Fate.  I believe I was fated to have those scars. 

Destiny, my follow-up book to A Simple Act of Kindness, will explain the strange story of how those dance lessons not only cured me of my sense of inadequacy around women, they also led to my accidental dance career.

In other words, I can trace a direct path from those scars both mental and external to the dance lessons which led to my psychological healing and then onto my dance career.   Strange as it may seem, out of my sense of ugliness emerged a truly remarkable dance studio.   

I really did not have the skill set one would expect from a highly successful dance studio owner.  Indeed, I had such a low opinion of my own ability in certain areas, I concluded my success was improbable at best.  One would not expect an emotional cripple to create the largest dance studio in America. 

This explains why there is little doubt in my mind that it took divine intervention to propel me to the top.  Fortunately, once I was in position, I did eventually develop the skills needed to build a very unique dance program.  In other words, I grew into the job.  But how I got there is a mystery to me and probably to others as well.  Destiny will tell the story of that mystery.

Would I trade my dance career for a pretty face?  No, I would keep the dance career.  But I would also like to ask Stephen Hawking if he would trade his brilliant mind for a healthy body. 

I suppose that is what Life is all about... playing the hand that Fate deals you to the best of your ability.

 


SUBCHAPTER 134
- PAY IT FORWARD REVISITED

 

While I tend to downplay my success, the one thing I did have going for me was heart.  I cared about my job and I cared about my students.  Even though my students were adults fully capable of taking care of themselves, I cared about their progress with the same passion one would expect from a Kindergarten teacher.

I credit my childhood for this approach.  I was so badly beaten down when I was a kid that I became terribly discouraged.  And yet someone always came along to pick me up.  How could I not feel gratitude? 

No one who has read this story can deny I was headed in the wrong direction on many occasions.  I was an angry kid full of hate.  Yet each time I began to spiral out of control, someone would appear to help me back on the path without any expectation of a reward.  

Thanks to the people who helped me, I was given a first-hand understanding of the importance of reaching out.  I learned my lesson well.  In college, I made the decision that I would make a serious effort to carry the kindness shown to me forward.  I wanted to find a way to take care of others. 

Unfortunately, my first two efforts were complete dead ends.  My decision to become a therapist was rudely terminated.  So then I decided to become a social worker. 

Following graduate school, I investigated child abuse and child neglect for four years.  Although I did the best I could, I am sorry to report that I accomplished little in that job.

Thank goodness I accidentally stumbled on teaching dance.  The best social work I ever did took place during my dance career.  On the surface, I taught people how to dance.  However, when no one was looking, I quietly extended a hand to anyone who was struggling with life issues.  Several times a year, someone who was down on their luck would come across my path.  Thanks to a divorce, a bad break-up, the death of a spouse, whatever, their lives were in crisis and they needed someone to reach out to them.  Whenever I saw a dance student who was struggling, my heart went out to them. 

Based on my own unusual experience with 'dance therapy', I knew for a fact that learning to dance invariably cheers people up.  Just as dance had healed me, the potent combination of movement, fun, friendship, and laughter helped return a smile to many faces.  Social dancing is a safe way to be around people during the recovery process.  My studio served as  a sanctuary for some students while they healed.  The time spent at the studio served to give these dance students enough confidence to get back up and start fighting again. 

I came to fill a similar role at my dance studio as Mr. Salls.  Just as Mr. Salls had kept an eye on every SJS student, I kept an eye on everyone at my dance studio.  I was well aware there were people at my studio who were walking wounded as I had once been.  I monitored these people just as Mr. Salls had once watched out for me.  Besides looking out for people in need, I also looked out for predators.   I made sure the kind of people who exploit the broken hearted were shown the door.  In other words, I was the sheriff.  I intended to make my studio as safe as place as I possibly could.  I felt that I had been given a caretaker role and took my duties seriously.

I speak of this not to draw glory to myself, but rather to acknowledge Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls, my mentors.  In their own way, they each helped prepare me for my future.  More than anything else, they taught me the importance of kindness.  Caretakers in their own right, I am pleased to say the lessons I learned from these individuals served me well.  Following in their footsteps, I made sure to pay my childhood debt forward through my work at the dance studio.  

When it came to running the studio, in many ways I could not have been more similar to Mr. Salls, a man I admired.  I only wish he could have seen me in action... I think he would have been proud of me.  I certainly learned a lot from him.

SSQQ Dance Studio was a place where kindness abounded.  I wasn't the only one who took care of people.  We all took care of people.   SSQQ had a spirit about it that was pure magic.  There was a warmth to the place that defied understanding.

However, since SSQQ was built on intangibles, the greatness of SSQQ was obvious only to the discerning eye.  Unlike baseball where statistics readily tell the story, when it comes to matters of Spirit, it is not easy to explain the subtle effectiveness of my program. 

Fortunately, I have a way to demonstrate the hidden dynamics of the dance studio in a very dramatic way.  I believe this unique story will convey why SSQQ and the people who loved it were remarkable.  

 


SUBCHAPTER 135
- GARY SCHWEINLE

 

Gary Schweinle was raised in the country in East Texas.  I don't believe his education went much beyond high school.  Gary had a horse ranch in Anahuac, a small farming community.  Anahuac was situated on the northeast edge of Galveston Bay about 50 miles east of Houston. 

Gary raised horses on his farm in addition to his profession as a welder.   As the cliché goes, Gary was a redneck.  Sure enough his neck was bright red from all those days cutting grass on his farm and tending to the horses.  Gary didn't stop there... he fit the stereotype in every possible way.  Wherever he went, Gary wore his favorite boots.  Sometimes he showed up at the studio wearing a belt with his name on it.  In particular, Gary took special pride in his cowboy hat.  Gary never went anywhere without his hat.   Gary was a country boy.

In 2001, Gary lost his wife Lynn due to a freak accident.  Lynn was driving home.  Coming from the other direction was a truck pulling a large barbecue pit behind it.  Somehow the trailer hitch came loose and the barbecue pit went flying out of control.  Lynn was killed instantly when the runaway pit broadsided her vehicle like a guided missile.


Gary was overwhelmed with grief.  Not only did he lose his best friend in the world, his four daughters had senselessly lost their mother just because some idiot didn't know how to tie a knot properly.  Gary had no idea how he would ever make things right by these girls.

Gary spent the next year trying the best he could to deal with the pain.  Every day he worked his job as a welder, then came home to take care of his children.  He was numb the entire time.  This was the toughest year of his life.

One day in 2002, Gary came to my studio.  He was still trying to find some way to overcome the loss of his wife Lynn.  Gary came from a culture where cowboys don't cry.  He kept a lot of grief locked up inside him.

Someone suggested SSQQ was a place that might cheer him up a little.  Gary had never danced in his life, but he was willing to try anything at this point. 

So Gary signed up for a four week country-western class.  It was time to learn the Texas Twostep.

Apparently Gary loved his first class because he kept signing up for more.  Now connected to a new community of friends, Gary made steady progress. 

In very short order, Gary became a fixture at the dance studio.  We absolutely could not get rid of the guy... nor we did want to. 

Gary's enthusiasm absolutely lit up the room.  Gary made one friend after another. 

Of all the friends he had made, MG Anseman, his first dance teacher, was the closest.  MG later told me that he and Gary formed a close bond while he was at the studio.  This bond extended to Gary's young teenage daughter Kimberly who made the long ride with her father most every Sunday.

In fact, for the first year that Kimberly was there, most people thought that Kim was MG's daughter since they danced together all the time.  One night Gary took MG aside and pulled a piece of paper from his wallet.  Gary said that it was a note he had found that Kimberly had written. Gary said this poem Kim had written had come from such a dark place that Gary knew that he had do do something.  The dance classes was a trial effort.  Gary could not believe how well this strange gamble had turned out.  Gary then thanked MG for helping Kim leave that dark place.  From that point on Gary thought that it was funny that everyone thought Kim was MG's daughter.  Kim had a sassy side, so depending on how Kim had behaved in class, Gary and MG teased each other who wanted to take credit for which behavior.  MG later said he had no idea what a dark place Gary had been in at the time, but was glad to have been in a good place to help his friend on the long road back.

By the end of the first year of dance classes, Gary was back on his feet again.  No more wounded bear.  Time to move on to something else, right?   No.  Gary felt a deep gratitude to the studio.  Gary decided he wanted to return the favor. 

Why not volunteer to help MG teach the Texas Twostep?   From there Gary branched off to other teachers and other nights as well.  On some weeknights when Gary wasn't taking a dance class of his own, he would drive into town and volunteer to dance in Beginner classes that were short of men. 

However, Sunday was always his favorite day.  Over the next five years, Gary chose to drive two hours every Sunday just to help.  Keep in mind this was not an easy trip.  Anahuac to Houston was one hour one way, one hour back.  While he was at the studio, sometimes he would stay for the second Sunday class as well if one of the teachers needed him.  Gary would spend four hours each Sunday at SSQQ doing whatever he could to help other people.  No one paid him a dime.

The gas alone must have cost Gary a fortune.  Gary once told me it was a 100 mile round trip.  Plus the time involved was considerable.  Gary gave up six hours, two hours of driving and four hours of teaching, every Sunday just to help other people he didn't even know! 

Gary wanted to contribute.

 


SUBCHAPTER 136
- GARY AND TRACY

 

Gary loved our dance cruises.  Out at sea, Gary became the life of the party.  I teased him about wearing his cowboy hat all the time.  "For crying out loud, Gary, you wear that hat in the hot tub, on the beach, and here at dinner too.  Do you make love with that hat on?"

"Sure do!"  Gary grinned at me and I cracked up.  I didn't dare ask him if he was serious.  From that point on, I began to call Gary "Mr. Hat".  I think he liked the nickname.  So did I.

As one can imagine, over time Gary and I became friends.  It took a while because I was always so busy.  With a thousand students a week, I didn't have time to learn much about people past their names and what they did for a living.  I knew Gary had tragically lost his wife, but that was the extent of it.  However, there was something about Gary that drew me to him, so we began to talk. 

Gary told me he loved SSQQ.  The studio had helped him recover his sanity.  Gary was so full of gratitude to be able to find a place that could bring him back from that terrible void of loneliness he had inhabited.  Gary said the time he spent at the studio had allowed him to get on with his life. 

I was a little embarrassed by those strong words.  To be honest, I was increasingly on guard against flattery.  People had a way of buttering me up before asking for favors, so I was becoming cynical.  Most favors were no big deal, but when multiplied by 1,000 students, the workload kept increasing and I began to wear down.   No matter how well intentioned, it always meant more work for me.  The longer I ran the studio, the more I began to resemble Mr. Salls and keep my wall up.  

So I learned to keep people at arm's length.  At first, Gary was one of them.  Gary seemed sincere, but to myself I thought he must be exaggerating the importance of the studio.  However, Gary was adamant... the dance studio had saved his life.

Leslie and Phyllis with Mr. Hat
on the 2004 dance cruise
 

 

As luck would have it, Gary fell for a terrific woman at the studio.  Her name was Tracy.  Gary had to chase her pretty hard.  Tracy wasn't easy to catch.

Gary wasn't exactly the guy Tracy had in mind.  Tracy was a registered nurse who was head of her emergency room unit. She wasn't a woman who had been raised to do what she was told to like some gals. An outspoken women full of talent and confidence, Tracy was the kind of nurse that doctors listened to.  Gary's old-fashioned ideas of a woman's place needed some reworking.

Tracy was a city girl.  What was she supposed to do with this big, goofy country boy who was chasing her?  Gary wasn't rich, he wasn't particularly handsome, not particularly educated and he wasn't particularly smooth.  In addition, Gary was a rough dancer who couldn't keep the beat of the music.

So what?  Tracy fell deeply in love with this guy because he was a decent, kind man who had a heart of gold.   Good things happen to good people.

In 2006, Gary and Tracy got engaged.  Gary proposed to Tracy on our SSQQ cruise to New England.  It was obvious that they were so much in love.

   

Tracy and Gary were married in July 2008.  I smiled as Gary and Tracy danced their Wedding Dance.   Tracy was perfect for my friend Gary.  

Tears came to my eyes at his good fortune.  Nancy, Gary's sister-in-law, noticed my tears.  She said, "They love dancing together so much.  And they love sitting on the porch swing drinking coffee on Gary's 14-acre horse ranch."

One night Gary was helping me teach a dance class.  I needed to briefly dance the female role to explain something to the ladies in the class, so I told Gary to lead me.  Gary was legendary for being a very rough dancer, so I was surprised at how gentle Gary's lead was.  I made a point to compliment him.

Gary beamed. "There's a good reason for that, Rick.  Tracy said she would marry me on one condition... I had to be more gentle!  So one of your teachers helped me figure out what I was doing wrong!"  

I smiled.  This was testimony to the power of a good woman to make a good man even better.

 

Gary had never even been outside of Texas till he came to the studio.  After his first dance cruise in 2003, he realized how much he loved to travel.  My wife Marla organized one dance cruise and one destination cruise each year.  In addition to our dance cruises that putt-putted around the Caribbean Sea, Gary decided he wanted to use the SSQQ destination trips to see America.

Gary signed up for cruise trips to Alaska, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.  Wherever the gang went, Gary wanted to go too.  On each trip, Gary and I became better friends.  When he started dating Tracy, she and I became closer as well.  

Out of respect for the importance of SSQQ to their relationship, Gary asked Tracy if she would like to join an SSQQ cruise to the Mediterranean for their honeymoon.  Tracy said absolutely yes.  

One thing Gary and Tracy shared was their outgoing nature.  They both loved people and had friends in abundance.  Unlike some people who prefer to honeymoon alone, Gary and Tracy invited all their friends to come along.  The more the merrier...

Gary, Tracy and the Noisy Bunch on the Italy-Greece 2008 Cruise
 

So in August 2008, one month after their wedding, Gary, Tracy and their gang of friends flew into Italy prior to the cruise trip.  For an entire week, they had the best time exploring Italy.

Then the group caught up to us in Rome.  From there they joined Marla and I on our trip to Greece, Crete and Turkey.    

At dinnertime, the same group that had explored Italy sat together.  Every night copious amounts of wine visited their dinner table on a regular basis.  Their peals of laughter resonated in every direction.  That had to be the noisiest table I have ever heard!

Sometimes laughter can be obnoxious, but not this time.  Sitting nearby at a different table, Marla and I could not stop grinning.  These people were having the best time of their lives.

   

During that trip, I made sure to visit Gary and Tracy every chance I got.  I did this for a selfish reason - I loved watching them laugh and smile. 

Let me tell you, I have never seen two happier people in my life.  I absolutely basked in their glow of love.

One day on that trip, Marla and I had the chance to eat lunch with Gary and Tracy at a sidewalk cafe in Athens, Greece.  We drank a considerable amount of Greek wine and were feeling pretty good about life.

After finishing our meal, we decided to order another round of wine.  As we waited, a funny look came over Gary's face.  I did a double-take.  Gary's expression had changed dramatically and I was worried. 

In a tone of voice I had never heard before, Gary told me he wanted to share an important story.  Gary seemed very serious. 

Marla was concerned and looked at Tracy.  Tracy nodded.  She had a hunch she knew what Gary was about to tell me.

Gary said that one Sunday night at the SSQQ studio he stayed till the end of Practice Night.  It was 10 pm closing time and the place was pretty much deserted.  Gary said I was in the DJ booth turning my music equipment off.  There was no one left to dance with, so he decided to leave.  As Gary walked through the studio on his way to his truck, he saw an African American woman, 45, standing at the exit door by herself.  She had hesitated at the door for some reason. 

Gary had never seen this woman before.  However, as he approached, Gary was instantly worried for her.  This woman had the most terrible sad look on her face.  Gary said he had a foreboding instinct.  Something was wrong.

Gary called to the woman just as she opened the door and rushed to her side.  Fumbling for something to say, anything, Gary made her talk to him.  Anything to stop her from leaving...

As Gary got deeper into his story, Marla, Tracy, and I dared not interrupt.  The three of us sat at the table in a hushed silence.  Now Gary got very quiet.  He wanted to say something, but seemed unsure whether it was appropriate or not. 

We nodded, so Gary continued.

Gary said the conversation became very personal.  It had something to do with her daughter dying of cancer.  The helplessness to ease the girl's considerable suffering, the guilt, the inability to offer any solace to the girl's fears of dying... all of this was too much for this woman to bear.  It became obvious the woman was in a lot of pain.

Seeing that she really needed a friend, Gary did everything in his power to cheer her up.  She cried some and Gary put his arm around her for comfort.  After a while, when the lady seemed strong enough, they bade each other good night.

A week later, this same woman came up to Gary at the studio.  She smiled and clasped both of his hands. She then told Gary thank you. The woman said she was pretty sure that she was going to commit suicide that night when she got home, but the talk with Gary had helped her change her mind.  She said that Gary had saved her life.

At this point in the story, Gary seemed embarrassed.  He squirmed in his seat. The poor man was probably worried that I was going to laugh at him for telling such a sensitive story.  Far from it.  His story gave me goose bumps.  Gary was a simple man, not someone given to eloquence.  But he had such a great spirit about him.  Gary got his greatest satisfaction from contributing to people's lives, be they friends or strangers.  I wasn't going to laugh at him; I was going to say how proud I was for what he did.

However I was completely wrong.  It wasn't the fear of my disapproval that was bothering Gary.  Gary could have cared less if I thought he was a sissy.  It turned out that Gary was squirming for an entirely different reason. 

Gary paused for a second.  He was clearly working up the nerve to say something else.  Finally he began again.  This might have been the hardest thing he ever said in his life.

"Rick, I am not proud to admit this, but I was raised to be a racist.  When I was a kid, I called black people 'niggers' all the time.  There were some bad things done to black people around where I lived.  Lynchings, burnings.  The Klan is dominant there.  I didn't participate, but I never did anything to stop any of it either. 

But when this woman opened her heart to me that night and said the things she said, I hugged her and we both cried.  I was stunned by my response.  I had never hugged a black woman before.  That sort of thing wasn't done where I come from.

Something came over me.  I went straight to my truck and asked the Lord to forgive me for being so goddamned stupid all my life.  What the hell was wrong with me!?!  There is so much hate in this world and I am part of it.  What the hell difference does the color of someone's skin make?  That woman loved her daughter just as much as I love my daughters.  So what if she has a better suntan than me?  Deep down, we are all the same.  It took this poor woman's nightmare for me to finally see this.  I was so ashamed of myself."


I nodded in sympathy.  Strangely enough, I thought back to the time I got caught cheating and how that helped me acquire my sense of integrity.  The Universe really does have a brutal way of teaching us things. 

I was proud of Gary for sharing that story.  This man had the biggest heart.  Either he was very drunk on Greek wine or he really trusted me to open up like that.  If forced to guess, I hope that he trusted me.

Now it was my turn to be embarrassed.  I knew Gary enjoyed coming to the studio, but I had been skeptical when he told me how important the studio was to him.  I had misjudged his sincerity.  I now realized Gary was completely serious about my dance studio... it meant the world to him.  I felt so touched that a man of this character would devote so much of his time to help without any expectation of reward.  Gary was very special.

This story helped me appreciate Gary Schweinle on a profound level.  Gary was a born social worker.  He might not have called it that, but there is no denying that Gary derived great satisfaction from helping people. 

The man never had a college course in social work in his life, but so what?  Heck, he didn't need training.  He just decided to get out there and help.  Gary became one of the most loved people in the history of the studio because the man had an absolute heart of gold.  Gary was willing to help in any way he was asked to.

I sometimes ask myself why so many people hold on to prejudice.  Why is it so difficult for some people to see past race, nationality and religion and realize that deep down we are all human beings?  It was easy for me to get this early in life because my mother raised me that way.  However, Gary was raised to hate.  How on earth did Gary ever free himself from those shackles? 

Gary was my hero for a special reason.  Gary was one the few people I knew who was able to transcend his environment and see beyond what he was taught to believe.  Gary became an inspiration to me.  I loved this man because his warmth had stopped the advance of my growing cynicism.  Gary's presence reminded me why I loved my dance studio so much.  In addition to being a place where we had an outrageous amount of fun, SSQQ was a place where decency and caring abounded.  Gary was the epitome of that spirit.

 


SUBCHAPTER 137
- SHOCK

 


Gary died one month after our conversation in Greece. 

Gary was a welder by profession, so one would assume he knew what he was doing that day.  However, he made a fatal mistake.

Hurricane Ike was on its way.  It was looking more and more like this dangerous storm would make a direct hit on the Houston area.  Right now the strong winds outside were rattling some of the poorly secured metal sheets covering his farmhouse roof. 

Determined to screw those sheets down tighter while he still had the chance, Gary climbed onto his metal roof to secure the metal from the whipping winds.  Gary used his electric drill to put in the screws.  Unbeknownst to him, one of those screws nicked a hidden utility line behind the metal sheet. 

Gary had no idea that this touching screw had electrified the entire roof.  When a sudden gust of wind knocked him off balance, he instinctively grabbed a nearby metal antenna to steady himself.  He was electrocuted and thrown off the roof to the ground below. 

Hearing the crash, Tracy raced outside.  She screamed in horror when she saw the poor man lying there moaning on the ground.  Gary was still breathing, so Tracy instantly took action.  She did everything in her power to revive him.  No luck.  Despite all her skill as a nurse, Tracy was unable to save her husband.

As the winds raged and the skies darkened, Gary died in Tracy's arms.  Something horrible and unimaginable had taken place.  The poor woman was hysterical.  She pulled Gary's face to hers and cried uncontrollably.  Alone on the farm, there was no one to comfort her.  So Tracy just held Gary's lifeless body in her arms as long as she could and sobbed.

Tracy had wrapped her entire life around this wonderful man and now in an instant he was gone.  They had been married all of two months. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 138
- COMMUNITY

 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the moment our phones began to work again, the SSQQ community heard the shocking news of Gary's death.  We were stunned.  His sudden death was so difficult to accept.

Once the winds subsided, Marla and I began clearing the debris from our own home.  The enormity of the damage caused by this hurricane was incomprehensible. 

For the next three days, together we cleared the front and back yard of more leaves, tree limbs, and assorted debris than I have ever seen in my life. 

While Marla gathered the debris into small piles, I used the wheelbarrow to take it out to the street.  There I created three massive piles of debris six feet high. 

In a way, the work was good for me.  It gave me time to reflect on Gary.  Deep in pain over Gary's death, I couldn't help but think how much those piles reminded me of a funeral pyre.

Five days after Gary's death, I received an email from Jeanne, a close friend of Tracy. 

I made sure to forward the email to everyone I knew. 

A NOTE FROM JEANNE TOBIN:

As many of you know - Gary Schweinle passed away last Friday while in the midst of preparing for Hurricane Ike.
His wife Tracy is stunned and numb. She is asking for your prayers and some personal space.
No arrangements have been made yet and I will keep you informed as things develop.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Prayers of course, but there is something practical you can do as well. Tracy has asked for help this weekend in Anahuac.  Thanks to the hurricane, the home that she and Gary shared was virtually destroyed.  The barn has only two walls, the house is in shambles, the shed is down, and the roof is off most of the house.  Tracy is asking for assistance to clear limbs and to clean up much of the debris.

Anahuac is under a curfew - so don't arrive before 10 am.  We will all have to leave before 6 pm.


Jeanne's note struck a real chord in our dance group.  One week after Gary's death, on a Saturday
morning somewhere between 60 and 80 people swung by Gary's country property in Anahuac to help clean up the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike.  I were stunned by what I saw.  I thought my own home was bad, but this place was an unbelievable mess!

There were three problems - the roof had blown off Gary's house and needed to be repaired.  This, of course, was the roof Gary had tried to repair before the storm.

The second problem were gaps in fences that had been knocked down by falling trees.  Now Gary's horses were in danger of getting out. 

Third, there was debris everywhere.  Gary's property was huge.  It looked large enough to build a good-sized golf course on.  There were fallen trees everywhere!

Personally, I had no special skills to share.  However, I had brought along a secret weapon.  I had paid my carpenter friend Solomon to come along with me to handle the work that required skilled carpentry.  I presented Solomon to MG who regarded him with curiosity.  MG had no idea that Solomon was very talented.

However, once MG and his friend Gary Davis saw Solomon in action, they were impressed!  MG later told me that Gary had been the one in charge, but that Gary soon gave Solomon the lead.  Gary praised Solomon for his contribution. He said Solomon's work saved them at least three hours.  Solomon was able to spot shortcuts that made a difficult project go much quicker.  Thanks to Solomon, MG, and Gary Davis, by the end of the day, the house had a roof again and the barn had its walls restored.

The people divided into two groups - those who worked on the house either repairing it or cleaning it and those who worked on clearing the debris.  As for me, due to my absence of skills, I chose to be a field hand.

There were many heroes out in the field that day.  We weren't quite sure what we were expected to do.  Since most of us were city folk, we immediately made a city-related error.  We thought we were supposed to take the debris to the road for pickup.  I think it was Leslie, raised in the country no less, who pointed out how silly it was to load up these trucks with debris and drive them to the road.  Didn't we realize that country people BURN their own debris on their property?

We all kind of looked at each other for confirmation.  Burn the debris out in the open?  I imagine our utter ignorance on the matter will bring a smile to the country-raised people.  Well, hmm, Leslie's suggestion did sort of make sense.  After all, there wasn't much chance of a fire getting out of control.  The area with all the tree damage was wide-open pasture. 

So we switched gears.  Instead of loading the trucks with the fallen tree limbs, instead we began to build enormous debris piles like the one I built at my house. Thank goodness we had a country girl with us to explain things!

In the middle of the day, the cry went up, "Close the Gate!"  I looked up to see seven horses stampeding at a full gallop across the immense property trying to get to a gate some unaware city slicker had left open.  The horse's attempt to escape made no sense to me.  What was so interesting on the other side of the gate?  Someone whispered that horses always try to escape.  It is in their nature.  Horses are natural mischief makers.  They always want to get away with something they aren't supposed to do.  I was learning all sorts of things today.

Fortunately Leslie heard the cry and was able to beat the horses to the gate.  I didn't know the woman could move that fast!  Very impressive speed. 

There were many heroes on the day.  For example, there was a man named Greg who couldn't work due to an injury.  No problem.  Greg hired three day workers and brought them over to help with the cleanup. 

Greg sure knew how to pick the right guys!  These young men were very skilled with their chain saws.  In addition they fixed other people's saws that broke.  And when they weren't busy sawing, they carried heavy logs to the debris piles.  These three men were hard workers.   We were grateful for their help.

Another hero of mine was Jim Colby.  The problem was that most people had no skills.  That included me.  The only thing I was good for was lifting heavy branches and carrying them over to the debris piles.  However the trees had a way of staying relatively intact even after they fall.  There was no way I could lift a heavy tree trunk.  That made me and the rest of us totally dependent on Jim to cut the limbs into manageable sections. 

Jim worked his chainsaw magic practically non-stop.  Using his chain saw, Jim kept an entire army of limb carriers like me busy all afternoon.  Jim had to be exhausted out of his mind, but he never complained.  Since the rest of us depended on him so much to do our share of the work, Jim kept going to the very limits of his strength.  That's a good thing, because we needed him!

Another hero of the day was a man named Sparky.  Sparky used to work for Gary Schweinle and they were pretty good friends.  Sparky brought a giant machine known as a "backhoe".  Sparky was clearly an expert.  He used this powerful tractor-like device to lift the heaviest logs and drop them onto the pile.  Other times Sparky would simply push the massive tree trunks over to the pile. 

The jaws on the backhoe were something to behold.  When they opened up ready to snatch another log, I couldn't help but imagine the T-Rex from Jurassic Park bending over to snatch some helpless dinosaur and devour it whole. 

Other times Sparky would do his 360 routine.  He would position the backhoe halfway between the targeted tree and the debris pile.  He would pick up a huge log, spin the jaws 180 degrees, drop the log on the pile without even stopping and finish the circle by spinning right back to the tree for another log pickup.  As a city boy, I had little experience with heavy-duty machinery. I enjoyed watching Sparky make that backhoe do magic tricks!

Sparky and his monster machine made a huge difference. That machine did the heavy lifting that the rest of us mere humans could never have accomplished.  For example, there was a huge tree that fell on the fence.  Without Sparky using the backhoe to lift that tree off the fence, we could never had repaired the gap.  As a result, the horses could easily have wandered off. 

Did we get dirty?  You better believe we did.  Sweaty, dirty, smelly, the works, plus cuts and scratches all over our arms.   But the hard work was wonderful therapy for all the grief and frustration we felt at the loss of our friend.  I literally threw myself into my work as a way to get the ya-yas out.  I was mad at the world for taking my friend and this was a marvelous way to channel my energy. 

Unfortunately I got a little carried away at times.  Besides being covered in scratches and bruises, I also took out innocent victims by swinging some branches without looking.  One lady had no idea I was blind in my left eye and got whacked one time pretty good.  Fortunately she was not hurt too badly, but it was still careless on my part.  I fear my anger over Gary's death made me a bit reckless.

There were many heroes this day.  Yes, it is true that most of us didn't possess many carpentry skills.  And yes, it is true that most of us didn't have any chainsaw skills either.  But we were a great team.  Thanks to Sparky, Jim Colby, Kurt Wind and Wild Man Leroy plus the three hard-working handymen that Greg brought along, there was an endless supply of tree limbs available for our army of log-luggers to drag over to the various piles. 

And let me tell you something else - the women worked just as hard if not harder than the men.  For example, Sylvia was a master with her rake and Jean Wind lifted logs so heavy I thought she was Wonder Woman.  Our women were just as determined as the men to get this job done.  Nor did I see even one woman remotely appear to care about glamour.  They got just as bad to the bone filthy, smelly and sweaty as any man out there.  Those ladies worked hard!

As the day progressed, we created a dozen enormous debris piles and cleared the field of every fallen tree.  Now our work was done.  As we headed back to the farm house, I smiled with satisfaction when I noticed someone had begun to burn one of the piles.  Aha!  Leslie was right!  She had saved us a lot of time by telling us it was okay to leave the debris piles in the field.

It was a great team effort.  Thanks to the huge amount of manpower, all missions were accomplished.  As a result of all that hard work, we accomplished so much in a very short time.  I discovered the carpenters had finished putting a temporary patch across the roof.  Thanks to the field hands, the pasture was back in order.  The fence was repaired, the barn was repaired, and the horses were safe.

We got so much done that they canceled a second day of work that had been scheduled.  We were all proud of ourselves.  This was had been our chance to show our respect to Gary Schweinle, a man we loved and admired. 

It felt good to honor our fallen hero.   

Many of the logs were too heavy for just one person to carry

Leslie saves the day by closing the gate as the horses charge

Jim Colby, the Chainsaw Wizard, spent the day cutting trees

Do you see the people standing around?  They are waiting for
this tree to be cut into smaller pieces.  We nicknamed Leroy
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre"

The girls worked just as hard as the boys
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 139
- the DANCE CULT

 

Strangely enough, the cleanup took place before the funeral.  Gary still hadn't been buried due to hurricane damage to the funeral home.  At the same time as the cleanup, the place was being repaired and they scheduled the service soon after. 

As Marla and I drove into a small town near Anahuac, there were cars everywhere around the funeral home.  Sure enough, the building was packed to the brim with well-wishers.  There was tremendous grief in the room as we remembered Gary.  Slowly but surely, we all made our way to Tracy to give our respects.  Despite the great outpouring of love and comfort for Tracy, the poor woman was white as a ghost and very shaky.  With a girlfriend on either side linking arms to keep her from falling, Tracy was barely holding it together.

A very odd thing happened prior to the service.  No matter how packed the room was as we milled about, there was a strange separation of the crowd into two distinct groups.  That is when I realized the dance studio people were on one side and Gary's friends and family from the area were on the other.  Indeed, the country folk stared at the city folk as if we were from the Planet Mars. 

I saw Kim, one of Gary's daughters, and decided to ask what was going on.  I knew Kim because she had often come to the studio with her father to take dance lessons.  So I pulled her aside and asked why the local people were looking at us so suspiciously. 

Kim smiled ruefully. 

"It's hard to explain, but someone started a rumor that Dad was a member of a dance cult.  The people around here couldn't understand why my father would drive all the way into Houston for a dance class.  So someone said that Dad had been hypnotized by a dance cult.  Unfortunately, people around here are naturally suspicious of outsiders.  Seeing what a mob of you showed up made them uneasy.  They think you all must be weird to drive this far for Daddy's funeral.  They are starting to think the rumors are true.  They don't trust you people at all."

I was dumbfounded.  Considering how utterly harmless our group was, at first I thought Kim had made a joke.  However, by the look in her eye, I could see she was completely serious.  I had no idea that Gary had been criticized for his interest in dancing.  Don't these people dance out here?  Apparently not.  By leaving his community to visit our dance studio in the Big City, Gary had risked being viewed with suspicion.  What was he doing visiting those outsiders?  

There is an old saying that travel is fatal to bigotry.  Although Anahuac was separated from Houston by only 50 miles, apparently these were two different worlds.  By traveling to Houston, Gary had found an entire different world at SSQQ and it changed him. 

Then Gary visited different shores... Mexico, Jamaica, Hawaii, Alaska... and that changed him too.  Then Gary visited Europe.  With each new adventure, Gary's horizons expanded and he opened up to new ideas.  One of those ideas included embracing and comforting an African American woman.  No doubt that action would be frowned at around here if word got out. 

Now that I could see the muted hostility at our presence, I was able to further grasp the enormity of Gary's progress.  The dance studio had helped him elevate above his raising.  I could see why Gary was so grateful to the studio.  The studio had not only given him back his life, it had changed his mind about a lot of things. 

I wasn't angry at these people.  Although some of them were small-minded, there were also good people here today.  No doubt if they got to know us and we got to know them, there were friendships to be made.   What crossed my mind is the startling contrast between the place where Gary started and the place he was at upon his untimely death.  Gary had grown so much as a person that I could not help but marvel at the studio's impact on his life.

That is when I realized that dancing had healed Gary in much the same way as it had once healed me following my dismissal from Graduate school.  No wonder I felt such a sense of kinship with this man. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 140
- KATHLEEN'S STORY

 

I would imagine 100 people packed the room for Gary's service. I sat for a while and then I remember standing.  Once they ran out of seats, I gave my chair to a lady.  From my new vantage point, I could better survey the room. I noticed that the Anahuac locals and Gary's relatives were still not particularly welcoming of this massive influx of outsiders.  However, despite the occasional looks of suspicion from the locals and relatives, there was nothing said and there were no incidents.  I think it helped that the "Dance Cult" outnumbered the locals 2 to 1.

The service consisted of different people going up to the front to talk about Gary.  As I stood there in the chapel listening to people, I was mired in tremendous pain.  Considering my bent towards mysticism, of course I believed this bizarre death was "meant to be".  This strange incident had Fate written all over it.  However, as far as I was concerned, to hell with "Fate" and "Mysticism". Whether it was Gary's time or not, I wanted Gary back.  He was far too important for us to let him go.  Without saying it out loud, I think there was a tacit agreement that Gary was the most beloved member of the dance studio.  In a manner reminiscent of Mrs. Ballantyne back in my childhood days at St. John's, people were always being drawn to Gary in the most uncanny way. 

As I continued to look over the crowd, I shared sad smiles with several friends who caught my eye.  As leader of the invasion force, I also caught some dirty looks.  I rolled my eyes as I thought further about the 'dance cult' quip. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To me, it was absurd to think anyone would be suspicious of these fine people. I used to say that SSQQ was somewhere halfway between a bar and a church group. Although we certainly liked to have fun and we loved dancing in bars to foot-stompin' honky tonk music, the core group of the SSQQ community was far closer to a church group than a bunch of rowdy friends. Our studio was populated by a virtual army of caring, decent people. I think that point was made obvious in the story about the cleanup of Gary's property. As I reflected upon the moment, I realized how proud I was to be associated with these people.

Mostly I thought about Gary. I was lost in my thoughts about the unfairness of what had taken place.  However, my thoughts were interrupted when a woman named Kathleen passed in front of me. I was surprised when I realized she was moving up to the front to speak.  I didn't know Kathleen very well.  I liked her, but she was kind of an oddball.  Very intelligent, but prone to secrecy.  I wondered why Kathleen was taking such a bold step to come forward. I hadn't seen her for over a year.  For that matter, I didn't even know she knew Gary.

To be honest, given the bad mood I was in, I half-expected Kathleen to say something trite.  I was completely wrong. Kathleen had a powerful story to share.

Kathleen began by saying she met Gary for the first time at SSQQ back in 2002. Kathleen was new to the studio and so was Gary. Apparently they started by taking the same dance class.  Kathleen said the class was held in a big room with about 60 people.  Her Beginning Western Twostep class was taught by a teacher named MG.  That rang true.  I knew MG had been Gary's first teacher.

Realizing that not everyone in this chapel room was familiar with the studio, Kathleen explained it was an SSQQ tradition for the 30 couples to dance in a giant circleAfter the class finished a pattern, the instructor would tell the men to change partners. The woman would remain in her spot while her male partner walked forward to the next lady in the circle.  It typically took about ten minutes for the men to make a complete rotation through all the women.

Upon their first meeting in the circle, Kathleen struck up a conversation. After reading his name tag, Kathleen asked, "So where are you from, Gary?"

"Anahuac, Texas."

Kathleen knew where this small town was. She was surprised to discover that Gary had come all the way from Anahuac.

"Gee, Gary, isn't that kind of a long drive?"

Gary was about to answer, but then MG announced it was time to switch partners.  The next time Gary came around, he greeted Kathleen with a whisper. 

"You're right.  It is a long drive.  I drove 50 miles to be here today. 100 miles round trip.  I must be crazy."

Kathleen thought that was an odd thing to say. She was working on a reply, but Gary had moved on to the next partner before she could respond.  However, the next time Gary came around, Kathleen was ready.

"Gary, why did you drive so far for something as trivial as a dance class?"

"Because my wife was killed in a head-on collision, my daughters cry all the time, and so do I.  But I have to pick up the pieces of my life somehow!"

That blew Kathleen out of the water.  Kathleen's eyes bulged at that disclosure and she was speechless.  Time to switch partners again.

Ten minutes later, Gary rotated back. Kathleen was still in shock from Gary's previous remark, but also very curious. She asked why Gary had told her such personal information.

"Heck, I gotta tell someone.  I can't stand it anymore!  I hate my life.  I am miserable!"   

As Gary walked to the next woman, Kathleen was again speechless.  She couldn't believe they were having this conversation. 

Kathleen and Gary went back and forth for two hours. Each time they met, Kathleen had a new question. For two entire hours, Gary told Kathleen his recent life story in one and two minute segments as they rotated through partners.  Then at the end of the class, Gary hugged her. 

"Thank you for listening, Kathleen.  I feel so much better."
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 141
- A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS

 

I swear my mouth dropped at this strange tale. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had never heard a more absurd anecdote, but it rang absolutely true. That poor man. Gary must have been in so much pain!

I marveled at Kathleen's story. The quiet help from a total stranger like Kathleen allowed Gary to share his grief. I don't know if Sigmund Freud ever recommended doing therapy while rotating through a circle in a dance class, but doubtless Kathleen had made a huge difference that day. Some of the best therapists are just good listeners. By asking simple questions and caring about the answers, Kathleen had gotten Gary to talk about his pain.

As Kathleen spoke about this aspect of Gary's experience at SSQQ, I began to nod.  Kathleen had been the one who got the ball rolling for Gary's recovery.  I was proud of Kathleen.  Good for her!  Furthermore, I imagined her story was probably just the tip of the iceberg. I would bet there were ten, maybe twenty other stories floating around the studio where the kindness of dance students just like Kathleen had helped Gary emerge from his darkness.  These would be simple words of encouragement, words of welcoming, maybe words of understanding.  Maybe someone shared the story of a similar loss of a loved one.  By themselves, each isolated conversation may not have meant much, but when multiplied ten or twenty times, that had surely made a real difference.

I smiled when Kathleen said her conversation had cheered Gary up immensely.  No doubt Gary spent the next week looking forward to seeing Kathleen again as well as some of the other people he had met in the first class.  I imagine from this point on all sorts of people did their small part to cast a blanket of warmth around this troubled, lonely man.

These people offered kindness from their heart without any prompting.  It did not matter that their gestures were random and uncoordinated.  I doubt seriously that one person knew what the next person was doing.  In a manner akin to the teachers at St. John's who had once given to me, different people at the dance studio reached out to Gary and shared their thoughts with him. 

The people at the dance studio contributed because they wanted to, not because they expected someone to pat them on the back.  They certainly did not expect any credit. They helped because it was the right thing to do.  Individually their efforts amounted to no more than a few simple words, but collectively the work they did had quite an impact.  Over time each person in their own way helped Gary overcome his pain and regain his happiness

The funny thing is these people probably didn't have the slightest idea how important their gestures were to him.  For example, MG Anseman said it wasn't until he read my story that he realized how important his friendship had been to Gary. 

MG said he was fortunate to be in a position to help Tracy as well.  MG said that a month after Gary Schweinle's tragic death,  he lost Gary Cheryl Davis as his assistant.  Since MG wasn't all that sharp on the lady's footwork, he needed a new assistant.

Due to her grief, Tracy Schweinle had left the studio.  MG talked to Gary and Cheryl and told them that he would like to have Tracy help him, but the timing was probably wrong.  Too soon.  Much too soon.  Cheryl disagreed.  She thought that it might help her move forward to be around people doing what had made her husband so happy.  So MG called with great hesitation.  Tracy said that she would think about it.  A month passed and Tracy said she was ready to accept the request. At first things were very rocky, but time seemed to work things out.  This was yet another example how the studio and its members helped a wounded friend find her way back.

Now it finally dawned on me.  It had taken Kathleen's poignant story to help me see what Gary had been trying to explain to me all these years.  Kathleen's first act of kindness had provided the spark to encourage Gary to come back.  From there, a series of small yet important contributions from people like MG to help Gary... and yes, Tracy... turn their lives around.  
  

I remembered back to the time I thought Gary was speaking figuratively when he told me SSQQ had saved his life.  Gary was not speaking in metaphors.  He was trying to get me to understand that the studio had literally saved his life.

Acts of kindness do not always have to be dramatic.  Most of the time, Gary's contribution was no greater than showing someone their footwork in dance class or offering some encouragement not to give up too fast.

Gary's story is important because it demonstrates that true foundation of SSQQ wasn't Twostep, Salsa or Swing dancing, but rather a community that shared many small acts of kindness without any idea that they were healing people in the process.  This is why I say the greatness of the studio was very subtle.

Gary took that kindness and paid it forward through his volunteer work in the dance classes.  Once he recovered from the heartbreak of losing his wife, Gary wanted to help at the dance studio because he wanted to give back to new people what others had once given to him.  I certainly understand that feeling because I have spent my life feeling the same way. 

For five years Gary drove back and forth every Sunday just for the pleasure of helping people learn how to dance. 

One night Gary was confronted with a situation reminiscent of my own "Mrs. Ballantyne" moment.  Seeing a frightened woman in the doorway, Gary had been given the chance to make a significant contribution to this woman's life.  By overcoming his prejudice, Gary was not only able to provide a powerful kindness to this woman, he also took an important step forward in his own spiritual development.

The woman said Gary had saved her life.  Who can say what that woman accomplished further down the road to pay Gary's kindness forward?   Perhaps she in turn found the courage to help her dying daughter in her hour of great need.

Sometimes an act of kindness can be more profound than any of us realize at the time.

I would like to thank Maria Ballantyne, E.K. Salls, and Gary Schweinle for the lessons they shared.

These three people taught me how a simple act of kindness can change a life.  I dedicate my book to their memory.

 


SUBCHAPTER 142
- BOOK TWO: DESTINY

 

Before I wrote Book One: A Simple Act of Kindness, I had already written Destiny, the saga of how my dance career began.  Just as I was preparing to find a publisher for Destiny, my wife Marla told me to hold on. 

After reading the story, Marla explained that Destiny would not make sense unless people understood just how unbelievable this tale really was.  Marla said no one would comprehend the utter improbability of my successful dance career unless I first told the story of my childhood.  What Marla was trying to say is that readers need to understand my limitations to better appreciate my accomplishments.

Marla tends to be blunt, but in this case she was softening the blow a bit.  I suspect she had another thought.  If I was going claim that unseen hands had helped me, I needed to persuade my readers that I was so totally inept that I could have never done what I did on my own.  In other words, Marla was convinced I needed to explain my childhood if I expected readers to believe I received supernatural help.

Although it was disconcerting to read between the lines of her suggestion, I nodded.  Marla had made a good point.  So I went back and wrote a "Prequel".  I am glad I did.  Book Two: Destiny will make so much more sense now that A Simple Act of Kindness sets the stage.

Destiny details the twists and turns of my life during the seven stretch following my dismissal from Graduate School. 

Part One explains how I climbed out the hole caused by my failure in Graduate school.  As we know, I left childhood haunted by an entire array of handicaps.  These issues not only led to my dismissal from Graduate school, they left me defenseless against the cruelty of my cheating girlfriend. 

My dismissal from graduate school left me feeling like a complete failure.   Making matters worse, that two-timing hellcat I had met in graduate school left me so shaken and untrusting towards women that it would be four years before I regained enough confidence to date again.  Out of these ashes, I would emerge to begin the fateful dance career.  However, I had some serious obstacles to overcome before that would take place.

Following the dismissal, I was broken and depressed.  I had no confidence, minimal social skills, little political savvy, a rebellious chip on my shoulder and the thinnest skin imaginable.  I was selfish, humorless and tense.  I wasn't good at making friends and I was wrapped inside a shell that made me appear cold to others.  Not only was I saddled with a woeful lack of experience around women, my anger issues were a serious turn-off.  Worst of all, I had no idea how to even begin to solve my problems with women.

Out of desperation, I embarked on a Dance Project.  Strangely enough, I dimly perceived that maybe if I could learn to dance, I could meet some girl at a dance club.  Not particularly ingenious, but it seemed a solid enough idea.  Unfortunately, the Dance Project did not get off to a good start at all.  Imagine my despair when I realized I had virtually no natural talent at dance.  In hindsight, over the course of my future dance career, I would meet at most a small handful of people with less talent than I began with.  That is the truth.  Overly-analytical and unbelievably tense, I was so bad that I should have quit.  All the rest of them did.

Facing such an uphill struggle, why not drop dance and try something else?  To my surprise, I refused to quit.  I discovered I had a strange, almost "driven" determination to learn to dance.  I was mystified why I was taking this project so seriously.  After all, most people could care less about dancing.  Not me.  I saw dancing as the solution to my problems with women.  Believe it or not, I was eventually proven correct. 

There was an unusual by-product to my Dance Project.  Once I began to make progress, I found that all kinds of wounds were starting to heal.  First I came to grips with the Graduate school debacle.  Then I conquered much of my bitterness towards rich people.  Finally I conquered the demons caused by my two-timing vixen.  As I slowly emerged from my shell, it was at this point that I began to wonder if there was more to my unexplained passion for dance than met the eye.  All I wanted out of my Dance Project was to become an adequate dancer, yet to my surprise I was overcoming many of my personal problems in the process.

It took three long years, but the Dance Project allowed me to regain my self-esteem.  I matured quite a bit along the way.  Now the life lessons I learned during my Dance Project would combine with the life lessons I had previously learned at St. John's to pave the way for my unusual dance career.

The second part of Destiny deals with the start of my dance career and the curious events that led to the formation of SSQQ

As one might gather, I never set out to be a dance teacher.  It was all a huge accident... unless you believe in Fate, of course.  Then the curious events begin to make sense.

Considering what a poor natural dancer I was, how weak my interpersonal skills were, and how woefully unprepared I was as a dance teacher, the early stages of my dance career resembled the Perils of Pauline. 

I had no business succeeding.  No talent, no preparation, no confidence.  But suddenly I got lucky.

Really lucky!!

Thanks to all sorts of strange coincidences and lucky breaks, doors opened.  These doors were a mixed blessing.  Like Alice chasing the white rabbit in Wonderland, each time I walked through a door, I immediately got into more trouble. 

Let me explain.  Each time I walked through a door, I had at best the slimmest margin of ability necessary to cope with the newest challenge.  Several times I was learning what I would teach that night just minutes before class started.  Considering my lack of dance talent and woeful lack of knowledge, there were times when I barely knew more about the pattern than the students I taught.   Playing a dangerous game called "Fake it Till You Make it", I risked exposure as a fraud on way too many occasions. 

I was very hungry to succeed, but that hunger got me in trouble as well.  My aggressiveness led me to take several terrible gambles.  Not all of them worked.  When I did succeed at something, it was usually by the skin of my neck. 

There were some strange accidents.  Three times I performed at the openings of dance clubs and each time I had a frightening accident due to strange mishaps out of my control.  These mishaps were so odd that I began to have that funny feeling again.  There seemed to be more going on here than met the eye.

I stumbled all the time.  And yet each time I fell, someone would appear out of nowhere to pick me up.  Does that sound familiar?  As these doors opened and lucky breaks came my way, my dance career magically advanced in spite of my woeful lack of dance talent. 

And there's more... I had to face my fear of women.  Are you fond of irony?  As they say, be careful what you ask for.

I had postponed women for four years in high school.  I had postponed women for four years in college.  Following the treacherous woman in Graduate school, I postponed women for four more years.  I was now 28, but I didn't have much more dating experience than the average 16 year old boy.  I was way behind.  I had learned to dance as a way to meet women.  So now I started going out dancing.

Imagine my surprise when I realized this dancing stuff really works!  Difficult as it is to believe given the events of Book One, I was suddenly surrounded by more women than I knew what to do with.  Now I was the kid in the Candy Shop.  Naturally, given my woeful inexperience around women, I instantly got into serious trouble. 

1978 would be the Year of Living Dangerously.  This was a terrible time for me as I juggled four women at once, all four of whom were intensely competing for the coveted title of Supreme Disco Queen.  Although I nearly lost my mind, strangely enough these crazy love affairs would play a direct role in my eventual success.

With Saturday Night Fever and later Urban Cowboy serving as backdrop, over the course of a four year rollercoaster ride, I bounced from one emergency to another.  My career was marked by desperate gambles, lucky breaks, constant heartache, performing accidents and narrow escapes from being exposed as a fraud. 

Ultimately it would be a forbidden love affair that would turn the corner.  This relationship forced me into a terrible choice... do I choose the aggressive, dangerous beauty queen who had threatened to destroy my career or do I choose the beautiful but shy woman I hoped to marry?  The future of the dance studio hung in the balance.

Over a four year period, I was in more trouble than humanly possible.  Then suddenly the smoke cleared.  The drama was over and no new threats on the horizon.  Once the smoke cleared, I was incredulous to realize I had somehow managed to create the largest dance program in Houston.  How was it possible for someone who was always falling down to reach such a lofty pinnacle?   Yet there I was.  

I would spend thirty-two years teaching an entire city how to dance. 

Along the way, SSQQ would create a vast community of friendships as well as magically evolve into Houston's premier location to find a person to marry.

The entire story is completely implausible.  "No one will ever believe this story..."

And yet it is all true.

I would be honored if you would consider reading my next book. 

Rick Archer
August 2015 

 

 

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