A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
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
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
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
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,
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.
- THE SCARS
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.
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
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
reflect back on my years at St. John's, I am
constantly reminded of the famous quote from
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Thanks to my
I left high school
with all kinds of psychological time
bombs just waiting to sabotage my life down the
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
I suppose that
is what Life is all about... playing the hand that Fate
deals you to the best of your ability.
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
time I began to spiral out of control, someone would
appear to help me back on
the path without any expectation of a reward.
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
I wanted to find a way to take care of others.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
SSQQ was built on intangibles, the greatness of
SSQQ was obvious only to the discerning eye. Unlike baseball where statistics
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
loved his first class because he kept signing up for more.
connected to a new community of friends, Gary made
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.
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
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.
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.
was always his favorite day. Over the
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
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!
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
smiled. This was testimony to the
power of a good woman to make a good man even
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
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
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
Then the group caught up to us in Rome.
From there they joined Marla and I
trip to Greece, Crete
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
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
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.
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.
hesitated at the door for some reason.
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
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...
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.
nodded, so Gary continued.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
willing to help in any way he was asked to.
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
days after Gary's death, I received an email from
Jeanne, a close friend of Tracy.
sure to forward the email to everyone I knew.
A NOTE FROM
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
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.
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
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.
horses were in danger of getting out.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
felt good to honor our
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
The girls worked
just as hard as the boys
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"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."
dumbfounded. Considering how utterly harmless our group
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
her, but she was kind of an oddball.
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.
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.
completely wrong. Kathleen had a powerful story to
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
After the class finished a pattern, the
instructor would tell the men to change partners.
The woman would remain in her spot while her
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?"
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.
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!"
blew Kathleen out of the water. Kathleen's eyes bulged at
that disclosure and she was speechless.
Time to switch
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
"Heck, I gotta tell
someone. I can't stand it
hate my life. I am miserable!"
walked to the next woman, Kathleen was again
speechless. She couldn't believe they were
having this conversation.
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."
A SIMPLE ACT
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
As Kathleen spoke about
this aspect of Gary's experience at SSQQ, I began to
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
isolated conversation may not
have meant much, but when
multiplied ten or twenty
times, that had
surely made a real
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
step forward in his own spiritual development.
woman said Gary had saved her
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.
an act of kindness
can be more profound than any of us realize at
like to thank Maria
Ballantyne, E.K. Salls, and Gary Schweinle for the
lessons they shared.
people taught me how a simple act of kindness can
change a life. I dedicate
my book to their memory.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
I had no
business succeeding. No talent, no preparation, no
confidence. But suddenly I got 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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Saturday Night Fever
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
I would spend thirty-two years teaching an
entire city how to dance.
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.
entire story is completely implausible.
"No one will
ever believe this story..."
yet it is all true.
would be honored if you
would consider reading my next book.