May 01, 2014 0 Share

Just Dance


The author and her brother dancing at a wedding.
Photo by Markow Photography

The sky is ominous and gray; a thunderstorm is coming. The wind takes what it will, tossing leaves and debris into the air. My insides feel topsy-turvy too; for the last week, my daily routine has been disrupted. On a typical workday, I begin with journaling and creative writing. After I've taken time to tell stories, I dive into the realm of email and client-based work. Putting creativity first is grounding; it reminds me of what I value most, what I was made to do. Creative writing is simultaneously the hardest and best part of my day, and it gives me energy to blast through other tasks on my list. 

But this past week wasn't a typical one. Instead of writing at my desk at home, I traveled to Lisle, Illinois for a keynote talk, book signing, and breakout session at the Arc of Illinois annual conference. I particularly enjoyed the sibling-focused breakout session, because it gave me the opportunity to both talk and listen. A small group of articulate, insightful siblings attended, including Nancy Webster, President of the Arc of the United States. We discussed future planning, family relationships, inclusion, and I left the room feeling encouraged. I sensed that the session had been helpful for siblings, myself included. Every time I lead a session, I learn something new, and I meet remarkable people along the way. Speaking itself is exciting, but it's the people I encounter who make such trips worthwhile. 

Even so, it hasn't been easy to trade my usual routine for three major, long-distance speaking engagements in six weeks. I'm like my brother Willie in that way; our routines comfort and sustain us. I suspect that having a set routine gives Willie a sense of stability in an oft-unstable world. And as a writer, having a work routine in place affords me a feeling of safety as I take creative risks. 

The importance of daily life routines came clear to me during my years at L'Arche. (L'Arche is a non-profit organization that creates homes wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.) Routines form the backbone of L'Arche life; daily responsibility remains constant. The work is never done, but then, that's not the point. The point is relationship. When you're on routine with a housemate, week in and week out, you have a unique opportunity to connect with them. You help them tend to their teeth, their clothes, and their bank accounts. You move with them through their days; you dance to the same rhythm. The relationships are built piece by piece, day by day. You become enmeshed in the process; you almost forget about the idea of results. But after a while, you chance to look up, and you can't believe what's before your eyes. Somehow—through all those weeks of faithfully showing up—you've built a friendship, a real, substantive connection. You've learned to dance together.  

It's a powerful process, to be sure, but it's not perfect. After all, human beings are involved. Even after you've mastered the relational steps, you may feel uncomfortable, bored, and exhausted. You may not want to dance with everyone. But sometimes, people surprise you. Often, the partners you're most reluctant to say yes to are the ones that give you the best turn about the floor. 

Likewise, routine forms the foundation for my relationship with Willie. I'm thankful for the discipline of a weekly column, for the practice of regular phone calls, because these things help me do my part to stay in relationship with my brother. This doesn't mean ignoring the hard things, or pretending that it's always easy to be Willie's sister. Instead, it means making choices based on love. It means forgiving myself, trying again, and reconnecting when we inevitably lose touch. It means speaking to fellow siblings and listening to their stories. It means choosing to dance with Willie at our cousin's wedding, choosing my only brother in all his perfect imperfection. It means writing our stories, the beautiful and terrible ones that call out to be told. 

I look up from my desk; the storm is coming in. The green leaves seem brighter against the darkness of the sky.