My "Person of the Year"
“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function. Each your doing,
So singular in each particular,
Crowns what you are doing in the present deeds,
That all your acts are queens.” ~Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene iv.
“The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.” ~John F. Kennedy
“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there within me lay an invincible summer." ~Albert Camus
For my 407th and final upload of 2007, I have decided to inaugurate an annual tradition, which I have borrowed from Time magazine and adapted for my own purposes. Henceforth, my last Flickr upload of a given year will be a tribute to the person who has made the greatest contribution to my life during that particular year. And even though several other individuals, named below, have contributed their own special luster to this season of my life, the designation of my honoree for 2007 was really a no-brainer, and will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed my photostream lately. She is Miss Angie, beloved dance instructor, friend, comedian, confidante, therapist without portfolio, and Renaissance woman, whose impact on my life has been as unique as it has been powerful. Few individuals -- probably no more than ten or twelve, if that many -- have done as much as she has to earn my gratitude, respect, and appreciation.
I met her for the first time about 11 months ago as I write this tribute to her. I appeared one evening at the local Fred Astaire studio to sign up for the promotional introductory classes I planned to take while my wife was out of state for a few weeks, and Angie showed me around the place and explained the program to me. My first impression of her was more or less neutral, neither particularly good nor particularly bad. She was businesslike without being unfriendly, and during this brief encounter I committed my first faux-pas in her presence, which in turn drew my first rebuke from her. (Both were very mild, and nobody's feelings were hurt.) I explained to her that I wanted to do this as a romantic surprise for my wife, and she began putting me through the most elementary dance steps. I am not agile or well-coordinated, and this was something that did not come naturally to me; but gradually, after patient instruction and plenty of practice and effort, the results started to appear. And my opinion of Angie herself soared as I came to know her better, and to appreciate more and more what she was doing for me.
At the time, I was probably at the nadir of my life; and while I had absolutely no idea what she was about to unleash, I rather suspect that Angie did, as she is smart and insightful and, over time, would come to know me quite well. Dance proved to be the best therapy I could have envisioned for myself. I recently told Angie that while I did not realize it at the time, in a very real sense I put my life into her hands when I enrolled at that studio. Angie took a very sensitive, grievously wounded, and dangerously vulnerable man as her raw material; and then, like the skilled professional she is, set out to work her peculiar magic with him, partly through teaching the rumba, Argentine tango, and West Coast swing, and partly by providing him with an example of courage and fortitude, and of embracing life and joy in spite of serious hardship and misfortune. I have since shared these thoughts with her, adding also that in my view, she had proven herself to be entirely worthy of the trust I had placed in her. It is largely because of her ministrations that my year is ending on a far more positive note than when it began. And with regard to what she has taught me about how to face life and its challenges, it would somehow be appropriate today if she were to place her hands on my shoulders and look me directly in the eye, as she habitually does when she really wants to emphasize a point -- and then say, quoting scripture, "Go, and do thou likewise."
I also told her recently that even though 2007 has probably been the worst year of my life, I can't deny that two of the very best things that EVER happened to me also happened this year. One was my involvement with the studio; the other, quite honestly, was to end up having her as my instructor, which was a magnificent stroke of good fortune all by itself. A friend recently suggested to me that Angie had been my "guardian angel," but I respectfully disagreed with her; in fact, I continued, I had had many guardian angels and angels of comfort during my life, but Angie had been something more: she had proven to be my angel of deliverance. And I smile now as I ponder that. It made perfect sense to me that when my "angel of deliverance" appeared, she would be a woman, and a strong and courageous one at that; but how on earth could I have also imagined that she would be a six-foot-tall, self-proclaimed tomboy half my age, a rabid football fan, an artist, a singer, a Shakespeare scholar -- and a goofball? I believe in the therapeutic value of humor, and obviously she does, too; she also understands me well enough to know that this is something I have badly needed, and she has dispensed it liberally. (During one recent lesson with her, for example, she offered to let me borrow me the gum she was chewing. In a tone of mock weariness, annoyance, and resignation, I turned her down loudly enough that others could hear, and several heads turned our way. Nobody seemed particularly concerned, however, because I was laughing my head off even in the act of rejecting this ridiculous offer.)
Several months ago, Angie asked me if I had any regrets about my life, and I confided two major ones to her. The first was the result of a personal decision on my part; it was that I had become a lawyer, only to find out the hard way that my personality and temperament were singularly ill-suited for the legal profession. The second was largely -- but not entirely -- the result of the way I was raised, and it was the unfortunate fact that I have NEVER had any real sense of self-assurance. At age 54, I know that is always going to be a major issue with me; and yet, in her unique way, Angie is chipping away at that handicap as well. I didn't realize it until after I performed with her in public shortly before year's end, when it suddenly occurred to me that even though the idea probably would have frightened me less than a year before, Angie had somehow convinced me that this was something I not only could do, but should. Who else could have made me believe that -- without my even realizing that she had made me believe it? One of the true blessings of my life is that I have always been drawn to people who motivated and inspired me, who appealed to my nobler instincts and made me want to be something better than I was, and Angie has been the latest example of this. And a very conspicuous one as well.
And so at year's end, as I reflect on this lovely and remarkable young woman and how she has blessed and enriched my life, I direct this next comment to her individually, while knowing that people in various parts of the world will be eavesdropping on it:
Thank you, Angie. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for a job well and splendidly done. I have never thought of myself as being particularly successful in life, but when my time comes to cross the great river, I will be immeasurably comforted if I can do so with the assurance that I have had the kind of impact on even one other person's life that you have had on mine. And although it now seems almost of secondary importance, thank you also for being the best dance instructor I could possibly have asked for.
. . .
Four other women deserve special mention here, and all four happen to be members of Flickr. Miss Amber, who is also an instructor at the Fred Astaire studio, has blessed my life nearly as much as Angie has, mostly by just being herself. Her sweetness has done more for me than I think she can imagine. Sorgine and Proverbs 31:10 have so brightened my life, each in her own unique way, that I sometimes tease them about being in cahoots with Angie and the rest of the studio crowd, in what surely has to be one of the most successful collaborations of all time.
But today I must single out cobalt123 for special mention, for several reasons. She, too, has proven to be a good friend and confidante, and her counsel and encouragement have been very helpful to me during an especially difficult time in my life. She, like Angie, is someone I know I can trust absolutely. Cobalt has been especially helpful, too, as I have striven to become a better photographer, and I have valued her advice on matters such as composition and Photoshop techniques.
But her most emblematic contribution to my life may well be what you are looking at here. I decided about two weeks ago that I wanted to close out my Flickr year with a special tribute to Angie, and I searched in my archives for a good photograph of her which had never been uploaded before. Unfortunately, none of the images was great, but I decided that the best of a rather mediocre lot was the original version of this one, taken while Angie was performing a salsa. The pose was dramatic and impressive enough, but she appeared slightly out of focus, and the background was hopelessly cluttered, or at least appeared so to me. (It included, among other things, a large fan directly behind Angie's extended arm, and a roll of toilet paper clearly visible behind a restroom door.) I didn't know how to edit the image properly, so I submitted it to three friends, asking them to see what they could do with it.
Cobalt labored over this for 3-1/2 hours, and while it is atypical of images I post on this site, I knew immediately that it was the one I wanted to use for this very special purpose. (Angie is an artist, too, so the artistic license cobalt took with the image was entirely appropriate.) Moreover, it serves here as a kind of visual metaphor. Cobalt took a so-so image and transformed it into a work of art -- which, when you think about it, is not unlike what Angie did with me this year, and will continue to do into the next. I hope now that it honors Angie in a way she will appreciate -- and which she most assuredly deserves.