She stood out like a yellow rose against the beige backdrop of the waiting room. Dressed more for the derby than an oncology appointment, the woman, whose name I would never know, looked out with large, dark doe eyes from under the wide brim of her floppy sunshine colored hat. Over-sized pearls the size of a Robin’s eggs circled her neck. But it was the shoes that compelled me to speak.
“Those would look great on a Tango floor,” I shared, pointing at the flowered stilettos with four inch heels. Her smile broke the demure posture she’d been holding as she reached back into a memory of when she used to dance. Before cancer. We talked about how much she loved the dance and how long it took her to finally drag her husband to classes. Just before she was diagnosed. Just before “the wheels fell off” as she put it.
I could easily conjure up an image of her elegantly moving across the floor, full of grace and style. Her energetic presence is much bigger and strong than the petite framework she embodies. Her smile is precious and her eyes, earlier hidden by partially lowered lids and the brim of her hat, directly connect to her soul.
She asks me about local dance teachers and Milongas because its been awhile since she’d been out in dancing. I write out the name of my favorite teacher who has a kind heart and a gentle way of guiding students into the dance. This woman will need a gentle guide. Her spirit wants to dance, but her body has betrayed her. For six years, it has betrayed her, yet she gets up, every day I imagine, and dresses fastidiously in color. She’s like having a bouquet of spring flowers in the room. Later, one of the staff who had heard me admiring the shoes shares with me that she ALWAYS dresses like that…no matter how hard she’s struggling.
I hand her the paper as her husband joins us thinking perhaps one day soon I’ll see her out for a lesson. As I’d expect from such a well mannered person, she introduces me to him. We shake hands as she reaches for her handbag that matches her shoes. She strokes it as she shares with me that it’s her favorite part of today’s outfit.
As her husband helps her from her seat, all her elegance and attention to detail fails to hide the frailty that has seeped into her bones. My heart sinks as she grasps onto her husband’s strength to be able to put one foot in front of the other. She navigates on her stilettos with the determination of a fighter and I send up a silent prayer that someday she will dance again.
Meanwhile, we both act as if…as if tiny steps inching across the lobby are long, healthy strides, as if refusing to dress for comfort in sweats and instead choosing to make every day Derby day means she is strong and well, as if soon we’ll run into each other at a Milonga with her husband leading her around the room.
Because sometimes dignity comes from acting as if and sometimes a pair of shoes is worth talking about.