| Connecting Terri Schiavo to Mr Bojangles|
He said the name, Bojangles, and he danced a lick
Across the cell.
He grabbed his pants, a better stance, he jumped up high,
He clicked his heels.
He let go a laugh, he let go a laugh,
Shook back his clothes all around.
During Holy Week this year, in the seeping humidity and fluorescent half light of the 3:00 am Florida hospital a nurse poked her head into Terri Schiavo’s room.
And the nurse was alone.
Somewhere else, very, very far from that hospital room where the nurse stood alone; surrounded by the hulking quiet life support machines-----Terri and Michael were ice skating.
That trip to go ice skating started in the rolling winter cold of flat Midwestern prairie in a year of an early Easter. Off to an ice skating parade.
Chugging along in an old VW bus, Michael and a pal rolling into some basketball crazy town, turning into Will and Betsy’s heaping snow shoveled driveway---a hand lettered sign Will had stuck in the tallest snow pile right next to the back door that said THIS WAY TO PARADISE! Like some sort of palm waving parade. But instead there was snow.
Betsy was playing Holly Near and Michael could hear the words as he and his pal opened the door and stepped into the warmth of Betsy’s kitchen:
The junta took the fingers
From Victor Jara's hand
They said to the gentle poet
Play your gitar now if you can
Well Victor started singing
Until they shot his body down
You can kill a man
But not a song
When it's sung the whole world
That trip through the flat, white, cold Midwestern prairie; like some sort of grand holiday parade. You could almost hear the cheering crowds of fate because something big, something really, really big was going to happen. That entry into the kitchen, those sounds of coming fate, and Will said: “Michael and his pal! You’re here! Let’s have some beer!”
Just Mike, his pal and Will and Betsy. If life would have ended right then and there next to that kitchen counter ---that would have been enough. Making it through all that snow and then the parade and then the warmth of the kitchen. That would have been enough. But there was the lingering feeling that something else was coming.
And then Terri came through the door.
Bundled up warm for winter in a puffy blue down coat and hats and scarves and sweaters and boots.
As Terri walked smiling through the kitchen door Michael's thought was his own version of the John Cheever line:
She was the kind of woman who could make the simple act of taking her coat and sweater off seem as if she had slammed the door on time.
And of course because they were all so young, they had to soon go somewhere---so just as soon as they all got settled, it was back out into the cold—all together now: to go ice skating.
Terri, now lacing up her skates. Michael watching. And over the loud speaker in the indoor cool mist skating rink: Jackson Browne:
Every one I know
Everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
Terri smiling. A glow that warms the entire ice rink. She and Michael skating in circles. He is enthralled. She is beaming. They are ice skating. A cool mist that somehow, someway warms them. Like they were some kind of northern people, despite Terri's gentle southern draw. She and Michael skating in circles.
And from those slow, lazy, circles around the cool misty ice rink; pretty Terri keeps skating as Michael fades: and she hears a tune tapped out on a floor that’s turned from ice into well worn wood.
An old black man in the corner of. . . .it’s a cell. . .he bows and taps out:
Once I lived the life of a millionaire
Spending my money, I just didn’t care
Took all of my friends out
For a very good time
Buying bootleg whiskey
Champaign and wine. . . .
Terri watches and the old man says, “Mr William Robinson. They call me Bo Jangles. I am pleased to meet you ma'am."
Terri nods. He says---someday there will be a song. . .and to the rhythm of the tap dance Terri watches and hears:
I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair a ragged shirt and baggy pants
The old soft shoe
He jumped so high, jumped so high. .
And then to the rhythm of the tap. Terri heard the noise that had somehow been lingering at the edge of something far away. She heard:
“This is about the sanctity of life.” But the distant clamor of the noise and the hollow mish mash of the words spoken about some one other than her fade into dust and then nothing as Mr Bojangles keeps dancing. He taps out:
I met him in a cell in New Orleans. I was
Down and out
She heard her poor, sad parents and brother from far, far away: and she forgave them.
Mr Bojangles tapped out
He talked of life, he talked of life. . .
And then they were ice skating again! She and Michael. And all the noise from far away not only gone, it was forgotten.
And then Mr Bojangles: she heard him tap:
He let go a laugh, he let go a laugh
Shook back his clothes all around!
And then with all the clamor of the background noise gone, just like on a bright, clear Easter morning, leaping up from the circles of that ice rink, beaming like she did when she first walked thru that kitchen door:
Mr Bojangles gave her a nod.
And Terri Schiavo tapped out her own dance.
About the Author
Roger Wright can be found on his salon.com blog CHURCH FOOD CHICAGO. He connects things in strange ways.
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