Dancing with a Companionable Dread of Stopping
By Dr. Terry Nyhuis
I remember attending a memorial service for a friend’s father. As I listened to him talk about his dad, I couldn’t help but wonder…what would I hope people would say about me at my memorial service?
My Dread of Stopping
Looking at it another way, what would I hope no one would say, if they were completely honest? My answer is surprisingly easy. It is prompted by a story I read decades ago in John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.
The story goes something like this, at least the way I have come to remember it:
There was once a man in a church who was ornery and judgmental. He had been this way for a so long as people had known him. He wore a constant scowl, glared at people he didn’t know or like, and saw the down side to most everything .
Ten years passed. The man had been a faithful participant in the church the entire time. Yet, after ten years in church, he was just as ornery and judgmental as ever. But no one in the church was surprised. No one called an emergency meeting of the pastors and leaders of the church. Somehow it was okay for him to stay the way he was.
I can only imagine what was said about that man at his funeral. That is, assuming anyone even showed up for it! Ten years of being in a community of faith, and yet he never changed, never grew into someone more likable, better tempered, and less judgmental.
That’s my dread, that someone would say in my eulogy that I hadn’t changed. That I was ornery, judgmental, lacking in compassion, or narrow minded ten years before, and that I was the same person at the time I died. I dread not being transformed and changed. I dread stopping.
A Surprising Friend and Counselor
Several years ago, I was challenged by reading mystics as well as my counselor to get to know my Dread of Stopping, to see it as a friend who had something profound to teach me. I did so and have come to see Dread of Stopping as one of my closest counselors and friends. She has played a major role in:
Expanding my spiritual values, perspectives, and beliefs these past years
Sitting with mystics, poets, saints, and sages for a couple hours every morning
Working towards establishing UHOP: The University if Healthy Older People
Beginning this book writing journey, with all of its ups and downs and twists and turns
My friend, Dread of Stopping, has prompted more energy, creativity, and growth than I would have dared imagine. And, surprisingly, Dread’s energy is not negative. She doesn’t condemn me or warn me. She doesn’t prompt me to run away from the way I am, feeling bad about myself. Her influence in my life is gentle and graceful.
Finding the Right Dance Partner
Several years ago, on a whim, my wife, Anita, and I took a dance class. We went to several sessions along with couples who were preparing for their wedding reception dance. We, the elder couple in the group, paid attention and worked with the exercises. I soon discovered, however, that Anita was a poor dancer. She just couldn’t get the steps and moves right. We kept getting tangled, bumped into each other, and had to stop because we were laughing so hard.
Then our instructor, Andre, took my place. He gently placed one hand in hers and the other on the small of her back. Then they danced. It was amazing. They danced beautifully. Anita moved gracefully, with all the right steps. It was all about Andre’s gentle touch on her back, subtle lean, gentle press of his hand on hers.
Prompting an Old, Dutch Guy to Dance
So it is with my companionable friend, a Dread of Stopping. She gently lays a hand on my shoulder and places her other hand in mine. Then she ever so gently presses on my shoulder, leans a bit, and moves my hand. As a great dance partner, she prompts me to take a step in the right direction, to move more gracefully than I could myself . Over time, she and I experience an unfolding dance of growth and transformation.
I am deeply thankful for my friend, the Dread of Stopping, an amazing dance partner who prompts even this old, Dutch guy to make a dance out of his life.
With Dread’s gentle prompting, maybe someday, someone will say at my graveside, “There’s one thing about Terry, he never stopped growing and changing.”
Read about how I got comfortable with ten companionable dreads here.
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