From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

I Hope You Dance

This past year, Valentine’s Day took on a whole new meaning for me. I met Bill two years ago, as a freshman in high school when we were in the same drama class. Bill was very popular—it seemed like everyone knew him. He had a way of finding joy in every detail of life.

This is all the more remarkable because Bill is in a wheelchair. The thing is, he doesn’t seem to notice it—and before long, you don’t either. He doesn’t let a tragedy like being paralyzed stop him from making the most of every opportunity. Whereas most teens in his place take special classes separate from the rest of the school, Bill instead has chosen to immerse himself in the normal high-school environment, in an effort to be just like every other ordinary teenager. But I knew from the moment I met him that Bill was anything but ordinary. Indeed, he was extraordinary.

Bill was a hit in drama class. Everyone wanted to act in a scene with him, because he was so fun to be around. He never failed to captivate the audience with his expressive face, bright toothpaste-ad smile and effortless charisma. Bill also took part in our school’s annual student art parade, ingeniously building a “race car” around his wheelchair. No greater applause was heard than the cheers that erupted from the student body when Bill was wheeled past, honking the horn and dramatically turning the steering wheel of his “car.”

I am a member of the Interact club at my school, which is geared toward bringing students together in positive ways and breaking down barriers. Every year, we sponsor a Valentine’s Day dance at lunch that is held especially for students like Bill who have special needs. As freshmen and sophomores, my friends and I went to the dance together, but last Valentine’s Day things changed. Many of my friends now had boyfriends and wanted to use the extended lunch period to go out for a romantic lunch. So I, alone in my “single status,” attended the dance solo.

I’m ashamed to admit that I was feeling a bit left out and sorry for myself. Here it was, another Valentine’s Day, and it seemed like everyone else had found that special someone to spend it with. Except for me. I was alone—without a boyfriend, and now without my close friends, as well. I considered skipping the dance altogether, but then I remembered how much work had gone into it and how my fellow Interact Club members were counting on me. So, feeling like I was doing a good deed, I went.

At the dance, I saw Bill immediately—in his wheelchair, in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by a group of people. He saw me and smiled, so I headed over to join the cluster of students around him, all of them laughing and dancing and having a good time. Many of us are a bit self-conscious when it comes to dancing, but not Bill. A quadriplegic, he was only able to move his arms a little bit, but when he did, everyone around him began to excitedly chant, “Go Bill! Go Bill!” and he displayed the kind of smile five-year-olds flash on Christmas morning. Indeed, he seemed to be having the time of his life.

Bill’s enthusiasm was contagious. Before I knew it, I was dancing and laughing, too. As I gazed around the gym at the joy and excitement on everyone’s faces, I realized that my Valentine’s Day was, in fact, special and filled with love. I had thought that by coming to the dance I was doing a favor for others, but I was really giving a priceless gift to myself. Simply by being himself, Bill showed me how to forget my fears and just dance.

Dallas Nicole Woodburn

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