Twenty years ago this weekend I met Ginger.
Last night, as a way to celebrate, we went to see the Dance Theater of Harlem Ensemble at the Carolina Theatre, since the love of my life is a dancer. The evening was full of good things both because of the dances and because one of the directors of the DTH used the “interactive” evening to explain how dances came together and what the dancers were doing. We’ve even got to ask questions, one of which was, “How do the dancers remember what they are supposed to do on stage?”
“We practice he said and use what we call ‘muscular memory.’ Our minds and muscles work together all the bits of information we have repeated and practiced over and over to bring it all together in performance.”
As the evening went on, I found myself intrigued by his vocabulary, as he talked about lines and conversation and relationship, all in the context of dance. They were not simply going through motions on stage; they were incarnating their hard work, their collaboration, even the love they shared with one another in order that we might sit rapt in our seats, finding our own place in their conversation.
This afternoon, we got to go to Cameron Indoor Stadium to see the Duke men’s basketball team play the Maryland Terrapins (thanks to a church member with extra tickets). As it happened, on this afternoon, Duke is arguably the best team in the country – and they played like it, beating Maryland 85-44. In one amazing sequence, one of the players scrambled to save a ball from going out of bounds, throwing it across the court to another who made a touch pass to yet another who was running ahead of him, who passed it on to a fourth, who made the basket. The team made thirty-four field goals and had twenty-three assists. Like the dancers, the power of their performance was in lines and conversation and relationship, and muscular memory; they, too, were incarnating something that mattered to them.
Ginger and I met on a youth retreat. She was a sponsor with one of the churches attending and I was leading the music. I saw her across the room that first Friday night and struck up a conversation. The next day, as the kids went about whatever it was they were doing, we sat and talked – for several hours. On Sunday, as we were preparing to leave, I asked for her phone number, and her response looms large in Brasher-Cunningham lore:
“It’s in the phone book under ‘Reverend V. R. Brasher.”
I went home. I looked it up. I called her and asked her to go see Lyle Lovett with me the following weekend. Twenty years (and at least that many Lyle Lovett concerts), six Schnauzers, six residences, and four cities are just part of the dance of our lives that leans heavily on our muscular memory drawn from all the day to day words and rituals that remind us who we are together.
I’m neither a good basketball player nor a dancer. To use either to describe myself could only be done as metaphor. Still, I know the deep satisfaction that comes from an assist – the touch pass at the right moment that lets her shine, and I know the trust and confidence that comes from knowing I am not alone, even as I feel the beat of my heart bring up a rhythm from deep in my bones when she takes my hand for yet another turn in the dance we have done together for these twenty years.
In a lyric I wrote for our wedding, I said:
how I want to dance together
how I want to taste forever
how I want to spend life with you
The dance has been better than I ever imagined.