If I am honest with myself…I have to admit that I don’t follow through with what I feel I’m supposed to do a lot of the time. This reality is kind of painful, really. I have good intentions but they stay just that sometimes…good intentions. I get a thought and I think it through, rationalize the daylights out of it and end up not doing it. Or I’m too busy to even go that far. At times, I just think it and two minutes later that thought or that little push I felt inside is gone. Then I remember it later on only to realize the moment totally passed and I usually end up feeling like I missed out on something that could have been quite awesome. You see, I have this life – and you have yours – and we get all these days and moments and opportunities to make our lives really cool or really lame. I’m afraid I’ve chosen the really lame road too many times.
But then there’s been some really cool times in my almost 26 years of life. Times when I actually went with it and did those things I felt I was supposed to do.
I wrote about one of these really cool times back in college in a writing class and my professor encouraged me to submit it to the North Country Literary Magazine where it was published in 2008. This sounds like a big deal and it totally was for me at the time. But have you ever read something you wrote years ago? Yeah…it was slightly painful to read my twenty year old writing. But I’m glad that professor pushed me to get it out there because out of all the writing I did throughout college, it’s this piece that I remember because it wasn’t just a compilation of information put into essay form for a grade…it was part of my story.
Here it is.
Room 223 to the Dance Floor
As I opened the heavy metal door of the elementary library, I felt a familiar feeling. There to my left were the stairs I used to sit on as a kid when the librarian would read to the class. Below the stairs were four stout bookshelves uniquely made for little people to access each colorful book. In the middle of the room, there sat the same three wooden tables I sat at as a child. This library brought back a rush of childhood memories that reminded me I was no longer coming to listen to the kind librarian read or search for books. I was now doing a work study here and after this year, this library and the entire school would be in the past. I was finally a senior and proud of it. I had the whole world and every opportunity ahead of me. With this youthful pride, I went to the drop box to collect the piled books and start my job. Little did I know, as I stacked the books on the cart that this very day would be the beginning of a year that would truly impact my life.
While stocking shelves, I heard a familiar sound. I don’t know what made me notice it this day, but looking back I am glad it finally caught my attention. It was the sound of a cart rolling down the halls, catching the occasional unevenness in the tile floor. It was followed by shuffling feet and the ever-so-friendly “good mornings” accompanying it. I stopped and glanced up when the cart came to the door. It was no longer just a sound or a far off sight I glimpsed while walking from class to class. The cart had reached it’s destination: the library I was working in. It was a cart filled with moist pastries, gigantic muffins, and freshly brewed coffee for teachers and staff to buy. Taped onto the front of the cart was a laminated piece of paper that read “Explorer’s Club.” Pushing the cart was a boy about my height with light brown hair, wearing a baseball cap. Walking along side him was a another boy. This one tall, very thin, hair a bit messed and wearing glasses. Serving the morning treats and clearly proud of it was a young girl wearing a pink bandana wrapped around her head, revealing her bright blue-green eyes. The last, not far behind was a boy about my age with brown hair wearing a green Old Navy shirt and brand new, white Nikes with a navy blue swoosh. In any other case, this crew of fellow high schoolers would have been just a bunch of kids selling muffins. However, if that were true, there would be no need to write any further and in that moment, I would have continued shelving books.
The fact is they were more than just a bunch of kids selling muffins. The first boy I saw had Down syndrome and I noticed he was quite shy as his head went down and a quick “Hi” slipped his mouth as soon as the librarian said good morning. The second boy could not walk normally due to his legs turning inward. His hands showed the outward signs of Cerebral palsy as they stiffened up, not allowing him to properly grasp the treats. The girl, about 14, looked like an average girl. I learned later that she needed extra help throughout the day due to suffering from extreme emotional ups and downs. Unfortunately, this made this adorable young girl’s actions and moods unpredictable, which kept her from regular classrooms. The last boy…well, those brand new Nikes he was wearing had obviously never been walked on. Not even a scuff on them. He had never walked, actually. He was severely developmentally disabled and confined to a special wheel chair. When I saw them, I would not say they were a “normal” group of high-school kids. I was sure, just by looking at them over the miniature bookshelves, their lives were filled with struggles, complications and uncomfortable situations I would never have to face in my life. However, something stirred in me that day. From the deepest part of me, I just wanted to be with them.
From that day on, I found where their classroom was located in the school and decided to follow what I felt inside. They quickly changed in my mind from being the kids in “The Explorer’s Club” to Spencer, Matt, Katie and Nikki – my Room 223 friends.
I started going to Room 223 every Tuesday and Thursday. I carried uneasiness on me like a heavy backpack: the awkward feeling that comes over you when you’re not sure how to act around people with disabilities. I knew I had to throw off this invisible weight I was carrying around in order to be myself and be of help in the classroom.
Room 223 was in the basement of the school off to the left along with the cafeteria, some boardrooms, computer lab, and a small gym. Every day I walked down to their room, I was greeted by a pleasing aroma. It would range from apple fritters, butter scotch cookies, and banana bread, to the fragrance of a full Thanksgiving dinner at times. This particular day it was a delicious pumpkin scent and through the door, there was Spencer icing the fresh muffins. With his head down, looking intently at the muffin he was about to ice, he said a quick “Hi Brittany.” Looking around the room, I noticed Katie, Matt and Nikki were gone and the head teacher at her desk. It was just Spencer and I to do the icing. We stood next to each other at the counter while I asked questions to spark conversation. I noticed, after a few minutes, the only way he would talk to me at the moment was to ask yes or no questions. After a good length of time trying to maintain conversation, the period was over and I closed the door behind me, exhausted…and in tears. I was overwhelmed at the needs of the students in the room and my heart was doing some type of transformation inside me. The best way to describe the feeling was…I was actually starting to care. I wasn’t just going to fulfill some assignment or because it would be a nice thing to do. I was starting to realize my heart needed to be there. It needed to be stretched and exercised in the art of just being with people for the sake of being with them. Little did I know, spring was around the corner and the bar was about to be raised.
My high school has a junior prom every May. Having never gone to prom, I didn’t think much of it as the flow of conversation changed from winter activities to the color of dresses, voting for prom court, and renting limos. None of this mattered to me until one day — the day I was asked to be Spencer’s date. His teacher took me into the hall one afternoon to ask me. Standing directly in front of me she quickly presented the story. Spencer’s mother had asked him the night before if there was anyone he would like to take to the prom. She then reported to his teacher that his immediate response was “Brittany Groebler.” Out of caution for Spencer’s feelings, I was told his mom wanted his teacher to mention it to me in case I was not able to go or not interested. In that moment, with this teacher staring at me, I had to make a decision. I was bombarded with questions of my motives and sincerity of my Room 223 friendships. I stopped all the questioning and noise in my head with a sudden, “YES!” I was now Spencer’s date to the prom.
Preparing to go, I felt it was an all or nothing thing. With that feeling, I went all out. When the night came we looked stunning, I would have to say! My dress was a bright magenta with sequins all over. My hair was done up in what seemed like hundreds of ringlets, pulled up by a barrette and hidden bobby pins. My nails were done and I had jewelry to match the sequins on my dress. Spencer had a black suit with a blue tie and vest and his hair was nicely slicked back. When I greeted him with a hug, I could tell someone encouraged him to put cologne on for this very special occasion. My mom took our picture under a tree in my front yard that bloomed with flowers the color of my dress.
When leaving my house for the second round of pictures at his parent’s, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to allow Spencer to do all the things a date does and not do things for him as I quickly would at times. With that said, he was the one who paid for our meal and opened up doors for me. A real gentleman.
Here we are leaving.
And here we are eating Mexican at Hotel Grande – a restaurant down the road from his house.
When we arrived at the Hall, we walked, arm and arm up the stairs to the dance. I could hear the bass of the music pounding and it was then that I made the decision, once again, to make this night the best for. We walked into the dimly lit room to be greeted by a cluster of students at the top of the stairs. Everyone commented on our appearance and I could see Spencer’s bright smile out of the corner of my eye. When we set our belongings down on one of the decorated tables and got some punch, I asked him if he wanted to dance. To my surprise and without any hesitation, he quickly said “Yeah!” Walking to the circular dance floor, I had no idea how this was going to go. I was pleasantly surprised.
Spencer rocked the blow-up guitar. And it was a serious blast. 🙂
As the night carried on and we danced for hours, drank lots of punch, had our pictures taken and watched the crowning, it was time to leave. Driving home, we talked a little about the night but after ten minutes, I looked over and saw Spencer’s head hanging. My date had fallen asleep. I turned off the country music Spencer had requested and drove in silence. It was only in the silence that I began to see the importance of this night. Ever since I was asked to go, I had said to myself and others that his night was “for Spencer.” The preparation, going for dinner, dancing, being his date – it was all for him. In many ways, that was very much my goal. Yet, at the time, I had no idea I would learn a life lesson from going to a prom. So, as I drove down the empty road, it occurred to me that the saying “It’s the thought that counts” is not entirely true. I began to see there needs to be action taken in order for something to impact another person. Going to Room 223 started as a “nice thought” while peering over the bookshelves. Sadly, many of my “nice thoughts” don’t go anywhere. And then there’s no story to be told. I can’t express how thankful I am for the push to be with them that day in the library – a push I believe had to have come from God. My senior year was the best year of high school and a large part of it was due to this crew of kids and the one that holds a very special place in my heart – Spencer.
Our thoughts may seem like brilliant, beautiful things while bouncing around our heads and often times, they are. However, I think if they are just kept there never actually being tested for their sincerity in the real world, then they are merely fleeting thoughts in between our ears and we lose out on being able to make them come alive and we lose out, really, on an awesome story.
And that’s it.
Many times, I have a terribly inflated sense of self-importance and I think that’s what stops me from doing the things I know I’m supposed to do, both big and small. I’m too busy. I have to get this to-do list done. We have our families to take care of. We have a full time job. There’s always something, isn’t there? But something broke through that wall of “Me, Myself and I” that day in the library. I actually followed through with a thought and my heart was freed because of it. When I think of high school, I think these moments. I think of eating lunch with this treasured group of people and feeling self-importance falling off me. I think of helping, as little as it was, in their classroom whether it was reading to Nikki or helping Katie with homework. These memories are precious and refreshing to me. Looking back, the time spent with these friends of mine during my senior year was mysterious and profound and nothing in all of the years at Norwood-Norfolk School can quite compare. With all that said, here’s to trying to pay a little more attention to those God-given thoughts, taking steps to follow through and making this life really cool…