Stayin' alive

Stayin' alive

Once you caught sight of him, you couldn’t look away from his arresting, mobile face, and its changing expressions. He sat across the room from us at this popular waterfront restaurant, only his face and upper body visible above the table top. In his short-sleeved T-shirt drawn taut across his brawny frame, he looked like a hearty sea-captain straight out of a story book. Thick, sandy blond hair sprang up above a ruddy, bearded face, and tumbled to his shoulders, filled with an electric life of its own. A pair of very blue eyes flashed fire under the rise and fall of sandy brows.

He seemed to fill the room. His tall, tanned, blond companions somehow seemed pale and washed out around him. He engaged a flock of waiters in animated conversation; raising a toast, his glittering cobalt eyes said ‘cheers’ like they meant it. I couldn’t hear his voice, but guessed it sounded warm and leathery and rich. I had to pinch myself to stop staring, but I knew if I were an artist, I would have sketched that vital face, tried to capture the heart in that laugh and the blue blaze of those eyes on canvas, there and then.

As the excellent one-man band in the corner suddenly swung into ‘Stayin’ Alive’, the Bee Gees hit from 1979, happy couples and some sporting singles crowded the dance floor. My sea-captain’s table rapidly emptied itself of its occupants. All except the big, sandy-haired man who had turned around in his seat, or so I thought, to watch the dancing. I gasped when I saw that it was a wheelchair he had turned around, and was now moving to the centre of the dance floor. He threw his big head back in a laugh I wished I could hear, as his friends cheered him on. Once he hit that dance floor, I didn’t worry about staring. Everyone was, and smiling too. He may have lost the use of a pair of limbs, but had rhythm and groove in plenty. Not a dancer could match him on that floor, and none tried.

The surprisingly sinuous swing of his big shoulders, the tossing of his handsome head, the joyous punching of the air with his huge fists, the way the wheelchair twirled to the beat, clearly proclaimed that dancing was something this man loved, and did with his soul, not his feet. He was stayin’ alive, all right, fully and truly alive, despite the disadvantage of missing limbs. And, in this most unlikely of locations, while couples jived around that wheelchair-bound man to the pounding beat of retro pop, and my own toes kept rhythm under the dinner table, the words of a second century saint crept into consciousness: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive.’

Watching this amazing man strut his stuff on that dance floor with so much heart and soul, I could only echo a fervent ‘Amen!’

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