By Don Paul Browne
1st District Alderman, City of Waukesha Common Council
A couple Saturdays ago (December 4th), I drove two hours with my wife and youngest daughter to Ashwaubenon, where our oldest daughter was in a dance competition. I am not a regular attendee of her dance events, except when they are at halftime of her high school’s varsity football and basketball games.
But this is her senior year, and she will be flying the coop next fall to go to college three hours away. So I resolved to catch as many of her dance competitions and recitals as I can. And this dance event in particular held special meaning for me, as it was taking place just thirteen days after a red SUV crashed through our annual Christmas parade in downtown Waukesha.
Against the backdrop of so much heartache surrounding our community, and an already difficult year for me personally, I found hope again through the simple eloquence of my daughter’s dance routine. Granted, the enormous show of support for the victims and their families from local friends and strangers from around the world has certainly been heartwarming, but it was this little girl’s grace that taught me how to believe again.
Yes, this little girl – my little girl – is a brilliant and beautiful 17-year old woman. But she has never lost that little girl that first captured my heart when she was just a toddler. This little girl had to grow up in a hurry, being the oldest in a blended family and having to deal with the most outrageous forms of bullying from three classmates during her grade school years. I remember during that time when she wrote a short story for her class that transformed these bullies into robots in a futuristic society, and she used her dancing to confuse them, outsmart them and eventually defeat their attacks.
I remember being totally amazed that she could use her writing and her dancing to deal with the horrors of our world and rise above all of it – so gracefully. Fast forward a few years to December 2nd 2019, my daughter was just 1-2 classrooms away from the active gunman and could hear the shots going off. Although she was evacuated safely, she was obviously very shaken. This day was a Monday – which is her dance night. When my wife asked if she wanted to take the night off, our daughter insisted on going – she needed to dance. When she showed up at the same dance studio where she’s been going since age 3, she was swarmed with hugs from girlfriends who have been dancing with her for several years. And then, just like the Roxy Music song, she danced away the heartache, she danced away the tears.
On this day, Saturday, December 4th, unbeknownst to her, she used her dancing to beat the robots of futility and hopelessness that had been marching in my head since that tragic Sunday. Before coming on, she was preceded by a litany of bad costumes, contrived routines, and one very beautiful performance that was cut short by the dancer storming off stage because she missed perfection by a single step.
When it was my daughter’s turn, she appeared on stage with a simple yet elegant navy blue dance dress. The song she chose – Banners’ “Heads and Tails” – was, no doubt, the most appropriate air for this unique moment. But it was her movements that made words come to life, fly through the air and fill the dark room with a special kind of light – akin to that star we hear about in songs about the first Christmas.
“Don’t lose your faith
It’s all just heads and tails
We’ll turn and face whatever comes our way
It’s all just heads and tails”
Like the one dancer before her, my daughter strives for perfection when she performs, but when she does make a mistake she knows that there’s something more important than perfection, and that’s finishing the dance. She understands that it’s not the end of the world to goof up, and it’s OK to smile or even laugh at yourself – and move on. As long as she gets to dance.
In most situations, you don’t even know she made a misstep because you are so fixed on her smile and the joy she gets from dancing, that same joy she shares with the world when she performs. It’s this same approach to dance that my daughter applies to living. During a high school career that was scarred by personal family tragedies, a school shooting, a global pandemic, and most recently, this ungodly act of violence at our annual Christmas Parade, my little girl earned a spot on the Varsity Dance Team as a freshman, was selected to the National Honor Society, made so many wonderful friends – including a kind-hearted boyfriend from a great family, and was recently accepted to her dream college.
I also learned that two of those three girls who bullied her in grade school recently reached out to my daughter to express their deep sorrow for the way they treated her. My daughter replied with forgiveness, gratitude and yes, with grace.
Webster’s dictionary defines grace as simple elegance or refinement of movement, or courteous goodwill. In verb form, it means to do honor or credit to someone or something by one’s presence. And for Christians like me, it is defined as the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, to inspire virtuous impulses, and to impart strength to endure trials. My daughter is all of these, and in this very dark time for our community, she showed me what the power of grace can mean for all of us as we strive for healing.
I may be blinded by my love for this little girl, but one of the dance dads “Facetimed” the solo to his sick daughter back home could so that she could watch. He reported to me that his daughter was moved to tears when watching my little girl’s routine. My daughter finished in the top 30 out of 100 dancers, but she didn’t care about placing. She was just so happy just to dance. And besides, grace is not included in the common criteria judges use in dance competitions.
This holiday season and beyond, I pray that the victims and their families can experience the same grace that I received from my daughter’s dance. I wish the same for the entire community who has been affected by the events of the holiday parade – especially those who were witnesses. As my daughter proved to me – in this one moment and throughout her young life – that even the smallest acts of grace can bring joy, hope and the ultimate triumph over evil. May God bless us all with grace. #Waukeshastrong