Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky" brings tears to my eyes, for even now, I remember the circumstance and why that song has such a strong significance. It was one of my "growth spurts" while I was in college.
I was a residence hall staff member, and one of my chores was to assist with the summer program called "Upward Bound". For those who don't anything about it, it's like "headstart" for high school students to get them thinking, pushing and wanting to go to college -- especially when nobody else in their families have ever been to college on a fulltime basis.
Upward Bound is a federal program, part of the Department of Labor, and therefore a year-round program and not just in the summer months. However, during the summer, UB students come to a college and spend the entire summer (well, two and a half months of it) attending introductory college classes for high school and if they score high enough, college credit.
There's a lot of dating going on during UB...and some girls get left out, either because of their "lack of beauty" or other elements. In this case, there was a girl who was physically deformed -- her left arm was shorter than her rght; she couldn't use three fingers in her left hand; she walked with a limp; and she had heart problems which meant that she couldn't participate with the others in more physical activities.
But she was pretty. During the end-of-the semester dance, she stood watching the other students dance and move across the floor. Nobody asked her to dance because they were so afraid of "breaking her" or hurting her (this was back in the late 70s and early 80s, when "disco fever" was around...so there was a lot of tossing and turning and pushing and shoving...)
So, I asked the guy spinning the few crates of records to put on a couple of slow songs, and the second song was "Ribbon in the Sky". After the first song ended, and the first notes of the song started to play, I walked up behind her and asked her "I would be honored if you allowed me to dance with you..."
Her face lit up and she nodded. I took her by her left hand -- the one which the fingers don't move very well in -- and took her to a part of the floor. I was a lot taller than the barely 5 foot girl, so I kinda towered over her. I took off my shoes and tossed them toward a wall...and we moved in the famous "box step" my sister taught me years back to that song. It was the only slow dance move I knew at the time... Halfway in the song (the song goes for about six minutes!), she leaned against me and started crying, saying "I'll always remember this evening...the song...and you... thank you..."
I was just being nice...but I found out later from the tutor-counsellors that it was a "breakthrough" for her...she went back to high school determined to finish on time, to graduate and to attend college at the same place where she danced with me at.
I saw her twice on campus two years later during the fall semester, with a young man who was either her boyfriend or protector. We had lunch one time but I had to leave early for a work assignment off-campus. I never saw her again for almost ten years.
When I did see her again, it was on TV -- in Lexington, Kentucky. She was receiving a heart as one of the youngest at that time in the community. They did a three and a half minute story on her, telling about her family in eastern Kentucky, her stuggle to be "as normal as possible" and showing her smiling face from the hospital room. I told myself I was going to go visit her when she recovered a bit more from the surgery. She didn't come out of the surgery alive. I heard that news too through the same way, three days later. I was crushed.
I wrote a letter to her family, enclosed it in a sympthy card and mailed it inside a larger letter addressed to the television station and in particular to the reporter. I expected that it would be lost in a mountain of cards and letters. What I got back was a very nice letter explaining that she was not in pain when she died and that one of her fondest memories was at the university I attended.
The family member went on to explain that there were no "colored people" living in the town where she is from, but she said that the girl would always tell of the "wonderful evening she had at Upward Bound slow dancing with a colored fella who danced as bad as she did and how he made her feel like a girl instead of a cripple." That, the letter continued, motivated her to become a fulltime student at that college more than anything: the fact that people at that school, from her standpoint, treated her well, knowing of her disability, and working around it for her benefit.
I never wrote back and told them I was the "black fella" nor did I say anything else. I kept that letter in a box of memories that my first wife decided that I could do without and tossed the box while I was in Saudi Arabia during the first days after Desert Storm hit.
Amazing what music can do, isn't it.