June 20, 2020 is a day of triplet 20s, and it is also the first day of a weekend of three occasions: the first day of summer (for those in the northern hemisphere), Father’s Day, and what would have been my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday. Too many topics to write about, so I will acknowledge the first two and write about a subject related to the last. First, enjoy the start to summer, unless you are in the southern hemisphere, then happy Winter. For those of us already baking in the southwest, summer is a season many of us dread, except those lucky enough to escape this heat. Second, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there!
That brings me to my third occasion: Evelyn’s 100th birthday (6/21/1920 – 9/15/2007). If you have been following my blog for a bit, you may have read my post, “Laughing with Evelyn.” If so, you might recall that my grandmother loved to dance. This post is about a dancing-related memory (of my own) and it is dedicated to Evelyn, who loved listening to and watching the musicians, singers, and dancers on the Lawrence Welk Show, and who, as a young lady skipped planting steps on a farm field in Arkansas so that she could make it to the Saturday night dance.
Today’s post features two scenes from a piece I wrote last fall, titled, “Friendship Forged in Fire and Dance.” The original (eight-page) story is about spending a week in the Black Forest in Colorado Springs in 2013 to complete the training required to become a certified NIA instructor. NIA, which stands for neuromuscular integrative action, is a form of dance that I had been doing regularly since 2008. NIA is many things wrapped into an hour-long dance class. Incorporating Yoga, dance, and martial arts, NIA is healing, expressive, adaptable, uplifting, and rejuvenating. NIA was, and continues to be, a gift in my life.
I knew that my week in the Black Forest, along with five other women and the gifted trainer, Loretta, would be memorable and perhaps life-changing, but I had no idea just how much until the fourth day of our training. The training was held at Loretta’s residence, located in the Black Forest, surrounded by Ponderosa Pine trees. Her home, with an attached gym and guest quarters, was an idyllic venue for this type of training.
“Friendship Forged in Fire and Dance,” is a story of suspense, survival, mystery, bewilderment, surprise, community, perseverance, and friendship. Today’s post offers a sampling of the story, with a surprising and divinely orchestrated ending. The first excerpt takes place on day four of our training.
On day four at Loretta’s, we were in the gym, like every day prior. We had just finished lunch and we were beginning a dance routine called Passion, when Loretta’s husband, Chuck, opened the gym door, and calmly told us, “We need to leave, there is a fire.”
“We” included him. As if rehearsed, we walked quickly and courteously through the door that led into the living quarters. We did not ask him questions or stand and deliberate our situation; we simply and methodically grabbed a few things and made our way to one of the vehicles parked out front. I was most concerned about my wallet, because I would need my ID to fly back home. I grabbed my purse and a small bag, but I did not take the time to gather the rest of my belongings. My suitcase was left behind. I did not believe our departure would last more than a few hours. I thought we would be back home later that evening. I could not have been more wrong.
I climbed in the car with Debra, a Colorado Springs local, who understood the significance of our situation, remembering a destructive fire that took place in Colorado Springs the year before. As we drove away, I noticed that Debra’s hands and voice were trembling. While she looked ahead, I looked behind and saw the approaching smoke circling toward us. I casually told her what I saw and then I told her not to look.
“Just keep driving,” I said, realizing that if she looked behind, the memory of the previous year’s fire would swallow her up.
Everyone left the home quickly and safely, except Loretta and Chuck. We would find out later that they were delayed helping an elderly couple escape their home. A home that would succumb to the fire.
Loretta and Chuck’s neighborly kindness would cause them to leave their beloved home with even less belongings than I carried with me. These details would be revealed in time, but in that moment, the only fact I could state with certainty is that we were driving away from the fire, that I had my wallet and ID for safe passage home, and that Loretta’s neighbors were working feverishly to leave their homes, which included first, freeing their animals.
As we drove down a road in the Black Forest, I noticed people cutting their wire fences. I did not understand what was happening. Debra explained. With a quickly growing fire, there wasn’t time to safely load horses onto trailers, so the only option was to allow the horses, and other livestock, a chance to escape through fence openings, and hopefully run in the direction of rescue. I noticed that the horses were marked with numbers. Once again, Debra explained. The number would be the connecting link between the lost horse and the concerned horse owner. Owners who, like the horses, would be homeless. We drove on, heading into the town. It appeared that Debra and I were moving in slow-motion and those consumed with release were moving in warp speed. Surreal. As the distance grew between Loretta’s home and our fleeing car, and the Black Forest grew smaller in the rear-view mirror, I began to see a broader perspective of the fire that was consuming trees, and ravaging homes. The black smoke was thickening and turning the sky above the forest into evening. I shuddered at the site of the smoke and the knot growing in my stomach began to tighten. I kept my concerns to myself, to not further upset my fellow dancer, Debra. Except for heavy breathing, we sat silent next to each other for a time, while she drove toward the Colorado Springs YMCA. Traveling to the Y later that day was already on our agenda, because Loretta taught an ongoing class there, but the nature of our drive into the city had taken on an unexpected urgency. Debra and I were without words, but we were not without thoughts. Our minds flooded with worry over the fate of Loretta, her husband, and their peaceful sanctuary in the hills. I was beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation, and I was getting a glimmer as to why the familiar sign of smoke provoked such a strong reaction in Debra.
The displaced dancers, myself included, regrouped and then traveled to Denver and then on to Boulder where we would complete our certification with another trainer. Loretta and Chuck’s home would be the only home in their neighborhood to survive the fire that day. The most incredible outcome, and not the only unbelievable detail surrounding that devastating tragedy, which did include the loss of two lives.
I had looked forward to my week long Colorado training for many months. I remember listening to my favorite NIA songs over and over; my anticipation grew as my traveling day approached. There is no way anyone could have predicted what would happen in the Black Forest of Colorado Springs that June. I was expecting a life-changing experience, but I did not anticipate running for my life. No one did. A few other unexpected and miraculous occurrences also happened during that week, and after. Situations that tempered the traumatic event with that of bewilderment and grace. One such moment, amidst the chaos, arrived early in the morning, on our last day of training in Boulder. Debra and I were wrapping up our week in a shared hotel room. Several of us had spent the first night in Boulder, together in one hotel room, before splitting up and arranging accommodations on our own. Debra and I formed a bond that was unlike any other acquaintance I had ever encountered. Strangers the week before, we spent our nights in Boulder laughing uncontrollably and building a friendship, that had been forged in fire.
Naturally, we stayed together until it was time for me to catch a flight home. Once again, she was my driver, waiting patiently until my flight departed. Something happened before the airport, something that took over our senses – a moment that I will never forget. Debra and I were just waking, she in her double and me in mine. We had a few minutes before we had to rush off. We were chatting when something stole my attention.
“Do you hear that?” I asked.
She stopped talking and began to listen.
“What is that?” I questioned.
“It sounds like music,” Debra said, in disbelief.
We kept listening, trying to determine the source of the notes floating through the vent and filtering under the door. We sprung out of our beds and opened the door. We could only laugh in amazement when we saw what was taking place in the hallway near our room, the only room left in the hotel the previous evening.
The hallway was lined with musicians who were practicing for a band performance. We stood, watched, and listened. Neither of us could believe what was transpiring before our eyes. Nor could we believe the angelic sounds filling every space of that crowded hotel hallway and the calming effect the music had as it washed over us. Experiencing pure joy, we laughed, we cried, and we both knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be – witnessing a divinely orchestrated moment.
Thank you for visiting my blog and reading two excerpts from a longer story, that highlights details of one home left standing. Details that defy logic, but for those who know Loretta and Chuck, and who have been to their home in the forest, we understand the positive energy and intentions surrounding the two of them and their home. A home that was divinely protected. They were finally able to return to their sanctuary months after the fire ravaged their community. They are doing well in the Black Forest. Neighbors rebuilt and Loretta has continued to teach at the YMCA (pre-COVID). I will be joining an online NIA class soon, led by talented Tucson teacher, Holly Sack, and dancing with a group of inspiring individuals from around the country. I will be remembering my grandmother, Evelyn, with each step. 💃🕺🎶 Enjoy your weekend. Michele
Being a Woman – Overcoming, poetry chapbook is available through Amazon ~ reflective and witty poems and beautiful original drawings (my poems and my daughter’s illustrations). 💕
Picture 1: My grandmother and husband dancing at our wedding reception (a few years ago 😉) Arizona Picture 2: Loretta and Chuck’s view (taken with my cell phone after arriving in Black Forest) Colorado Springs, CO Picture 3: Me and Debra (taken at the airport just before I flew home) Denver, CO
Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.