My Own Personal Mr. Bojangles

Orange Butterfly

Orange Butterfly

~I know a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants
The old soft shoe~

Mr Bojangles- Jerry Jeff Walker

I didn’t know John was a dancer. As we approached Radio City Music Hall, we talked about how nice it would be to see the Rockettes perform.  Neither of us had more than subway fare in our pockets. He told me he used to dance with some of the performers at Radio City. I thought he was pulling my leg. He knocked on the stage door and within minutes we were watching the Christmas Show from backstage. One of the performers handed me a camel’s reins as he led it offstage.

That was the most dramatic moment I recall from our years of friendship. Mostly I remember the twinkle in his eye and gentle laugh which buoyed me up in my darkest moments. We helped each other keep afloat in life and managed to avoid the undertow at least for while.

After circumstances ripped us from each other, I had few chances to spend time with him. We were both in the throes of adjusting to lives neither of us had planned. The last time I met him he sat before the fireplace in his apartment, feeding into the flames pages of the book he had recently finished writing. I worried about him.

The next time I tried to contact him, he was nowhere in sight and I could not locate him for many years. Finally I tracked him down through his sister-in-law. I found him in a single room occupancy hotel where he had to be called to the phone. It was John and it wasn’t.  I could feel the embers of his old self but his thinking and sense of humor were like Tinkerbell’s light, just barely glowing. I knew depression had gripped him at times, but now he was almost gone.

I did not have the opportunity to visit him after that. Or maybe I was afraid to. I wrestled with myself for several years about it. Recently I made arrangements to attend a wedding very close to where he grew up.

Renewing my search for him, this time I located his sister. She told me about the years when he struggled with schizophrenia, which did not surprise me. Finally he found good care, peace of mind and a loving relationship. Unfortunately cancer found him and he died several months prior to my call to his sister. I was happy that she was there for him right up to the end and that he had a taste of what life could be.  “Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.”

Life Lab Lessons

  • Don’t take your friends’ support for granted.
  • Graciously accept what they have to offer you.
  • Realize that sometimes their struggles consume them.
  • Offer them what you can of yourself.
  • Cherish the time you have with friends while you can.
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