Cate Paxson, Summer Stage photographer and historian, recently spoke at the graveside ceremony for Terrance Calvert, Summer Stage alumnus and staff member who lost his battle to cancer last year. The internment took place on May 11, 2013 at the site Terrance personally picked out at Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill – directly across from the entrance to the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center.
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain.”
I do not know who authored this phrase, but I am sure in the years to come it will be mistakenly attributed to Terrance.
I actually googled this phrase searching for images which reflected this thought. All the artistic renderings are truly beautiful, poetic, heartfelt, and inspiring, showing young people exalting, mostly with upturn faces revering the rain… and I decided pretty much a load of crap. Oh sure, it looks nice, but that is not what this philosophy is really all about.
About 8 years ago, I had the insane idea to go on a Vision Quest, the first part of which was a 4-hour hike around a national park in Vermont. It rained that day, and by the end of the day Vermont boasted it’s highest total record of rainfall ever recorded in one day. At one point it was raining about 2 inches an hour. I will spare you all the gory details, but by the time it was over, I was soaking wet, filthy dirty, mud all over my face and hands, and spouting a pair of broken glasses. I finally arrived at the campsite that I had so painstaking put together the day before only to find it sitting in about 6 inches of water. I am ashamed to say that I just gave up. It was just too hard and I couldn’t do this anymore. (We’ll get back to this in a moment.)
Terrance as most of us know did not dance in the rain in is early life. I feel perhaps that most of his younger life was just one overwhelming storm after another. I picture Terrance stomping about in the above storm, muttering, full of bitterness, anger and resentment.
But here’s the thing: Terrance gets a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and logically it would follow, he would be filled with more bitterness, anger and resentment. But that is not what happened. Terrence is somehow blessed with this honest to goodness miracle, I mean the throw away your crutches and get up out of your wheelchair and walk kind of miracle. Someone might respond, “Well that is nice and all, but if he had been cured of cancer, that would have truly been miraculous.”
Sure, it would have been wonderful had his cancer been cured, but when the powers that be decided to bless Terrance with healing, they chose to heal his heart, rather than the cancer.
And just like those Googled images, I would say, “You just don’t get it.” Sure, it would have been wonderful had his cancer been cured, but when the powers that be decided to bless Terrance with healing, they chose to heal his heart, rather than the cancer. And in Terrance’s case, I am pretty sure, more miraculous by far. Probably the single greatest reason his young life has impacted on all of us so strongly.
I have done Hospice work and have watched many people die, but I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone go through the dying process who celebrated life so much. Trying to stay clear of those poetic images, we have to agree that there were myriad times Terrance felt overwhelmed, disillusioned and defeated, but somehow he made the decision to find the strength and courage to go on.
The night of the “To Fill the World with Love Cabaret,” Terrance was just full to bursting, he danced and sang, and smiled, and the joy just leaked out. Three days later, he was forced to go into a wheelchair because he could hardly walk and, in retrospect, I was to wonder how much that night cost him. He gave so much that he almost used himself up. Later on that same week, on the last day of Summer Stage, Terrance who had been an assistant choreographer on “Dinosaur Musical,” sat behind stage in his wheelchair, off to the corner, alone, except for the ever-present Najah. All the kids were on stage, and I just happened to be cleaning up some of my photography stuff. I was really shocked when I saw him, because he sat there head in hand, and for just a few minutes his face did not have to hide the pain he felt, and it was like a physical blow to me. I had no idea how much he was suffering, because he never showed it, and I wondered, and still do ‘Terrance how did you do it?”
Just for a moment, let’s go back to that image of that day in Vermont, take me out of the picture and put yourself into it. If you feel comfortable enough, close your eyes and try to see it. You are soaked, shivering and sullen.
The rain is still falling, and all of a sudden you see this crazy figure, dressed in a…really soggy… caterpillar costume, the antennae have fallen to gravity and the hat is plastered to his head. And you think he might be actually singing some song about “a wonderful day.” You do note that he is just as soaked and dirty as you are and as he makes his way over to you, instead of cursing how slippery the mud is, he is using it to perform some crazy dance maneuvers.
The rain is still coming down so hard you can barely make out the beaming smile on his face. At this point, you realize that it’s Terrance, and you think, “What the heck is he doing here?” He appears to be gesturing and speaking to you, and when he finally reaches you, he executes a perfect 360-degree turn, looks at you and says, “Zip” and you finally get it! And then you think, he is got to be kidding, and when you do nothing, he gets a little testy, holds out his hand and says, “I said ZIP!” You realize he is not going to take “no” for an answer. You wonder how you are going to possibly do this, but you take his hand and hold on tight. Somehow he manages to pull you along, while still holding your hand, you stagger and stumble behind him. You realize that nothing has changed really, except you don’t feel so alone anymore… finally you yell, “OK Terrance, I’m trying, just keep dragging, err, rather dancing me along and please don’t let go…” He looks back smiles through the rain, and says, “Don’t worry I’ve got you.”
T’s Kids is a scholarship program created in Terrance’s memory. T’s Kids enables teens in foster care to benefit from participating in the Upper Darby Summer Stage program. For more information on T’s Kids contact Tristan Horan: at 610.675.4424 or TsKidsScholarship@gmail.com. If readers are aware of a teen in foster care who is interested in participating in the 2013 Summer Stage season, please reach out to Tristan no later than June 10th.
May 24 – Fundraiser for T’s Kids at UDPAC:
Many of Terrance’s friends have written, produced, and will perform in “A Game of Black and White: The Tale of Oceanic 815,” a musical parody based on the television series, “Lost.” Performances are at 4pm and 9pm and donations to T’s Kids will be accepted at the door. More information about the performance may be found at www.facebook.com/SweetfeetProductions.