Yesterday, December 30, 2010, I had an assignment to join the children of the Dennis James United Cerebral Palsy Center in Cathedral City, California, as they were the guests of Disney on Ice at the Citizen’s Bank Arena in Ontario, California.
I have been associated with this organization for nearly two decades. It began when I worked as a camera operator on their telethons in the late 1980’s. As my TV career and responsibilities increased, so did my duties with their annual telethon and I eventually found myself producing their annual event.
When I left the TV affiliate, they honored me by hiring me to keep producing their telethon. After a few years I approached them with the idea of a monthly TV show and that began an eight-year run of producing a monthly TV show, which aired on local TimeWarner channel 10 here in the Coachella Valley.
It was, without argument, the best job I had in my life. Through a series of unfortunate events, the faltering economy included, that job went away and so began the fall to my current financial situation.
Once in awhile, though, the Dennis James Center still asks me to videotape an event for their files or to use in their annual Dennis James Golf Classic video. Yesterday was one of those days.
Disney on Ice invited the kids from the Center to arrive hours before the show and join the skaters on the ice. Each child who wanted to try skating was given a pair of skates and was invited onto the ice with the skaters from the show.
It immediately became obvious that there were extreme challenges to be faced with trying to keep these kids up on their skates, but the professional skaters were quick to suggest a strategy. Each asked for a chair from the arena and had their “guest” skater sit down.
And there the magic began.
As I tried to concentrate on my job at hand, the view-finder in front of my eyes — finding various shots of skaters and children, composing the frame, getting wide, medium, and close shots — I saw the looks on the faces of the children.
Did they think about the fact that they were sitting on chairs instead of standing on their skates? Did they think of the chilly temps on the ice? What had happened before or what was coming up?
Their faces were alight with the sheer joys of sailing around the rink. As each child grew more confident, the professional skater skated faster and faster. As they grew more comfortable with each other, the skaters began telling the children to stretch out their arms and they gave them slow twirls on their chairs.
As pairs of skaters began moving faster and faster, their faces glowing with the thrill of the moment, something else caught my eye. I call them “pairs” because as they whisked past me I noticed the feet of the children. Every one of them was moving their skates on the ice. Some front and back, some side-to-side, some… well… flailing might be a good enough word. But each of them was skating!
And each of the professionals remained diligent with their responsibilities for the safety of these children, but as each of their charges grew more brave and at ease, smiles began to appear on their faces, as well.
I watched as they skated faster or slowed and did slides and twirls to face their skaters. Some spun their kids a half turn and skated them backwards to a stop, then off again they sped.
Buddhist philosophy teaches that all on this Earth is impermanent. And if we realize that everything is “already gone,” then we can cherish the time we have with that person or object even more. Nothing, in quite awhile, has impressed upon me the sheer joy of “living in the moment” as watching these pairs of skaters zip past.
When the skating was all-to-quickly over, I tried to shake the hand of as many of the professionals as possible. As I thanked each one, their faces expressed the joy they felt at being able to give these kids that joyous and thrilling experience.
I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people who work with “differently-abled” people. And, to a person, each has said they get far more from these people then they, themselves, give.
I wonder how I can thank these kids and these skaters for the joy I received in simply being a witness…