The Dance

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I hate country music. I’d rather fight off a gym full of spider monkeys equipped with samurai swords than listen to country. I understand that many people enjoy it, but many people enjoy a great deal of things that make no sense to me. I’m sure I enjoy something that would make the masses cringe. Like cottage cheese and peanut butter together.

See? You just cringed.

That said, there are still a few country tunes and artists that I do enjoy, such as Hank Jr., Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, etc. I’m not sure where Charlie Daniels falls in there, but who doesn’t like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”?

I also like some Garth Brooks, mainly because it reminds me a lot of my youth. He was really popular when I was around 18 years old. One of the songs I remember from that era happened to pop up in my YouTube suggestions this week (which was quite strange as I was listening to Meshuggah at the time).

It was “The Dance.”

It’s a slow, ballad-type tune that’s about “love gone bad.”  However, when I hear it, I think more about loss worth living for: something so great, so powerful and impactful, that even if you had the foresight to know it would cut you in half or leave you reeling in agony and misery, you would still want to experience it. To me, the greatest losses generally represent the greatest loves.

When I was 13, my best friend was Marty Cox. He was the closest thing to a brother that I had ever had. He was four years older than me -almost five- but we had been best friends since I was very young. He was one of those friends who tormented you and loved you at the same time.

When I was five, he took my Stretch Armstrong and cut the arms and legs off of it. I remember crying in my back yard, holding that armless and legless torso as he ran away laughing maniacally. On firework-themed holidays, he would shoot Roman candles and bottle rockets at me. We would get into wrestling matches, and at 6’3″ and 260 pounds, he might as well have outweighed me by eleventy billion pounds.

Advantage, Marty.

He would hold me down and rub my elbows back and forth on his dad’s cheap carpet until I had massive carpet burns on my forearms and then laugh that same maniacal laugh.

He also took me on my first date. I was too young to drive at the time, and even though Marty was extremely popular at school and could have been doing something “cooler,” he had no problem using his Friday night to play chauffeur for my date and I.

When my parents divorced, he was there for me. He took me fishing and hunting every weekend to keep me from sinking into depression. When he got off of work, we’d go get snow cones, find a place to escape the Mississippi summer heat, and talk about trivial things that made me laugh. This usually meant making fun of me in some fashion, but he could always do it in a way that made me laugh at myself.

I think it’s a very special ability for someone to help you find levity when you feel like the world is crumbling around you and the darkness starts overtaking the light. He could always find a way to do that, to give me a reprieve from it all. Marty never made me feel lesser. In fact, he always made me feel like I was worthy of great friendship. He’s the person who -in prophetic fashion- told me, “Always tell your friends you love them. You never know when you won’t have them anymore.”

Marty was killed by a drunk driver that summer, not long after his 18th birthday. He was riding his motorcycle back from visiting family when drunk driver hit him head on. I was in the private waiting area with his family when the doctor came in and said he had passed.

To this day, that’s the most excruciating moment of my entire life. At that time, my life was a mess and only thing that had been keeping me patched was Marty. And he was gone.

These are the moments when your soul feels like it’s coming unstitched. You feel as though you are falling. You need something to grasp ahold of to slow the fall, but you become listless. The descent consumes you.

It’s inevitable.

However, the descent isn’t infinite. Nothing is ever truly infinite. Rock bottom is generally what comes after such a fall.

We cope with things in the best –or sometimes worst- way we can. Coping mechanisms can become something good later in life or become self-destructive. Luckily for me, I honored the memory of Marty by adhering to so many of the lessons he taught me. I always felt like giving into the demons of loss and letting them terrorize me would have been the worst way deal with losing him. Marty was about being good to people you love and being selfless. He was about finding the silver lining we often talk about in the worst of times.

I wasn’t about to tarnish the memory of our friendship by allowing myself to slip into a violent and destructive fall.

How we deal with that type of adversity is very individualistic. Some people live at rock bottom for a while and never recover. Others eventually ascend, but the ascension can often be just as agonizing as the fall.

Learning how to let go of loss can be just as agonizing as the realization of loss itself. You don’t meet very many Martys in your life. Maybe one… two if you’re lucky. They’re the rarest kind of friend.

For me, the worst days came months later.

I remember times where I would head out the door to go to his house only to be reminded that I couldn’t go get wrestled to the carpet, and that I wouldn’t be going fishing or hunting that weekend.

No one was going to pick me up at that afternoon to get snow cones.

The realization of this loss was the zenith of personal pain for me. Years went by and I cried every single day about his passing. Years later, after I had my own kids, I would be struck with moments of immense grief and sadness knowing that Marty never got to experience that for himself, never got to know what it means to be a father. I know he would have been a great dad and I wish he could have lived long enough to experience the journey of fatherhood with me.

I wish that the journeys we did get to share hadn’t been so short-lived.

People talk about the “journey” of lifting.  Learning to enjoy the process associated with it. Encapsulating that feeling is difficult because we so often have visions of greatness and grandeur any time we engage in an endeavor. Rarely does it manifest exactly as we envisioned and rarely does it live up to the expectations that we envisioned for ourselves. We never imagined all the struggles and pitfalls that would come with a “hobby” as simple as lifting weights, or that it would bring just as much frustration as it does enjoyment.

However, just like the descent associated with loss, it doesn’t last forever. All things eventually come to an end. Friendship, romances, jobs, lifting, and of course, life.

Everything will have loss associated with it at some point.

All things -like it or not- are temporary. We are allotted an unknown amount of time in life to invest in things of our choosing. For many of us that pick up the iron, our visions of what is to come don’t materialize. Many of us will still continue on this path, this journey, and sometimes we come up empty handed.

Or do we?

The dance we end up having with the iron can be as fulfilling or as draining to our life as we allow it to be. It really all depends on the expectations that we have and how retrospective we allow ourselves to be about our journeys.

We can be thankful for the things that lifting gives us and what it means to us on a personal level, or we can succumb to the notion that it was all for naught because personal dreams may have never came to fruition, that we somehow never measured up to the ability of someone else, or never met our own expectations, and that in failing in those areas, we were a failure.

If someone from the future told you with complete certainty that you would never be a world record holder, a world champion, or elite at any level would you still make lifting a priority? Would you still empty yourself out each day, even though all of the things you presumed might come to pass never would? Would your effort be the same?

There is nothing promised to you in terms of where you will end up in regards to lifting or in life. We can set goals, work hard, and give a monumental amount of effort. We can vacate every drop of desire from our bodies and completely empty ourselves out to facilitate the process of dreams and goal fulfillment, and it still may not happen.

It may never come to fruition.

If that happens, are we left only with a body covered in scars and callouses? Are we left empty? If none of our dreams are realized, are we left with only loss?

Would I still walk in the gym each week and work towards my numbers? Would I still program with a degree of anal retentiveness that would make someone with OCD look careless?

Yes, without question. Even if my dreams and goals are never realized, the iron has already given me back more than I ever could have imagined. That’s what passions do, they give back far more than they take from you.

Would I still endure all the years of pain and personal heartache for the friendship that I received from Marty? Yes, without question. Ten times over. Because in that short time, the gain of that friendship outweighed the zenith of pain that the loss of it bestowed upon me.

Sacrificing for something that you believe in is never fruitless. Those are the dances we live for and suffer for. Those are the losses worth living for.

Paul Carter works as the president, general manager, and CEO of the blog He is the author of Strength, Life, Legacy and competes as a raw (rare-no belt or wraps) powerlifter. 


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