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Q: Tell us a bit about the title, Never Stop Dancing, and its meaning.
JOHN: There are two parts to the answer: First, is that Amy was a dancer. She danced in a local Middle Eastern dance troupe, we met at a dance club, and we used to dance as a family. Second, is the story that accompanies the image on the book cover. But you’ll have to read the book for that.
ROBERT: John and I both struggled to find the “perfect” title for our book. There were so many themes we wanted to capture: death, grief, love, friendship.
We kicked around a lot of ideas—I mean a lot. But not one was standing out for either one of us, because nothing was encompassing or conveying everything that we wanted to convey. Then, as we were browsing through John’s collection of photographs on his laptop, he stopped at a special one. I recognized it instantly from the story John recounted to me in one of our summer sessions, and I pointed to it and said, “That’s the title of the book.” I think we both agreed right away that that had to be it.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about how Robert came upon the idea to "interview" John? What was the thinking behind it?
ROBERT: John and I share a special friendship, one that goes back years before Amy was killed. We met on the job and developed a near-instantaneous bond. Which is funny, because we are so different in some respects. Conversation was always at the center of our friendship, and we enjoyed sharing and exploring our thoughts on religion, politics, current events, popular culture, history—really, anything that came to mind. Talking deeply about topics important to us was always part of who we were (and are) as friends.
Amy’s death triggered a cosmic shift. In the aftermath of that, I visited John, and had him over to my house, and recognized his terrible struggle, both by himself and with his two young sons. I wanted to reach out to help, but I didn’t know exactly how to do that.
The idea for the interview sessions came to me all at once. I have in my background professional experience with conducting interviews, for newspapers, journals, and magazines, and even for one of my previous books. I contacted John right away and met with him to share the idea.
JOHN: My memory is foggy about that day like many of those days in the first couple months after Amy died. But I distinctly remember not hesitating one moment to his request. I had always enjoyed conversations with Robert—found them meaningful, intellectually challenging. I had already found that writing and talking through what was going on with me in my grief to be cathartic. That Robert was willing to sit with me in conversation during the coming year, as it unfolded, come what may, was uplifting.
Plus he was a lot less expensive than my shrink!
Q: An important theme in Never Stop Dancing is friendship—especially between men. Can you explain how your friendship has evolved and what you discovered about it throughout writing the book?
ROBERT: Our friendship has changed fundamentally because of this experience. At the start of the project, during the first interview sessions, I don’t think either one of us knew exactly where it was all going, or what the process would look like, or what it would produce. I think we learned more about each other during that year, and the subsequent years in preparing the book, than most people learn about each other in a lifetime.
JOHN: I’ve seen Robert open up to me more since that year and share things, difficult things, that I know he typically keeps close to the vest. Things that he knows I don’t agree with. But that is okay because I trust him implicitly, and I think he trusts me implicitly, too. And I would like to think Robert views me the same way. That is important to me. That level of friendship.
Q: John, you say in the book "I think we humans struggle with love. Letting ourselves be loved. I think it’s sometimes easier for us to love someone else, to think we love somebody else, than to allow ourselves to fully feel loved by another." How do you think your experience has changed your view on love? How does it differ from what others might believe?
JOHN: As I was going through the early, acute, bewildering phase of my grief, I started to understand that the nature of my grief was somehow a mirror of sorts to our love. Amy was ripped away from me, but somehow that feeling of connection, love, whatever it is, remained. And still remains even after having remarried. Being able to love requires some level of attraction, desire, and also compassion for another. We need to take in that whole person as they are. But to be loved, and to really believe the other person loves us, requires us to, at some level, be comfortable in our own skin and to know we are worthy of love. I think we spend a lot of our time thinking about the many ways we don’t measure up to some standard rather than acknowledge our flaws as humans and also know we are worthy of love.
Q: Robert, in addition to strengthening your friendship with John, what else did you learn about yourself while writing the book? What surprised you the most?
ROBERT: That’s an important question, because if I don’t learn something from this event, and this entire process, then what was it all for? And: what did it all mean?
I learned that I am braver than I thought I once was. From this experience, and through this experience, I learned how to turn to God more.
I was most surprised by how close I’ve come to feel for John. Death, grief, and loss are at once so very personal and yet so very communal experiences for us; they’re essential parts of our humanity. When someone you love hurts, you hurt, too. I think the intensity of my hurt surprised me most.
Q: John, your life has changed quite a bit in the years since losing Amy. Clearly, you've had some challenges, but how has your life changed in positive ways?
JOHN: The first thing that comes to mind is my relationship with my sons. I had a self-image as a present, connected father to them. But after Amy died, and I was thrust into single-parent mode, I came to realize there was much I had missed as a father. It’s painful to admit it, but I don’t think I would know my sons as well as I do if Amy were still alive.
Q: You both had some pretty intense discussions about God. What did you come to find or believe about God's role in our lives?
ROBERT: I’ve always thought that God is willing to be in your life, if you allow it. When I turn away is when I shrink, and when I face God is when I am who I am meant to be. This path I’ve traveled with John has helped me become who I am meant to be.
JOHN: I still wrestle with my belief in a God, but now I don’t feel that having all the answers is as existentially critical as I once did. I was seeking concrete proof of some sort. Something demonstrably true about the existence of a supernatural God. But that is not how faith works. That’s why we call it “faith.”
Q: John, you discuss in the book the challenge of getting rid of things from your past...old clothes, books, and other items. What does all that clutter say about how we hold on to the past and how hard it can be to move forward? What can others do when facing the same problem of parting with the past and moving on?
JOHN: I can only answer it for me, and there is no single answer. There was a tension, and it’s still there, though not as acute, of wanting to hold on and also needing to let go. At some point, letting go felt more right than holding on. And maybe decluttering and letting go are related in that at some level we are acknowledging the passing of those objects’ purpose or meaning and that it’s time to make room for something new. And there is also a difference between those objects that were hers, like books or clothes, and those things that were ours, like our wedding rings. I’ve kept our wedding rings. We also live in a small house, so there is a practical consideration. And then there was the question of how to honor Amy’s wishes. Giving away her coats to a shelter was perfectly aligned with her values and was easy to do, though I cried all the same.
My two bits of advice to others is this:
Q: For those suffering their own loss or struggles, what key pieces of advice can you share for dealing with the pain and carrying forward?
JOHN: You have to find a way to care for yourself. And if you have children, it’s even more essential. Grief will fuck with the basic functions of life: sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom. How long can you let that go on? A few days? A few weeks? Longer? At some point we each need to find a way through it. Therapy, exercise, talking, journaling, yoga, acupuncture, whatever.
That, and watch the booze.
ROBERT: For people who have suffered loss (and for those watching their loved ones suffer loss), I’d say the same thing: reach out. Don’t shut down. Yes, there is a time for grieving, but there is also a time for healing. Your loss and grief are part of the full tapestry of your life.
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