Last September, I wrote an essay about a young man named Andrew Hallenbeck. The essay, entitled “Tenacious Talent,” explained how Hallenbeck, a wonderful dancer and actor, auditioned for and was rejected by Julliard. When he was cut during the early stages of the audition, he boldly asked for an additional tryout. Even though he had little formal dance training, Hallenbeck believed in who he was and the raw talent he possessed. He was granted another audition, and was once again rejected, but not before he made a lasting impression. The audition judge called Hallenbeck’s dance teacher, a world-renowned choreographer who happens to live in our little community, and expressed that Hallenbeck had potential and with another year of training he might be good enough to earn a spot at the school.
Just before Christmas, during a stop at a local coffee shop, I recognized Hallenbeck as he placed his order at the counter. I introduced myself, and explained that he’d been the inspiration for an essay I’d written.
Hallenbeck’s hands flew to his mouth and his eyes widened, (he is an actor after all), “I read your essay online!” he exclaimed. “It made me cry.”
I asked him how he was doing at school, the college in southern California where he is currently studying dance.
“I love it!” he said. “While my friends were studying in the library for their tests, I got to dance through my finals.” He leapt to one side, throwing out an arm gracefully. The coffee shop could hardly contain his spirit; it was so full and bright. “I thought I’d been rejected by my dream school,” he added, “only to find the perfect college for me.”
How insightful that Hallenbeck, at such a young age, has learned the beautiful lesson of serendipitous fortune. Sometimes when we hit a bump that sends us flying in a new direction, we discover that we end up exactly where we need to be. I often fretted that motherhood derailed my writing career, but now I know that raising my daughters has provided me with an empathy and depth from which to write.
I wished Hallenbeck much luck and encouraged him to continue on his path. “You give so much to an audience. You have a true gift. You will go far.” I emphasized each word, wanting him to be able to carry my conviction with him for many days to come.
As I turned away, Hallenbeck reached forward and clasped me to his chest, holding me harder and longer than what is expected between two strangers who have just met. Startled, I awkwardly reiterated my words of encouragement, but Hallenbeck remained silent, conveying his energy of hope, joy, and determination through action alone.
Afterwards, I hummed with contentment. My faith in the grace of the universe renewed, and my dedication to my work reawakened. My art form is words and Hallenbeck’s is movement. In that brief chance meeting, we each communicated from our hearts as we knew best. Two strangers exchanging sparks of courage, optimism, and tenacious resolve, and then parting, to go ignite the world.