Having already confessed that I cannot cook, I figured I’d go ahead and fess up to another trait that further qualifies me for the most ineligible bachelor award: I cannot dance. Rather, I cannot dance respectably. I can jump up and down, sway my hips and snap my fingers like any other beaming idiot with a dose of scotch in his veins, but I cannot swing dance, salsa, foxtrot, hip-hop, kumbaya… whatever. You name it I can’t do it.
I’ve tried to learn. Junior year, my college celebrated their 150th anniversary with a Gala. But they didn’t call it the 150th Gala Celebration or anything as simple as that. Instead, it was the “Sesquicentennial Gala”. With a word so complicated that no one could pronounce, this automatically required adaptation. Thus, it was commonly referred to as the Sasquatch Gala.
Anyhow, the celebration consisted of a black and tie dinner then a worship celebration followed by-you guessed it- a swing dance. If anyone desires to make me uncomfortable, all they have to do is dress me up in clothes that cause choking, make me eat food with French names, and dance to something other than “Love Shack” or perhaps “Everytime We Touch”.
Lucky for me (and unlucky for her) one of my neighbors was a world-class dancer. I mean that literally. She won competitions in places such as Japan (a country which, of all the things I pictured them hosting, a competition in dancing was never one). I recruited her to save me from the pit of ineptitude. She graciously obliged, which I think qualifies her as either too naïve or too charitable for her own sanity. There were several sessions of swing lessons around her apartment, consisting less of swing and more of:
“Step one and two and -follow the beat Bryn! And three and follo- ow! that’s my toe!- and one and two and OW! That’s my toe, darn it!”
The climax of this education was when she asked me if I knew the foxtrot. Some remote childhood memory told me it was exactly what it sounded like: trotting in a foxy fashion around the room (I’ll leave you to imagine what exactly that means). When I exhibited my skills before her, she laughed so hard I was concerned I’d eventually have to do CPR. Needless to say, I never learned the foxtrot. Or any other dancing for that matter. I did go to the Gala, but my dancing was hardly celebratory, though my moves did bring further accreditation to its adopted term of Sasquatch Gala.
A couple weeks before graduating, I attended one of our school chapels, held three times a week. For this chapel, a dancing group on campus was set to perform a routine to a series of songs. I wasn’t expecting much. Devoid of any personal dancing skills I wasn’t sure I could truly appreciate someone else (to the degree that they deserved anyway). I went because it was mandatory.
But when the curtains drew and the music started, something changed. My eyes landed on one of the dancers, and I must confess, they didn’t leave her for the remainder of the chapel. It wasn’t necessarily that she was beautiful, though she certainly was, but it was more than that. I watched not because of primal attraction or lust, but because there was something different about her. There was a sense about her that seemed as though she knew something the rest of us were still trying to grasp. She knew it in every molecule of her being which, which, in that moment, was being released in dance. The very way she moved herself across the stage seemed effortless, as though she didn’t give it a thought but had surrendered her very desire for existence to someone or something that could move her in a way normal mortals only imagine.
C.S. Lewis is famously quoted for saying (well, a lot of things actually, but specifically) that none of us are mere mortals. He states that we are all in the process of either becoming a creature so terrible and devoid of goodness that hell is the only place we might seek, or something so splendid, so beautiful and filled with glory that to look upon us would be blinding. We are, he says, in the process of becoming either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Although I never met the girl on stage, I knew that she had made the choice of which she would become. But unlike the rest of us, us who were sitting and waiting to be transformed at some later time, she was letting her immortality shine through as she spun around on stage. She had become immortal.
The other night, I went walking down to the harbor well after the sunset. The evening was clear and a full moon was rising of the water, which was serenely calm. I say this now, but the word “serene” simply doesn’t encompass the state of the ocean. It was nearly perfectly still, more so than I see but a couple times per season. Hardly a ripple disturbed its surface and it appeared to be like glass as though, if I were careful, I could step down from the dock and walk off into the night.
When I returned from my trip to the harbor, I caught a report on the news of a drowned kayaker just north of my paddling grounds. On a sunny day with a high of 75 degrees, a rogue gust of wind reached 20 MPH, knocking up waves that capsized his boat and eventually ended his life. The same water into which I’d been staring, mesmerized by the moon’s reflection, had claimed the life of someone not much unlike myself but a few hours earlier. For some reason, this reminded me of the dancer.
I am often prone to forget that my job can be dangerous. Nine times out of ten, it certainly isn’t. Most days, I spend hours paddling on the water, with people whom- based on their ability to steer a kayak- probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive. And yet, everyone comes back safe. Sometimes they are wet, perhaps cold, and on the rare occasion (i.e. they ate a whole pizza before hitting the ocean) sea sick, but otherwise alive and well. Often times they’ll be smiling with cameras full of pictures and constant remarks about “how beautiful it is”. Even days when I’m moments away from witnessing a trailer full of boats disappear out of sight in my rear view mirror; I still wouldn’t qualify as it dangerous (speaking of people who shouldn’t be allowed to drive).
But this isn’t always the case. Things can change rather quickly on the water. I’ve found myself stuck between rocks, waves crashing down on top of me, wondering how on earth I’d be getting out. I’ve had close calls, God-ordained rescues, and many a moments when all I can think is “oh, crap”. All this resonates of a lesson I’ve learned and re-learned in my time as a kayak guide: the ocean should never be underestimated. It is beautiful, abounding in pleasure and even holds the gift of life. But it is also dangerous and terrible, it’s a source of beauty and amazement one second, then terror and tragedy the next.
It holds within its grasp the potential for eternal beauty or eternal terror, and it is in the process of becoming. And I believe in the ocean with its waves, its rocks and its tides. I believe in its ability to be placid and still, holding the moon’s reflection upon its surface in a way a camera could never begin to capture. I believe in the power of these waters, a power I can only begin to imagine but must always respect. I believe in a dancer, a girl on a stage, who was beautiful because she allowed herself to be so immortally. And I believe in a God who holds all these in His grasp, ordaining and controlling them in His own mysterious way. I believe that I am just a dancer myself, and in due time my routine will run it’s course.
Until then, I’ll continue play my role as a dancer, daily performing the one with a paddle in my hand, a dose of wit in my words and the ocean as a stage. This is just one of the dances I know, but I know it right down to the core of who I am, and it is eternally beautiful.
Much unlike my attempts at the foxtrot.