When he was ten years old, my son Colin came up with the idea of a Valentines party for his friends at school—girls and boys. Maura, always game for a party, helped him cut out handmade invitations in the shape of 45 RPM records. When the day came, they checked out CDs of fifties music from the library, decorated the walls of the living room with more cardboard 45’s. Maura’s friends joined in to make French fries, hot dogs, and milkshakes. The kids arrived: boys in jeans and t-shirts and slicked-back hair; girls in skirts, bobby socks, hair in high ponytails.
When we turned on Elvis Presley, the room erupted into dance. Okay, some of the boys lurked in one corner over a game of Monopoly, but the rest, Colin chief among them, twirled and bobbed and twisted. Colin was a blur of improvised dance moves, oblivious to onlookers.
Here are links to a couple videos. These are worth a look. Kids have all the fun.
His dancing was a mix of fifties moves and Marine calisthenics. The effect was to free everyone in the room to turn it loose. Soon they had formed a conga line, with Colin at the head, and they paraded through the house. It was one of those perfect moments you want to save in a bottle and uncork on another not-so-perfect moment. Here is Colin with these friends. This is what I kept saying to myself. Look at them go. A few years ago I would never imagined this possible. (See also Friends and Superheroes.)
Of course, the hours of ordinary days and occasional harsh encounters on the playground contrast with the perfection of this moment, but they don’t erase it.
He’s on his way. He has embarked.
And something else. Colin’s doing it again, bringing back a memory of a friend. This time my friend JR from high school. (See post Running Band of Brothers.)
Colin whirls around at this Valentine’s party and it takes me back forty years to my friend JR at the ninth grade dance. That night when he set us all free.
Our quiet friend spun wildly on the dance floor, eyes closed, shaking his thick mop of hair, arms flailing. At first the girl he was dancing with was so stunned she stopped dancing and just gawked. Then, God bless her, whoever she was, she recovered and joined him, mirroring his abandon, her hair flying, losing one of her shoes. The rest of us asked the girls nearest at hand to dance. We had to get out there for a closer look. JR never opened his eyes. He was lost in the dance. His moves didn’t resemble the way the rest of us danced. He wasn’t watching us. He gave himself over to dance. Because we knew him, we knew this was not showing off, or a joke, it was simply what he wanted to do, what he felt the moment called for. We joined in.
When a song ended, JR would open his eyes, take his partner’s hand and politely escort her from the dance floor, bowing to her like gentlemen at a court dance in Victorian England. Then he would ask another girl and it would all start again. So it went on like this, that ninth grade dance—more like an athletic event than a social event. We were soaked in sweat, the boys anyway, and utterly happy, inhibitions forgotten. JR, like Colin, had set us free, at least for that hour, from the shackles of self-consciousness.