It was probably right about that time when Jeanne (and Anne, who was driving) called out my name from the open window of Anne's car, stopped in the road right alongside where we were dancing. Jeanne is a dear friend who moved to Nashville about ten years ago, and while I knew that Jeanne was going to be in town briefly to attend a college reunion at Carleton I had not expected to see her. Nor had she expected to see me, by fortuitous happenstance as they drove (I believe) from the airport to Anne's house. When I say I hadn't expected to see Jeanne, I don't just mean that I didn't expect to see Jeanne during this visit, but that I didn't expect to see Jeanne again at all, as she is quite ill.
But there she was, of a sudden and by surprise, and in my own mind it was as if a beam of fading sunlight illuminated her. Come to think of it, that may literally be true, given the sun's angle and her location. I walked over and she held my hand and we sort of gushed for a while. It was clear how closely I'd been following her online writings, and the status of her illness, and for that matter how she had been following mine. What I think was even clearer was how happy we were to have this surprise meet-up. It was a priceless gift to see her, and I believe she was happy to see me. I have to believe that she knew how much I do love her. I interrupted her at one point to burst out my astonishment at how beautiful she looked, and she said yes, that happens when you go off chemo (this latest round had not been successful), you look well for a while. It was a physically awkward place for us to be, so eventually we had to let each other's hands go. We kissed each other. I walked back across the road. They had a hard time driving away and I had a hard time turning around to watch them drive away. I felt as if I were going to burst.
Then I did burst, with a brief loss of emotional control, in front of my friend Ingrid. I had to walk away. It was so so wonderful to see Jeanne, especially so miraculously and unexpectedly, and then I was distraught. What seems much more obvious in retrospect than it did at the time is that this was that moment, that moment when a serious illness or a death of a loved one moves from an intellectual understanding to a gut realization. Sometimes, in my experience, this doesn't ever happen. But usually it does and I don't have a lot of control over when it will.
Before I get bogged down in anything maudlin here, and to remind myself that Jeanne is still very much alive and that's the best part, I want to show this picture of Jeanne taken a couple of days later at her reunion, with her partner Ree standing with her. She does look beautiful, doesn't she?
I walked about in a daze, unsure exactly what I wanted to do at that point, when Michael said, "Steven, we need you for 9-Man's." They didn't need me to dance 9-Man's because I'm special, but because we pretty much need everybody for that dance -- we have specific positions we dance (it's a complicated dance). I had no choice, and that was fine. That brought about an extraordinarily unusual dance experience for me, of dancing when my mind is elsewhere. Now, I mess up dances all the time. I lose my place. I get physically exhausted. My focus might waver. But I have never before danced a Morris dance when I wasn't inside the dance, thinking about the other dancers and thinking about us all dancing together. I danced just fine, but I danced the entire dance as if somebody else were inhabiting my body and dancing for me.
At that point it was time for us all to head over to Izzy's for ice cream, and I was bizarrely paralyzed. I did not want to go out and be with other people just then. But I didn't want to go home and be by myself, either. I was flip-flopping in my head. This was an unimportant decision -- do I want to go home or do I want to join my friends -- and I couldn't even move. What I realize in retrospect was that I was framing the options wrong. It wasn't that I didn't want to go home or that I didn't want to go to Izzy's, it's that I didn't want Jeanne to be dying. That's what was manifesting as horrific indecisiveness. I summarized my dilemma to my friend Debra who said, very practically, "Why don't you go to Izzy's and then see how you feel. You can just go home if it seems wrong." Obvious, huh? But I needed that.
I got to Izzy's a little late, and as I arrived Bob the musician and five members of my team were blocking up on the sidewalk and they said, "Steven's here! He'll dance!" Bob handed me a pair of hankies out of nowhere (they turned out to be Anna Kate's) and we danced Glorishears. This was EXACTLY what I needed, to be the necessary sixth man in the dance, to work through the powerful emotions of the previous hour by dancing hard with my team. The experience was 180 degrees from the dance I'd danced only twenty minutes earlier. Michael, during times of stress, will sometimes throw himself into a dance with complete physical power and abandon. I felt like Michael. My side-steps across from Andy were two feet in the air. I did the best splitter of my career. There was nothing but me and the dance and my team. It was aggressive. It was right. It felt amazing.
It was quite the evening. It brought new understanding of the dance, after all these years. My thoughts are with Jeanne now, with good wishes and great hope.