(And Spends Four Minutes and Fifteen Seconds Experiencing Ten Distinct Possibilities)
Imagine a young man. Our man is single and anywhere from 16–26 years old. He could be in high school or could be through with that. He floats through life with no particular purpose except what the Catechism provides, which isn’t much nowadays. But our man keeps the faith and more or less knows his stuff. He’s not a dunce or a genius, but gets (or got) decent grades. He’s neither the most nor least fashionable man, but he cleans up okay. He is every man, or he could be any man if he tried. Whoever exactly our man is, one day, he goes to a dance.
The occasion of the dance is not particularly important. Maybe it’s a winter formal or prom. Perhaps it’s a Church Social put on by the Knights of Columbus to raise money for charitable work, as the Knights of Columbus sometimes do. It could be the wedding reception for the second-to-last-standing Benson daughter. Whatever it is, the venue is someplace economical. Nice, but middle-class nice.
Our man arrives alone, greets his friends, gets a drink from the bar, and joins them at their table. He gets up and joins the crowd for the fun and fast songs. But some songs come on that are slow, slow, songs. Romantic in nature. His good friends Ryan and Beth get up for every slow-dance and hold each other tight, but our man sits these songs out. They’re too serious. Finally a slightly faster slow song comes up, more casual, more: Hello, you’re cute, let’s dance. Less: Hold me tight and never let go. For example, maybe “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.
What happens when the right song comes on? There are a million possibilities that could occur in the next four minutes and fifteen seconds. Here are ten of them:
Option 1. Our man asks his brown-eyed friend Laura to dance. He rests his right hand on her back in a standard embrace, taking her other hand in his left. They dance close, but not too close. No sparks fly and nothing troublesome happens. She slips on the second chorus, but he catches her. They laugh. It’s nothing special, though. Just two friends dancing and laughing together.
Option 2. Our man goes to get a drink because he doesn’t want to dance to this song after all. Who needs women right now, anyway? The drink is not good. If it is alcohol, it is more grocery-store quality than liquor-store quality. If it’s soda, someone should’ve spiked it.
Option 3. He sees a pretty blonde girl whom he recognizes but barely knows from Eve. Maybe she’s one of the Robinson clan? He gets up the nerve to ask her to dance and is halfway on his way to her when he sees that a more fortunate fellow than him has beaten him to the punch. So he heads for the punch-bowl instead.
Option 4. Our man isn’t much for dancing this song after all. He gets up and goes to stand outside for a little bit. It’s warm out, the kind of night best spent walking with old friends or someone you fancy. Neither of these options is available, but the breeze is pleasant and better than a stuffy dance-floor. Our man is glad he chose to come outside.
Thirty seconds pass. He checks his watch.
Option 5. Our man spies his redheaded friend Sandy across the room. He’s been flirting shyly with her for at least two years, right on the edge of plausible deniability. He doesn’t know how she feels. Who wants the awkwardness if it doesn’t work out, anyway? But he says to himself, I’m going in anyway, and asks her to dance. She says yes. He spends the dance in awe and terrified of her, and leaves the dance-floor with shaky hands. Everything in the room becomes suddenly enormous and foreboding. He remembers a lesson from his Catechism class once about great mystics, but he has no clue what brought that up. At the end of the day, it’s just a dance.
Option 6. Our man doesn’t want to dance this song, after all. His friends Ryan and Beth are cuddling at the table, also sitting it out. But Beth notices our man sitting out yet another slow-dance. This is unacceptable. She and Ryan whisper a quick exchange. A second later she is at our man’s chair with her hands out to him, gesturing expectantly. He acquiesces. The gesture means a lot and she is fun to dance with. Ryan watches them dance, smiling and sipping his drink.
Option 7. Our man asks his brown-eyed friend Laura to dance, takes her hand, and so on. No chemistry, and no trouble, but the dance is beyond enjoyable. The best dance he’s ever had with anyone. But why? Is he falling in love with her? No, that’s not it. Are they leaving room for the Holy Spirit? As much as they usually do. When Laura and our man finish dancing, she remarks on their inexplicably enjoyable dance. Whatever has happened to him has happened to her. Our man thinks of the book that Uncle Mortimer gave him years ago about gifts of the spirit. But why?
Maybe he’s just overthinking it.
Option 8. Our man gets up for a drink because he just doesn’t want to dance right now. An old female friend with green eyes, totally snookered, ambushes him en route and drags him into a dance.
He doesn’t remember her name, but she remembers his. Her name is Carol, and her style of dance apparently consists of attempting to fall down every thirty seconds, so our man stops her from falling. Every. Thirty. Seconds. The song ends and Carol kisses our man on the cheek and goes cheerily on her way. Our man, flattered but a little confused, wonders if “Dancing with the Drunk” qualifies as one of those Corporal Works of Mercy, like Fr. Le is always talking about.
Option 9. Our man doesn’t want to dance this song after all. He heads out for some fresh air.
Thirty seconds pass. He checks his watch.
Our man hears Laura’s voice behind him. Hello, I’ve come out for a smoke, she says timidly. He turns and sees her light a cigarette, put it to her lips, inhale, and blow smoke. Don’t tell anyone, she says, both ordering him and pleading with him not to tell. The moonlight hits her hair and face just right, and everything about her is perfect. Of course, our man won’t say it. These things are so prone to misinterpretation that it’s best to just keep quiet.
Option 10. Our man bravely approaches the pretty blonde of unknown family stock. A Smith? A Benson? A Robinson? No matter. He wordlessly puts out a hand and bows. She curtsies and takes it and they dance. She is pretty and fun to dance with. She is a Benson: Joanna, the last unmarried Benson sister. Our man has a great time, and the dance means absolutely nothing. But that’s exactly what he needs.
Now maybe we could draw out some grand lesson from this mess of possibilities, but it’s possible that there is no lesson. I can’t figure out what it would be and I won’t bore you with my feeble guesses. So let’s close with a speculation instead. Maybe our man is wondering, after living through whichever possibility he lived through, just how contingent all possibilities are. Maybe he’s left wondering if any one thing is necessary and not merely possible. In that case, I think he’s on to something. But maybe not. Maybe he’s just overthinking it. It is just a dance, after all.