Norman and Sheila
Years ago when Hugh and I lived in New York, we went to a play called The Boys Next Door, by Tom Griffin. It’s a serious comedy about the inhabitants of a Group Home for adults with mental challenges.
I remember one outstanding scene in this play.
Norman is an overweight man with a tiny IQ. We learn he has a crush on Sheila, a frumpy, cranky woman, who also has a low IQ. They meet at a social gathering and shuffle over to each other. They communicate in dim, flawed language and start a slow, lumbering dance.
Then it happens: the lights and music change. The actors make eye contact. They beam at one another. The audience sees Norman and Sheila as they see themselves. They are a radiant Fred and Ginger, a glorious dancing king and queen.
Hugh and I both sobbed out-loud in the theater when that happened. It was at least twenty-five years ago and I still sigh when I think of it.
I remember this moment because I re-live it often. Sometimes despite all appearances, I am glorious even though I am not.
My life is an assault of church management issues, sermons, funerals, and other grown-up tasks. My oven contains the residue of a rogue casserole. It burns every time I bake and sets off the smoke alarm. Weeds swallow the garden and spider webs suffocate the edges of my kitchen windows. I should do something about that Rat living in our bird-feeder.
Instead, I teach my dogs a dance.
It would be snazzier with better music – maybe some Beyonce. But we dance to the dorkiest music ever: Myron Floren’s Accordion Polkas.
I summon my Vizslas, Saraswati and Bartok – two crazed gluttons who will work for hot-dogs. I wear my grey Curious George sweatshirt, polka-dot pajama bottoms, and florescent fuzzy socks. My hair is a graying tangle of squashed seaweed and I have bold mascara bags under my eyes.
I force the dogs into halfhearted down-stays while I polka around them. Sometimes I lure them behind me in an awkward figure-eight. Eventually Bartok wanders off to investigate better possibilities, humping the cat, or rummaging through the garbage to recycle a piece of chewing gum. On a good day, we lope around the living room for hours.
A Precious Moment
There is a place in our polka where the music changes. I put the dogs in an anticipatory sit and they gaze at me like I’m God. Then I pivot and stretch my arms to lure them with treats, coaxing them to parade around me in a circle. Dignified and regal, I spot like a slow-witted ballet dancer, turning my head to accommodate my make-believe audience with a smile.
And in my mind, the lights change. I transform like Norman and Sheila in the play. I am no longer the messy-me with too much to do. I stand in the Center Ring, with pointy Barbie-breasts, wearing high heeled boots and a spangled leotard. I command the Animal Kingdom. I am accomplished. I am glorious….
The Truth About Wasting Time
I often wonder if this obsession to dance with dogs is just another elaborate procrastination scheme, something to help me avoid the treachery of responsibilities I fear and face daily. It feels like a waste of time – but maybe not.
Maybe our true time-wasters are something else.
We waste time seeking control as we attempt to force reality into what we think it should be.
We waste time shouldering the weight of unbidden expectations.
We waste time worrying about being, doing and having enough.
This unconscious time-wasting spins us like a wild boar on a spit. Pursued by the pressures of unconscious living, every spin-on-the-spit cooks us. It brings us endlessly back to the same place of seeking more.
Wouldn’t you rather dance?
Wouldn’t you rather make the lights and music change? Wouldn’t you rather trade control and expectation and worry for innocence? Wouldn’t you rather see yourself as you really are, see yourself as God sees you?
I hope the answer is yes.
Because at any moment, you can change the lights and music of your perspective. You can shine away the time-wasters of trying to accomplish more and find the courage to accomplish less. You can trade something pressing for something precious. It’s what Norman, Sheila, Saraswati, and Bartok would do. Why not you and me?
Dances With Dogs
My time dancing with dogs is precious. In fact, every act of love, innocence and joy is part of the perfectly-clumsy dance called Now. And part of what makes Now perfect and precious is that it will be perfectly-over way too soon.
For as I remember my time in New York, twenty-five years ago, (or was it twenty-five seconds ago) I see my future hurtling toward me. In an instant I will be ninety-nine – perhaps languishing in a home wondering where my teeth went. An orderly will approach me, a man who doesn’t understand that once I was precious to somebody – my family, my church, my dogs and my life.
He’ll wheel me down a smelly hall so I can drool on a bingo card and this will be my polka-dance.
I trust that even in the haze of that reality, the lights and music will change again. My perspective will shift and I will see myself as God sees me. In my mind I’ll be glorious – just like Norman and Sheila, just like that fiftyish girl with distressed hair and too much to do. Yes. I’ll be the One who Dances with Dogs like it’s the most precious thing in the world – because it is.
Questions to Ponder:
- When do the “lights and music change” for you? What allows you to enter timelessness and see yourself as God sees you?
- How are you like “a boar spinning on a spit,” trapped in something pressing instead of choosing something precious?
- What is one way that you can choose precious over pressing today?
** Featured image: Publicity photo of Lawrence Welk and his orchestra from the television program The Lawrence Welk Show. Myron Floren is seen at left with his accordion, 1969.