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My godchild, now a grown man with three children of his own, was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition during his freshman year at college. A slow danse macabre, his mother (my sister) and I spent many sleepless nights through his ordeal; and while we rarely talk of that time, there is one reminder we both share in the form of a song. For my sister, this is a song of hope and celebration. For me, it is more en dedans--an inward circular memory of a more distant, innocent time in my life.

I was 13 when I leaned to dance--dance in a proper, adult sort of way. My mother taught me.

By then she had 11 children and more heartbreaks than a person deserves; but at the center of her instability was still that lively, intelligent, young woman I knew as a child. And in that cleared living room (the furniture tossed wherever), she laughed and whirled and danced. My older sisters were appalled--as only teenagers can be--as my mother insisted I join her. "For when you fall in love," she whispered to me, as she shifted from swing to waltz on a triplet.

We danced. She was a good dancer, actually. Much better than I would ever be; but eventually I learned the basics and to this day I sometimes think of her in that moment. While I haven't danced much in my life--having fallen in love only once, and with a woman who never had much use for me--I do laugh and whirl and dance with my son: 13 now, he is not amused. But I do it anyway, with abandon and without embarrassment. Perhaps in memory of my mother, perhaps to leave my own son with an image he might cherish one day, or perhaps because I am my mother's son.

The song (on a special playlist, to be sure) is Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance": an overly-orchestrated, saccharine country ballad that no matter its shortcomings sits between Tom Waits' "I Hope I Don't Fall in Love With You" and Lyle Lovett's "If I Needed You," just so I can grab him, laugh, whirl and dance when it plays.

Hey, sometimes he even laughs with me.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance ....

 

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