When We’re Alone, We Can Dance

When We’re Alone, We Can Dance

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

When We’re Alone, We Can Dance

The little cruise ship was crowded with people, many of them retired, all of them off for three days of pleasure.

Ahead of me in the carpeted passageway was a tiny woman in brown polyester slacks, her shoulders hunched, her white hair cut in a short, straight bob.

From the ship’s intercom came a familiar tune—”Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw. And suddenly, a wonderful thing happened.

The woman, unaware that anyone was behind her, began to shimmy and shake. She snapped her fingers. She swiveled her hips. She did a quick and graceful Lindy step—back, shuffle, slide.

Then, as she reached the door to the dining salon, she paused, assembled her dignity, and stepped soberly through.

She became a hunched old lady again.

That visual fragment has returned to mind many times. I think of it now as I reach another birthday—and an age where most people would not believe that I still shimmy, too.

Younger people think folks of my years are beyond music, romance, dancing, or dreams.

They see us as age has shaped us: camouflaged by wrinkles, with thick waists and graying hair.

They don’t see all the other people who live inside.

We present a certain face to the world because custom dictates it. We are the wise old codgers, the dignified matrons.

We have no leeway to act our other selves—or use our other lives.

No one would ever know, for instance, that I am still the skinny girl who grew up in a leafy suburb of Boston.

Inside, I still think of myself as the youngest of four children in a vivacious family, headed by a mother of great beauty and a dad of unfailing good cheer. It doesn’t matter that my parents are long gone, and that the four children are now three.

I am still the faintly snobbish child accustomed to long cars and maids—though my dad lost his money in the Depression and I live these days from paycheck to paycheck.

Beth Ashley

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