Saturday, March 10, 2007

ABBA -- Dancing Queen

Flashback time...

October, 2001.
We were in midtown Manhattan. The town was uncharacteristically quiet. Nobody was yelling or blowing horns (well, almost was still New York). If a firetruck answered an alarm people on the sidewalk would notice and wave. Sometimes clap. American flags were affixed to fire trucks.
Makeshift shrines popped up in unexpected places. A community bulletin board in the Village was covered over with pictures of lost neighbors and family members. Ordinary service people or delivery men who had vanished in the World Trade Center Towers.
A fire station not far from Times Square would have gone un-noticed six weeks before was converted into an explosion of letters, construction paper drawings and pictures from children all over the country, prayers and messages of hope and pride, and flags...endless numbers of flags everywhere.
At the place now called "Ground Zero" there was a high chain link fence with a curtain blocking the non-view. It made no difference because the fence, like so much of the city, was covered top to bottom with letters and cards, messages and far as you could see in both directions, an outpouring of anguished hope and pride.
I couldn't allow myself to read them. If I started to read anything I had to stop for the tears. It was embarrassing to be standing there on the sidewalk with tears running down my cheeks. Not strong. Not manly. Not under control,you know.
So we walked on. Silently, mostly, sometimes remarking on this or that...This store was open for business again. But look, this one is still covered with the grey dust of death. Nobody inside. It looks like an abandoned shoe store in a small town, shut down about two years ago...

And Mama Mia was playing on Broadway.
They say the seats have all been sold. No way to get a ticket.
So what.
What's the harm of asking?
We walked up to the ticket office and asked...
Sure enough, there were seats available...They were in a box seat, stage left. The whole box was available!
The view was poor...only the front of the stage and facing the audience more than the stage. You know how the old theatres are arranged.
So what. It was song and dance anyway. We could still hear. That's what music is all about.
So we went to Mama Mia for a matinee showing.
The place was filled with white hair and the show was all that anyone could want.
People were standing at the end, clapping to the music. Laughing, smiling broadly, a few dancing in place or in the aisles.
I will never forget. And the cheesy, familiar, irrepressible music of ABBA, cobbled together in a most unlikely way, lifted the mood of the city, allowing a brief escape from the painful reality of what had happened only a short time earlier.

When it was over, we returned to the grieving city. Some kind of white powder had been found two or three places not far anthrax scare was under way.
I said, all these people here have to live here, work here, sleep here. Why can't we be part of them? At least we will be going home in a day or two. And we did. And I will never regret nor forget that we did.
It wasn't particularly brave, but it felt like it at the time.

And the music of ABBA will never be the same.
Thank God it was there to make us feel better. At least for a little while.

We didn't know it at the time, but it was to be a formative moment.
Within a week a final decision was made about lifestyle changes. The change didn't happen until the following June, but the decision was made then. There was no way that life after that moment could ever be lived the same. Things had to change.

Delayed gratification may be important for everyday living at the micro level, but at the macro level it could mean you wake up some day (or not) having lost priceless years and experiences, waiting for events and experiences that might never come, missing the ones that did.

The last five years have been a wonderful blessing.

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