One Last Dance Party

Sally and I were born only a few months apart. If we had attended the same high school, we’d have been in the same group photos at graduation. I don’t know her complete biography — she shared tidbits here and there, but there were a lot of gaps where it wouldn’t have been polite to pry — but suffice it to say our lives post-graduation went in very different directions.

I met Sally (not her real name) through a local non-profit service agency. I had the weekly privilege of leading a small team of volunteers to help clean her modest dwelling. Years of substance abuse had robbed Sally of much of her mobility, and she appreciated our help with the things she could no longer do herself.

Despite her fragile condition, Sally always greeted us with a mischievous grin and her signature reply whenever I’d ask how she was doing, “I’m still walking, and I’m still talking!”

Just a few weeks ago, as we cleaned her kitchen, Sally turned on some classic 1960s rock — über-loud — and cajoled the high school volunteers into joining her in a shuffling dance party in the middle of her living room.

I’ll never forget Sally’s expression as the volunteers held hands with her and joined her impromptu circle of celebration. “Who you are – is a gift,” she admonished each of them, wagging a stern finger. “Don’t let nobody steal that away from you.”

As she hugged her dance-mates farewell, Sally beamed like a home-coming queen on prom night.

The following week, I noticed that she seemed weaker, and her mind kept wandering. Concerned, I asked, “Are you feeling okay, Sally?”

She laughed much like her usual self, flashing her mischievous grin. “I'm still walking, Robby, and I’m still talking!”

She didn’t instigate another dance party, but struggled off her couch to hug the volunteers as they left, thanking them for their help. As each student embraced her, a neon-bright smile lit Sally’s face.

We never saw her again. Her body was discovered later that week by a neighbor … on Mother’s Day. The paramedics said she’d been dead for several days. Her fragile, worn-out body just couldn’t go on any longer.

Sally died alone. The child-like joy on her face when the students danced with her, less than two weeks before, seems especially poignant now.

I recall an old Randy Stonehill lyric:

The sound of our motor would frighten the starlings, and they’d rise from the fields to fly,

And I couldn’t help feeling sad and inspired by their desperate ballet in the sky.

Say a prayer for the starlings …

I didn’t know Sally very long, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her. I’m glad – incredibly grateful – she was able to enjoy one last dance party.

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