title:To Dance with Jim His Last Dance
Friday Night, Week Before Christmas, 1999
This night I arrived a little before the crowd, just minutes before the tables with stools near the small dance floor were taken. Harvelle’s, a popular Santa Monica night spot which draws an upscale crowd, is known as “The Home of the Blues, R&B, Funk, and Rock” with live music and dancing every night. With its no-smoking environment and sounds for both the ears and the feet, it is a pleasant place to spend an evening. I go for the listening and the dancing.
After enjoying a dance with a young man, I wove my way back through newly arrived patrons to my carefully chosen seat. After a sip of my Pellegrino, I felt compelled to return to the edge of the dance floor. My rational thought was to take my turn with one of the regulars, John, a trained dancer who arrived some twenty minutes earlier. I noticed him and a man I had not seen before — both the same vintage, about 50, and the same height, about 5’8″, but John as light as and the unknown man as heavy as that frame can hold.
John changed partners on the dance floor, so I made eye contact with this other man who, like John, had been dancing with a variety of partners since his arrival. We danced and exchanged pleasantries. We laughed. We smiled. I noticed that his flesh tone was similar to mine, light and peachy; his eyes as intense as my own blue eyes, but brown. It was obvious that he loved to dance. He led adeptly; I followed easily. In the middle of our dance, he commented, “You’ll probably need to take your jacket off because you’ll get warm.” I smiled, knowing that likely I would very soon peel it off, but for the time being the fan above the dance floor was keeping me cool.
At the end of the dance, I turned toward the band to acknowledge the musicians with my applause. When I turned my focus back to my partner, I saw that he was no longer standing beside me, but was face down on the floor. The other dancers and I assumed he was joking. But not so. The band stopped. Time stopped. This time held all eternity — a time that can be long or short by the clock. Someone called for help while six of us (including staff, John, and a patron who is a registered nurse) said encouraging words and touched him. I allowed others to attend to him on a physical basis, and focused my attention at another level.
I put my hand on his back and asked silently “Are you going to die?” to which came the answer: “It is time.” My thoughts raced with a series of follow-up questions: “Time for what? Time to live? Time to die? Time to dance?” I reminded myself to breathe. My impulse “to do” something shifted back to the consciousness “to be” with this moment. I recognized that to be a non-anxious presence was more important now than any action I might take. My inner guidance confirmed that his spirit was very much alive, but was no longer in his body. I felt his spiritual presence more strongly than I had earlier. My fearlessness of physical death and my previous experiences of observing the process of transition from physical to nonphysical anchored me in blessing the richness of this moment.
Words of encouragement and gentle touches came to this man on the floor from those in the inner circle; those in the outer circles bore witness to the event. Drawn together for entertainment in this intimate space, we found ourselves joined by the invisible web of human kindness with varied reflections and perspectives on life and death.
In the muted sounds of the club, I picked up odds and ends of information. Echoed through the room was the knowledge that no one present knew this man’s name. Staff confirmed to each other that he was not drinking. A gold ring on his left hand announced he was married. In the absence of facts, I speculated on his circumstances. Perhaps he was an out-of-town business person unwilling to fight the Friday night outbound traffic at LAX. Perhaps he lived in Chicago or Boston, with a wife and children not expecting him home until sometime the next day. A staff member tapped me on the shoulder, bringing me out of my speculation, and signaled that I was to move aside for the police and paramedics. I slipped back into linear time and realized that, by the clock, their arrival was swift.
I moved to the outer circle, but not for long. The staff pointed me out to a police officer who asked for my identification. In my tiny purse I carried only my keys, my driver’s license, and some cash. I learned from the early morning jogging club the importance of carrying identification when going out to walk or run, just in case…… Going to a bar or buying wine, of course, I carry my picture ID for that added hope that I will get carded. This current scenario was one that I had not imagined as reason to carry proof of identity.
I followed the police officer who carried my license in his hands. He was young, handsome, gentle, and empathetic. Unhurried, he copied the information from my card, asking me to confirm that each bit was still correct. Harvelle’s staff also took my name and telephone number.
As the paramedics performed their duties, the patrons continued to keep a respectful vigil. Although I knew this man’s body no longer held his spirit, the attendants kept massaging his heart as they carried him away. Perhaps they did not want to announce the finality to the Friday night crowd or perhaps they did not want to give up hope or perhaps they were following predetermined procedures.
When the band returned to make their sounds, I vacillated between staying and leaving. To stay and dance felt more honoring of the happenings; to leave too soon seemed to discount the evening’s events. The crowd was expanded rather than diminished. I danced with John and waited until the end of the set to leave, about midnight. Outside the club, the bouncer (a 300 pound hunk) said he had something for me: three passes for my next visit to Harvelle’s. I smiled at the graciousness in the hands that hold such physical strength. My only words “thank you” were transmitted through the wordless energy field of our shared experience.
Two Days Later, Sunday
While walking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, I found myself face to face with a police officer handing me a candy cane. He noted my hesitancy to take the candy and said with gentle authority that I had to take it. I acquiesced with a playful smile that matched his, and offered a bargain: I would take it in exchange for some information. I told him that I was at Harvelle’s on Friday. He stopped any need for further explanation when he revealed that he was on dispatch that night. I asked how I could make it known that I was available to speak with the man’s wife or anyone else in the family, if they desired. I identified myself as the last one dancing with him, that my name and contact information were part of the police record.
Home for five minutes, the owner of Harvelle’s telephoned to ask me to call the family. This nameless man and his wife, whom I had been carrying in my heart for two days, now had names: Jim and Victoria. Not from out of town, they lived locally. A friend handling phone calls told me Victoria would return my call the next day.
The Next Day, Monday
Victoria and I spoke for an hour by phone in a remarkable dialogue. She confirmed that she and Jim love/loved to dance. She kept correcting her language, changing references to Jim to the past tense rather than the present tense which had become so familiar in their 18-year marriage. Friday night Victoria had to work (she is an emergency room physician) so Jim went without her to scout Harvelle’s for a future visit together. Their other dance buddies had planned to go with him, but in the end Jim went without anyone who knew him.
I shared with Victoria every detail I could recall from that night; she reciprocated by confirming information about Jim that I had intuited. Jim and Victoria had a son and daughter, ages 8 and 10. He had several physical conditions which prompted him to decide to dance to maintain his health. In addition, he created a contract with the Universe that he not live any part of his life as an invalid. He was active to the last moment. He was totally alive until he died.
I was touched by her words as she thanked me for being an angel for Jim and for holding a space of calmness during the event. It took a while following our conversation for me to synthesize all that we verbalized, though I was left with no doubt that Jim knew he was going to die that night.
I declined to attend Jim’s memorial service on the next day because I had a client scheduled in a time slot that would make it impossible. Later when the client cancelled, I knew where I was supposed to be.
The Next Day, Tuesday
The synagogue was filled with those who loved and cherished Jim. They were not there in perfunctory attendance. Before I could spot someone I thought might be Victoria, a comely woman approached me, commenting that I was standing alone. I explained that I knew no one there, identifying myself as “the woman who was the last to dance with Jim.” She embraced me warmly as she introduced herself as Jim’s mother. A brief interchange indicated that Victoria had already conveyed much of our conversation. As I approached Victoria, pointed out by Jim’s mother, our eyes meet and she asked “Are you Jeanie?”
At the memorial service, I heard stories of Jim’s capacity to love, ability to inspire, and the expansiveness of his soul. I contemplated the enigma that he left this physical life in a place where nobody knew him on this earth plane. With so many close friends and family members, he chose strangers to be with him in the end of this life. I believe Jim would appreciate and even encourage us to speculate on this situation, a mystery that sweetens his memory.
Jim’s story has not ended simply because he no longer uses a body that is familiar to family and friends. He has touched many persons in his life and in his death: those he knew and those he did not know by name.
It was a special honor to be present, to be a witness to his passage, and to dance with Jim his last dance.
Copyright 2006 Marshall House