Sometimes, I go through times when memories like to revisit me. Often, those memories are unresolved scars from my past, and they usually are not kind. But once in a while, I recall something pleasant that I’ve lost somewhere in the chaos of life.
Such was the case this evening. I went out for an evening of ballroom dancing, and I took some time to recall some of the girls I’ve danced with over the years. I’ve danced with many wonderful girls, but one came to mind tonight that I haven’t thought about in years.
I was much younger, much more inexperienced as both a dancer and as a man. I was still in that phase of being uneasy about dancing and interacting with girls I didn’t know.
I was at a university dance, and there she was. A little petite wallflower with an adorable short bob, sitting by herself at the edge of the dance floor. She obviously didn’t know anyone there. When each new song would begin, she would light up, leaning to the edge of her seat, her big babydoll eyes sweeping across the room to see if any of the guys was coming to ask her to dance. Then after a few minutes, the light in her eyes would die until the next song, when they would brighten once again, though not as brightly as before.
I watched her for a while, wondering why none of the guys would ask her to dance. Then I realized that I was guilty of the same myself. As uncomfortable as I was asking a stranger to dance, I mustered the courage, walked over, and asked her to dance.
She looked at me in a sort of disbelief, but quickly smiled and beamed brighter than ever. And then she was all over the place. She had never danced before, had no rhythm, and stepped on me several times. But she was smiling the entire song.
As I escorted her back to her seat, her smile turned into sadness, and she apologized that she couldn’t dance very well. It was clear she was feeling as if she’d messed up and that her dance with me was a failure.
A song or two passed, and I walked over and asked her for a second dance. She said she couldn’t believe I’d dance with her again after the way she danced the first time, and again apologized that she couldn’t dance. I assured her that I was the one asking her to dance because I wanted to dance with her, whether she knew how to dance or not.
She smiled, dropped her head, and was quiet for a few moments while I danced with her. It was a slow dance, so we started talking. I asked why she was there alone. She came close and held me tightly. She explained to me that all of her friends were out getting hammered at the local bar. She said that she wanted to hold on to a better memory than just going out partying and getting drunk. She said that she had come to the dance because she needed a memory to help her be strong.
She told me that she and her friends had just finished training and were being deployed to Afghanistan the next morning, and she was both excited and terrified. This was during the peak Taliban insurgency during the war. I didn’t know how to respond to her. So we just danced, and I held her close until the song ended. Then I once again escorted her to her seat. She thanked me for giving her what she came there to find. Then it was time for her to leave.
I was the only guy to dance with her that night. We never saw each other again. I don’t even know her name. As I said at the beginning, I haven’t thought about her in years. I don’t know why she came to mind tonight.
But I do know this – Sometimes, what seems like the smallest, most insignificant thing to us can mean the world to someone else. Sometimes, we’re their only hope, even if we don’t realize it. Sometimes, we’re the answer to their prayer.