Last night my friends lifted me up, held me, sang and helped me dance my way back from a lost and half-broken thing into a whole being. I arrived feeling scattered and morose, but relieved to be here in this dim low-ceilinged beer and whiskey bar, with an honest-to-goodness “Feast of Friendship” laid out for us all. I kid you not. It said so right there on the wall.
Lilting acoustic performance, two warbling ladies and a mustachioed man with a guitar prompted the room to whistle up a birdsong and laid on the harmonies. I peeled off layer after layer of cold weather garb, wait for the fog to clear from my glasses, and slide my cumbersome bike bag up towards the bar to order up a tall pint of strong ale. I stand and watch, taking in the room, and start seeing friends scattered amongst the strangers… Tree and his elvish daughter are seated at a table against the wall, and I edge through the crowd to take a seat. He scoops up the kid and I take her chair… and nod to another friend on the other end of the table. Deep breaths. You’re home now, in a singing crowd. MC comes in, glowing- it’s her birthday. She tucks the two sunflowers in a cellophane sleeve she’s holding into the strap of her bag and gives you a hug and the flower wrappers crackle. A girl with big horn rim glasses and a bigger smile sings a solo song, “I like you just the way you are”, and means it. As the night goes on the bar fills with folks you know, and plenty of others all here for the show.
Later your pals are on stage and all are caught up in the crush and cacophony of of the crowd, all sing-shouting along and dancing to the songs you all know in your marrow. Your city, your country, your friends and family and struggles… all in there. Someone passes a bag of homemade pastries through the crowd. It’s a giving game, this feast, and you all give it your all… Al is electric, wild-eyed, holding onto the ceiling and preaching to a choir of true believers… arms locked around each others shoulders, boots stomping and beers rattling, floors sticky and walls resounding. Nothing else matters, but the present, but being present and uplifted and held up by all around you, all in love with these love songs, the fiddle sweet, big bass so deep, pared down drums and banjo. When you sing along in harmony to Lonesome Low, you know that low and how low it can go, but you’re still a soprano. Pick yourself up and take the high road, girl… too much to do yet to lie broken and wait. We’re not here to judge, we’re along for the ride, wherever it takes us, which after a few encores is the sweaty funk of a southern soul dj spinning for a dirty country punk dance afterparty.
You take off a few more layers of flannel and wool and reservations and shake and twist it all out, laughing and cheering each other on. Someone asks if you can step, and you shrug and take his hand (it’s been years) and follow, figure it out as you go. You don’t really know this dance but trust and let go and try to remember, but mainly try to listen as you move. Find your frame, remember that old feeling and connection- shoulders strong but flexible, solid in your core and hips oh so free, light on your feet and ready to change directions. Years of your youth spent or misspent on miles of dance floor across the country, feet flying, with now-far-flung friends left an imprint on your nerves and muscles and heart that while faded, is still there. Lord, teach all the men in the world to dance- not drunken flailing solo flopping, but how to really dance with someone. It’s a language all its own. You dance three last songs and call it a night. Chug some waters, find your friends, hug some, gather towards the door, spill out into the crisp air to your bikes and ride west towards home with a few folks going your way. Hungry folks. You all stop and split a mushroom pie, and you realize how ravenous you are as you eat slice after chewy slice, giardinara and cheese on top. You get home and your best bud is waiting for you, waggy nub tail wild and thrilled to see you as always. You hug him and let him out to romp in the snow and then settle in for the night. The sadness is there and will be, but girl, it’s gonna be alright. You’re home, here in this city you’ve grown up in, into who you are and will be. You’re still growing, much older now, and still so much to learn. It’s gonna be a wild ride, friends.