There are certain moments in life that pull us out of the world of the ordinary and whisk us into the extraordinary. We arrive, as it were, at a deeper level of insight and experience. These moments are transcendent and, although conveyed through the material world, have nothing to do with our actions. That is, we don’t conjure them up on our own. Rather, they come at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places and through the most unexpected people. I can recall at least two experiences of leaping from the ordinary into the extraordinary in my life.
The first occurred in the summer of 1978 while jogging with a friend at dusk in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. As I looked at the sycamore trees lining Pennsylvania Avenue, the scene opened up before me as if someone had drawn a curtain. I saw the reality behind our world and a cosmic presence guiding it. It was over in a flash, but I was certain I had beheld the truth. Why at that time and for what purpose, I cannot say. I don’t admit this lightly, not being a fan of the word “cosmic” unless it is used to describe a 1950s movie about space invaders, but the experience did feel cosmic.
The second experience occurred ten years earlier in 1968 at a dance. As a twelve-year-old, it was my first dance. It took place in the basement of a classmate’s house with her parents upstairs checking on us every half hour or so. Imagine a basement filled with pubescent kids with a record player, a stack of vinyl, a bowl of Hawaiian punch, and empty Coke bottles to spin. My buddies and I wore Apache ties and enough Hai Karate to fumigate the house. The girls wore dresses, lipstick (white was popular), and, in one case at least, a “slave bracelet” around her ankle. The bracelet generated a lot of interest, especially since the girl wearing it was a transfer student and claimed to be Greek Roma.
At one point, after listening at the upstairs door for her parents, the hostess, Judy, decided it was safe enough to lower the lights and put a slow record on. As soon as she announced it, I decided to ask the redhead across the room to dance with me. Her name was Diane.
Diane had long, red hair parted in the middle and wore a macrame dress with boots. At least I think it was macrame, but it could have been a raincoat for all I could tell. My heart was throbbing, my mouth parched, my palms sweaty. We were in the same classes at school, but she was cool, far cooler than I could ever hope to be. Still, something took hold of me as it does to many of us in these situations, even twelve-year-old boys. And when it does there is no power on this side of that curtain in Fairmount Park to keep it at bay.
Incredibly, Diane said yes. It took a second for her answer to register and another for every nerve in my body to burst into flames. Then the lights dimmed and we squeezed into a corner of the parqueted floor to dance. Now, here’s the thing. Diane was so relaxed that she relaxed me and I started dancing with a bit of confidence, which meant I didn’t step on her feet or back into other couples. Even more incredible was that she seemed to enjoy it, pressing me close to her and resting her head on my shoulder. No mean feat, that, considering I was an inch or two shorter than her.
This was my first serious experience of acceptance and affirmation by the opposite sex, apart from my mother, of course. And after all this time, I can still feel her cheek on my shoulder, the curve of her back, the softness of her hair. I touched it as I moved my hand toward her shoulder. Even then, in my tripping pubescence, I understood that I had stepped into the realm of beauty.
This was also my first experience of dance, of swaying with someone in a moment outside of time. We moved through space but outside of time, the music helping us cross the parqueted floor and into my soul. I felt transported into the extraordinary. It wasn’t in a flash–thank God for that–but I was transported, nevertheless. The fact that it lasted for four minutes of Herb Alpert has been a blessing.
I still remember the look of contentment in Diane’s hazel eyes when the song ended and we finally parted. And I, floating back to my seat by the punch bowl, fell utterly in love.
Image credits: feature by Sahand Hoseini; red hair by Peter Bucks; tree by Jose Martinez. All on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” This post is dedicated to Diane and the Class of 1968.