Dancing with the Dead to the Soundtrack of Your Life…


I am lying “in the position” at radiation, neatly tucked into my mold, awaiting the first pulse of today’s radiation doses.  The machines robotically swing into place overhead and the red lights blink on.  And then… I hear the familiar falsetto voices of the Bee-Gee’s and the unmistakable disco beat of the ’70s.   I smile and relax.  Music has a way of morphing any event or experience into something else completely. Just a few notes of the Saturday Night Fever  soundtrack, and instantly I am transported to the summer of 1978…

It was the summer my best friend, Mary Beth, and I actually took disco lessons.  We were staying at my sister’s in Massachusetts for a month (I think it was my mother’s plan to put distance between my boyfriend and me.  Ultimately, a failed plan, as he eventually graduated from “boyfriend” to “husband”…and thankfully so!)  My sister knew somebody, who knew somebody…and one evening, after supper, there came a knock on the door.  Standing before us was a mustachioed pseudo-silk (read, polyester ) clad disco-instructor, who in all reality was probably a neighbor’s 23-year-old son who worked at McDonald’s.  To us, 17-year-old discotheque novices, he was as impressive as all-get-out.  We were finally going to graduate from high school dances where the boys shuffled in place while girls who wanted to attempt something more challenging were relegated to flailing about  in their own circle.

After a few lessons, and some hilarious practice sessions, Mary Beth and I were delighted when he suggested we try out our moves at a real disco.  The details of the entire night are now, 30-some years later,  a blur of swirling colored-lights, the relentless beat from the DJ’s speakers, and countless variations on the leisure suit.  But there were moments… when our feet seemed to know the moves without direction and we twirled,  curled and hustled our way across the pulsating floor.  I also distinctly remember being introduced to the “Tootsie Roll” — an alcoholic concoction that remarkably enough did taste exactly like its candy cousin.  The night ended rather uneventfully, but our adolescent egos were bolstered by our entrée into the nightlife of adulthood…and we would never hold quaint high school dances in the same regard.

“…Great.  One last breath and we’re done…” The voice of the technician safely distanced in the control room cuts through the soundtrack of the satellite radio, the red lights blink out,  I can bring my arms down and the darkened room is no longer a disco…and its far from 1978.  As a matter of fact, my 21-year-old daughter is currently boarding with my forever friend and sometime dance partner, Mary Beth, in her Rockland County home for the semester while Emma interns in New York City.  It both amuses and comforts me as the ironies of life play out….

As I mentioned, it’s Friday so I’m free for the weekend.  Time to drive home.  As I motor along, I listen to the 70’s station…and for the first time in a long time, I feel compelled to sing along with the radio.  Loudly. My first week of radiation is complete…and I am positively buoyed by my experiences thus far.  Life is good…and so is the soundtrack.

Saturday (sort of) and Sunday….

The weekend has been about rest, the dogs (who feel terribly neglected though I know Ryne has been as attentive as ever,) cleaning and groceries.  In terms of productivity, I doubt we would rank very high…but, that’s okay.  I’ve been told that life is not a competition.  I remind myself that from time to time.

For all my guilt-less lazing about, Sunday night’s sleep is fitful…and filled with vivid dreams.  One in particular wakes me…a dream entirely cast with the dearly departed.  In this dream, I am dancing with the dead.

The dream commences with my long-departed Aunt Annabelle (a real fire-cracker in her day) and me running down a dark street… when I spy our destination. It is a neon-lit honky-tonk of sorts and bluesy music is spilling from it out onto the sidewalk.  My Uncle Leo (also deceased and a true character in his own right) is out front, having a grand time — his great shock of white-hair is almost fluorescent in its vibrancy and he is dancing a tipsy jig (I have seen him perform this dance at many weddings over my lifetime).  He waves to us and I call to him, “Uncle Leo!”  We are all thrilled to see one another.  Inside the dive, after some weird discussion about the necessity for shoes, we dance — with joyful abandon–  to the blues guitar licks of an unknown band tucked into some dark recess of the dream.

The scene shifts, as dreams do, to a funeral. I am singing the mass and I’m anxious —  I don’t know the music and am having trouble seeing the words.  Oddly enough, it seems the Catholic Church has written a less-secular rendition of Elmore and Jake’s “Soul Man” from the Blues Brothers soundtrack and there in the monthly missal, the original words have been scratched out…and underneath,  carefully printed in pencil, are the new lyrics..  I am trying my very best… I feel the weight of responsibility.  In the dream I know how important the music is to the family and friends gathered to mourn their loved-one and send her off properly equipped for the afterlife.  In the end, I know the tune and when the time comes, I valiantly struggle to line up new lyrics and old melody.  The dream dissolves into morning…

and, finally, a return to Monday….

I wake with the phrase, “dancing with the dead” and the strains of “Soul Man” cycling through my brain.  It is Monday morning.  I need to drive back to Burlington for week two of my cancer treatment.  I’ll figure it out later, I tell myself.

After breakfast, I gather my weekly supply of hugs and kisses from my husband and critters.  It is a beautiful morning — the sun is shining, the roads are dry and clear of any snow or ice — perfect traveling conditions. I crank the tunes; too early to sing along.  I swill my coffee and let the caffeine do its trick.  And suddenly…there it is….

Kansas ties it all together in a song I have often sung and seldom truly considered, “Dust in the Wind…”  I turn it up.

“I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind

Don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind”

From the Bee-Gees to the Blues Brothers, from the warblings of our first nursery rhyme to the organ’s rumbling funeral dirge….such is the soundtrack of our lives.  The music remains the same, but we, alas…do not.  Oh, we like to believe the song plays for each one of us alone, but when we are gone…the music shall certainly continue without us.  And though we may often dance with partners, in the end we dance alone. With tears streaming down my face, I refuse to see this as the evidence of life’s futility. I am not daunted by this truth because it starkly reminds us to celebrate the music; join in and heed its call to dance.  We’ve got to feel the relentless beat deep within us, let our feet fly where they will, and our arms reach up in exuberant joy — dance with abandon, dance with passion, float on the melody and let our voices full-throated sing out the chorus.  For today we dance with the living…too soon, we shall dance with the dead.

Burlington 10 miles.

And the beat goes on…


15 thoughts on “Dancing with the Dead to the Soundtrack of Your Life…

  1. As you end with Sonny and Cher…I just sang along to your weekend with you! 🙂 Happy 1st week of radiation over! 5 more to go? You can do it ~ keep the song in your heart ~ ahem, songs…and keep belting those lyrics out! You can do it! xo

  2. Christine, our gift IS to hear the music, isn’t it? And to feel all of the nuances of melody and rhythm. And to dance, to all of it. Thank you for this beautiful post. How beautiful that all of your loved ones are gathered around supporting you. You are definitely in my thoughts and prayers that your treatments are successful, you are surrounded by beauty and love, and that the normal rhythm of your life will return soon. Take good care of yourself, hugs, WG

  3. Dancing with the living… Dancing with the dead… We will still dance. And just so you know, I am counting on you to dance with me when we are a couple of crazy old ladies, or at least to sit with me (preferably somewhere warm) and listen to the music, and tap our feet, and remember… whatever it is we can still remember…

  4. Keep singing girl—-sing loud, sing free—- keep singing!!! We are all so proud of you—- stay strong. This is a dance “of your own” but we are all there with you!!!!

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