For a dancer.

Paul and I met on Valentine’s Day in 1981. Paul had just transferred to Brown; I had transferred there one year before. That evening, my friend Melinda and I went to a Valentine’s party hosted by another transfer student. I don’t remember who was throwing the party, or where their house was, or whether it was cold or snowy that night. All that detail is long gone. What I do remember is walking into a living room, where this cute guy was dancing with my friend Oona. Melinda introduced us (it was Paul), we chatted briefly, then Paul and Oona kept dancing. He seemed quite taken with her. I don’t remember anything about the rest of the party, either.

It’s not much of a story, really, and I probably wouldn’t remember that brief moment at the party had Paul not shown up at Melinda’s birthday party two days later. By then, he had learned from Oona that she was involved with another woman, and was not a romantic option. That night, after everyone else had gone home, Paul and I sat up talking for hours, with Jackson Browne keeping us company on my stereo. That night, thirty three years ago tonight, was when we first started to fall in love.

Since Paul’s death, one Jackson Browne song we listened to that first night together keeps coming back to me. It is beautiful and sad and, ultimately, hopeful. So on this, the first of many anniversaries without him here, I thought I’d share it with you.

For a Dancer

Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down
I don’t remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you’d always be around
Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you’re nowhere to be found

I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing – I can’t help listening
And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
Crying as they ease you down
‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing
Dancing our sorrow away (right on dancing)
No matter what fate chooses to play
(There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
(the world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know

12 thoughts on “For a dancer.

  1. I’ve always loved this beautiful song and it reminds me to never take anyone or anything for granted but live in the present. It was wonderful to see you yesterday. Wish we could give you hugs every day.

  2. Never heard that song before I’m surprised and ashamed to say, as I am of this era also (graduated high school in 1981), and this is so close to way I feel about death in general. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this soul-touching song. And for the story of you and Paul.
    Thank you. Thank you for giving me this.

  4. well…I can say that he would want you to go on…and keep dancing in the light of life. We all know he had no idea that things would go like this, nor did any of us in the family. But I know he would want me to encourage you to:

    Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
    (the world keeps turning around and around)
    Go on and make a joyful sound…

    I wish that for you…

  5. Kimberly, that song gave me goosebumps. It is so beautiful, and so totally appropriate for NOW that it is astonishing to think your relationship started years ago with it playing– beginning with a song about endings, about a dancer dancing out of your life, about going on to “make a joyful sound”.

    Thank you so much for sharing the song and your story about meeting.

    Victoria Bestock

  6. Thank you for sharing a beautiful memory with a beautiful song.
    I bought this album because of this song. One of my favorite JB songs.
    It is so sad and uplifting at the same time.

    I hope you go dancing again soon.

  7. Kimberly, thank you for sharing this deep grief with us. You have been such a generous teacher.

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