St. Louis, 7 years ago. Walking with the first woman I ever dated as a religious Jew.
She’s got this free-flowing, fun energy. A sort of calmness that also takes a joy in the world around it. I like that energy.
We’re walking down the street called Delmar Boulevard near Washington University, and in my memory we’re holding hands, even though you can’t do that when you’re dating as an orthodox Jew.
But in my mind we are, and I think it’s because on that day, that’s how it feels. We’re walking along after having some hookah, and we’re enjoying the vibe. It’s got the chill feel of the midwest mixed with the fun of a college town.
We’re talking about the things you talk about when you’re dating: nothing. Just happy words, flowing in and out, just enjoying each other’s presence. Lots of deep talk about the kind of Jews we want to be, what we believe, where we see life going. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? What we care about is how happy we feel together, how right this feels.
That’s when it happens. Out of nowhere, we hear a, “Woo!”
It’s this woman that was walking the opposite way from us, who just a moment ago was walking along quietly.
She’s this larger woman who has the happiest look on her face in the world. She’s got colorful necklaces, and they all seem to just be an expression of the happiness she wears on her face. Her eyes are closed shut like there isn’t a world around her, like what’s inside of her is all there is.
“Oh yeah! Woo!”
She waves her arm around and she starts dancing.
There is no music . Not really. It’s more like a cacophony of the blues bars, hookah places, funky restaurants, people laughing with friends, cars driving by.
What this lady is dancing to is clearly entirely in her mind. She was walking by us, normal as anything, and then suddenly she was lost in a world of music that we couldn’t hear.
She’s dancing on the sidewalk, no worries about who’s looking at her, maybe not aware there is anyone looking. Her head bouncing, her arms up in the air, her body gyrating. “Mmm! Yeah!”
My date and I stare at each other and I see her calm, joyful eyes laughing with me. But it’s not a mean laugh, not a mocking laugh. It’s just… thankful.
Then the woman stops as quickly as she started. She starts walking again, this time with more of a jump to her step, and the happy look on her face isn’t gone, but her eyes are open now.
And then she’s gone.
Now my date and I, we look at each other again, and we laugh. In my mind, we’re holding each other and falling on the ground and holding on to each other to keep ourselves from falling at how much we’re laughing.
Inside, that’s how we laughed. But it came out like a quiet laugh that we shared together.
We’re sitting at another bar now, and we’re talking. We’re talking about that moment, and how wonderful, how perfect it was.
I watch my date’s eyes. Again, there’s no mocking in them. I go on and on about how amazing it was to just see someone totally not aware of the world, totally happy, totally in the moment. Forget the reason, what was going on, whether she was “normal” or not. That moment was real. That joy was real.
And my date, she nods and agrees, and we smile and we laugh about it some more and we imitate her, not to make fun, but because we both wish we had the woman’s spirit.
That’s how I knew I would marry her, even if maybe I couldn’t put it in those words at that time. That smile of hers… those eyes… that calmness… the appreciation of a moment that would seem insane to others or mocked by them…
She understood madness better than others because she was crazy as me… not in a bad way… but by being a bit outside the world no matter how much we tried to keep our feet on the ground.
She loved the world because she didn’t fit into it. That’s the type of woman I knew I needed in my life, the type of person that I was meant to share a life with. I live outside the world, but so often I forget to be grateful, so often forget to see its beauty, so often forget there’s a meaning to it all.
She’s the joyful reminder that there is. Her vision from outside is from a place of security, a place of knowing that life is inherently meaningful.
Marriage is this fascinating world where everything is constantly changing and evolving. You look at yourself just a few years later, then six years later, and you think, wow, that was me? You’ve changed as much as you did as an adolescent, because you are constantly adapting, constantly shifting to fit this new entity in your life.
But just as much as evolving and growing is such a part of marriage, there are also those anchors that keep your marriage breathing, keep it alive. The unchanging things you can grasp onto when you’re confused and lost and tired of all this evolution.
That moment, where the woman danced in the streets of St. Louis and I saw my date, my soon-to-be-wife and mother-of-my-children, for who she really was… that’s one of my favorite anchors.
It was a moment when I saw her joyousness, her confidence in the world, her grounded madness, and my soul fell into hers, joining it in an eternal embrace that marriage would bring us to through its retroactive power.
Maybe that’s why I imagine that we held hands when we walked down the street. Maybe that’s why I think we hugged and laughed as if no one was looking. Because we did, it’s just that no one saw. We were up in the air of spirits with the dancing woman on the street, seeing the truth that only mad love can see.