As the song goes, just one look was all it took.
Mind you, February has always been a magical time for Missy. Not, I might add, because of the weather. Our developmentally disabled ward has been known to declare “I’m cold” when the weather dips below a sunny 70 degrees. When Colorado becomes a realm of ice, snow, and penetrating wind – suffice to say it gets remarked on. Many times.
Which makes it ironic that many of Missy’s favorite experiences are wintertime ones. Like Christmas light tours. Or bowling with old friends. Or especially the February “prom” for the disabled. Dress up in fancy clothes and dance the night away? It would take the White Witch herself to keep Missy away from that.
The night was in full swing – as was Missy, dancing with me and any volunteer within a 20-foot radius – when I noticed something. As Missy was having a blast near the edge of the stage, the lead singer of the band had spotted her and begun mirroring her movements, keeping up with each step, sway, and raising of hands.
Missy then spotted him. Her smile and her eyes widened. For the next couple of minutes, she and the front man danced together without coming near each other, their eyes and their moves perfectly aligned. When the song ended, Missy’s excited face could have outshone any stage light – especially when the singer acknowledged her from the stage with a gesture.
Dance like no one’s watching, they say. But someone had been. And it made the night that much more special.
Someone was watching.
Someone usually is.
As I write that, I realize how ominous that may sound. After all, we live in an age where privacy may seem to be a nostalgic memory. Numerous stories of data hacks have made it clear how often we’re being profiled without our knowledge, never mind the volume of data we willingly share with friends, family, and barely-met acquaintances across the world.
But that’s not where I’m going with this. This is something older than the internet. Maybe even older than recorded information in any form.
Someone is watching.
Someone is learning from you.
Stephen Sondheim put it well in “Into The Woods”:
Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
We all teach by example. And it’s not just to kids. Every day, whether we know it or not, we make ourselves a model for someone else. What we say, what we do, what we embrace or avoid gets noticed and learned from.
That can sound a little intimidating – “Oh, my gosh, I’d better be on my best behavior!” But if you think about it, it’s kind of endearing. Somewhere, someone has decided – consciously or not – that they want to be like you. That you’re cool. That something you do is worth their attention.
It may be subtle. We may not notice right away. But each of us quietly shapes the world.
Admittedly, that does put a little responsibility on us. It means we don’t exist in isolation, that we can’t disclaim any effect on others. Even if we don’t have to turn into Clark Kent, The Super Boy Scout, we still have to think, at least a little, about what we put into the world, because it will come back to us. We know this, even if we don’t think about it all the time – “Do unto others,” after all, is one of the oldest rules there is in almost any culture.
What we would see, we must be.
But it’s an exciting thought. It means we can put beauty in the world as easily as anger. It means that our joy, our wonder, our kindness, can create ripples that may someday lead to a wave. It means we have hope – that we can build hope.
We’re not alone. And that’s a wonderful thing. Even on the coldest night, a friend you’ve never met may just be waiting for your cue to start the dance.
Just ask Missy.