I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
-From Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H., Canto 27

“Would you like to dance?” I asked the nattily dressed gentleman standing next to me between the long, darkly lighted bar and small disco dance floor, my voice floating over rhythmic lights and sweaty DJ music, Donna Summer and Rolling Stones for we middle-aged Singles.

“No, thank you,” he said holding a glass of water and gazing at the dance floor. “I prefer to watch.”

It was fifteen years ago in a swanky Dallas dance club, an unlikely place a single mother in her mid-forties and a teacher out on a Sunday evening, a school night. Except that it was the Singles Sunday-School class party, and I thought I’d support the troops, stay for an hour or so, dance with anyone who wanted to dance then go home to my children.

“How long have you been a member of the Singles Class at Lovers Lane United Methodist?” I asked conversationally.

“Oh, a few years. I enjoy the Sunday morning classes and some of the events. I’m an accountant so I volunteered to be Class Treasurer,” he said smiling at me. “How about you?”

“I usually sing in the choir on Sunday mornings and have two very active children, so I don’t attend many Singles classes or events.”

“I never married or had children,” he stated frankly. “And I’ve always lived alone and never dated much, but I just turned 50 and thought that maybe I should get married.”

“I wonder if you might try dating a little,” I said gently.

“Well, I’m thinking about that,” he replied somewhat pensively, glancing at the dance floor.

When I suggested that he might want to adopt a dog or cat, to get a sense of what it would be like to live with someone, his smile abruptly disappeared. “Oh, no, that would be too much responsibility,” he replied worriedly. Okey-dokey, I thought to myself, time to move on.

Last week in my writing group, one of my classmates presented a delightful piece about herself, her husband and their dogs. Only it wasn’t really about dogs, and it never is, according to our instructor. Dog pieces are invariably cute, funny and sad because the dog always dies. That’s when I realized that this might have been what worried that gentleman all those years ago.

I read somewhere that life is really about loss. But today I’m thinking that for people like that gentleman and me, life is really about stepping into our fears.

And I’m wondering what happened to that gentleman. Did he step onto the dance floor? Did he adopt a pet? Did he step into his fear?

What do you think?


  1. Keith Kenny

    A good life observation. I suppose every step ahead entails leaving something behind, and that is the rub. To love one’s complete freedom and near infinite options more than any imagined alternatives could keep one perpetually searching. I also suspect that perpetual searchers are loath to confront visions of their own mortality … when their time for searching inevitably ends.

    • Carole Duff

      Thank you for your comment. Stepping onto a dance floor seems less about searching and more about making a decision, choosing a path. In that regard, we all leave behind options, alternative paths, whether we step into our fears or not.


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