I was stalled in the candy aisle of my local supermarket yesterday, weighing whether the soy lecithin in a Ghirardelli chocolate bar would kill the gluten-free friend for whom I was making dinner.
Then I heard it over the store’s music system, unmistakable:
My ears perked. My eyes quit pondering the ingredient list.
I looked down the aisle, toward the frozen seafood. Empty. Then up the aisle, toward checkout. Not a soul in sight.
I felt one foot begin to tap. Then the other.
I had forgotten entirely the possibility of involuntary manslaughter by gluten. I was seized by the impulse to leave behind my squeaking shopping cart and my ordinary little life, toss off my winter coat and … dance!
I don’t know why I have these episodes; an ex wryly described me as having a rich inner life, and perhaps she was right. But I suspect I’m not alone. I distinctly remember an experience similar to yesterday’s candy-aisle interlude, back when I was a grad student at the University of Michigan. I was in a downtown drugstore when a song by Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker that was popular at the time came over the sound system:
I felt my body begin to sway, and soon I was singing under my breath. And then I heard this hushed chorus all around: In every aisle, people were wearing the same dreamy, cow-eyed expression, singing along.
This was long before the phrase “flash mob” came into being; in fact, it was a decade before any of us heard the term “internet.” Yet, I had a sudden impression that we were all in a beautiful, implausible musical, that we had been lifted out of the colorless and commonplace. Plucked from our individual preoccupations about homework, or the bills, or meeting a work deadline, and transported to a common and richly choreographed life, where love — and our hearts, and our spirits — were writ large. Where we were more than our small selves.
And then, the moment passed. I went to class, and my fellow singing strangers to their everyday obligations.
I do not have a bucket list. But before I die, I am going to do this: I am going to be in some store, maybe even in the most boring aisle — the cleaning supplies, or the paper goods — and I am going to hear through the music system a certain song.
My ears will perk; my eyes will get dreamy. I will feel one foot begin to tap, then the other. And I will toss my coat to the floor, leave my shopping cart behind and — even if the aisle isn’t empty — dance my way out of the ordinary, and into the epic ….