Forever Is Today
Every day has forever in it
The Day I Learned to Dance
I’m 69 today, and of all the memories over my long life that I could recall, I find myself dwelling on the day I learned to dance alone when I was twenty-one to the song, Forever Came Today, by the Jackson Five.
I was a final-year, church-linked college student in Big Sandy, Texas. My younger sister, Carolyn, had just been accepted into the same college, so she’d flown from Australia to join me.
My sister wasn’t like me. She was a bit of a church rebel, an individual, living outside of the religious orbit that – although I didn’t realise it – was slowly choking the life out of me.
There was a college dance approaching so Carolyn decided to teach me how to dance by myself. I’d only ever danced with a man holding my hand, his arm encircling my waist, my foot movements dictated by his. But that wasn’t how it was done these days. I needed educating!
The thought of standing by myself in the middle of a dance floor, making up my own steps, terrified me. Carolyn decided to give me a private lesson in the dorm.
‘Let’s turn up the music,’ she said. The song, Forever Came Today, by the Jackson Five thumped through the small room. I’d never heard it before, but she had and was already singing along.
She planted herself in front of me, bare toes gripping the carpet, hands on hips.
‘Okay! Move!’ she ordered, jerking her pelvis rhythmically. I tried to imitate. ‘No, no! You’re just twitching. Swing those hips. Now move your feet. Step forward and back. Sideways. Whatever the music tells you to do.’
I found this a strange concept: do whatever the music told me to do. Being a good, God-fearing fundamentalist female child now grown up, I did whatever God told me to do, and the Bible, and Dad, and all the ministers. How could music tell me what to do? I struggled to please Carolyn.
‘Loosen up,’ she shouted over the pounding rhythm as she bumped into the bed. Her arms pumped the air and her fingernails flashed like falling stars. ‘Forget I’m here. Don’t try to please me. Please yourself. There’s just you and the music.’
Carolyn gyrated and spun, fluid and free, a nightclub queen. I took diffident steps and made coy movements with my hands, trying to please myself – whatever that meant. She shook her head at me, her face a mixture of exasperation and amusement.
When the song ended, I thought the torture was over, but she started it up again, determined to help me break through my timidity.
‘I know what’s wrong,’ she said. ‘You’re still wearing shoes. Take them off!’
Obedient as always, I took them off. The carpet felt fuzzy on my feet as I moved in time to the music and tried to vary the direction of my steps like she was. Sideways, backward, forwards, together. My feet formed squares and diamond patterns on the carpet, but I still felt awkward, like a baby stork learning to walk.
‘Dance as if no one is watching,’ Carolyn said, unknowingly stating what would become a catchphrase in about ten years. Maybe she should be getting royalties, but I have no way of proving it was she who came up with the saying.
Carolyn refused to give up through three performances of the song.
‘Forget I’m here. There’s just you and the music,’ she said, trying to unleash the inner me. When I finally collapsed on the bed, we both sighed.
‘It’s hopeless,’ I said.
‘No. It’ll just take time,’ she prophesied.
* * * * *
Since those college days Carolyn and I have long left the church we were brought up in. I still don’t dance as freely as she does but can manage a few sedate twists and turns in the darker corners of dance floors.
As I sit at my desk reliving this old memory on my birthday, it’s not my awkwardness that I’m remembering, but the title of the song: Forever Came Today.
In her poem, “Everything That Was Broken”, Mary Oliver wrote:
How can this be, but it is. Every day has something in it whose name is Forever.
We think of forever as stretching into the distance so far that it’s out of sight.
But forever is in today.
It’s already woven into the moment, a part of our being.
For nostalgia’s sake, I play the song of the Jackson Five that was burned into my memory all those years ago. Like Carolyn, I turn it up loud, and dance by myself, letting the music tell me what to do.
The space in my writing room is about the same size as that in the college dorm. Instead of hitting a bed, my hips hit the bookcase and the chair. The bookcase shudders slightly and the chair spins around on its wheels.
For a while, it’s just me and the music and forever.
Forever is always here.
Forever is contained in this moment.
This moment is a result of all that has gone before and contains within it all that will be.
The universe doesn’t start and stop, then start and stop again. It flows.
When I blow out the candles this evening, I’ll make a wish to never forget that forever is today, and every day.
When you recognise forever within you, it changes everything. It makes a big difference in how you live your life.
Forever is now.
With love, Marlane