Lightning in a Bottle

Is the third time the charm? Or is EVERY time?

It was over a year ago I met my Angel, an apparition on a giant white motorcycle, during a tempestuous downpour, in the outer bank island town of Chincoteague Virginia. I had been there for a day already, stranded by the rain and wind and flooding. I had previously written an essay about my desire to find an impossible female archetype; strong, confident, sassy; a divorced (and wise) ex-wife, a nurturing mother that readily takes in her baby birds in their hour of need, yet kicks them out when they need to stand alone. I described this imaginary enigma as health conscious, yet a casual smoker (one smoke after dinner or sex) and with a caring heart as big as all outdoors but who cuts to the chase when something needs to get done. She should laugh loudly, dress casually, swear intermittently and view a motorcycle as a source of freedom and solitude, not with feelings of fear or death. I wrote that essay into the ether.

And on that day, when all roads were unpassable, essentially blocked by weather, she rolled into town. She had an infectious dimpled smile, snarky laugh, open heart and other worldly aura. We poured out our life stories, then our hearts. Later we formed a group, laughed all night, then she plied us all with Cinnamon Tequila (still my drink of choice). I was still not divorced, had not been on a date in 4 decades, and yet magically conjured her from my imagination. A few months later, she honored me by escorting me to my first ever social event as a single man; playing the role of cheerleader, confidant, dance partner and dearest friend ever. A man twice blessed.

So we have talked all year, about our worries and dreams, goals and successes, failures and fears. We have shared stories about our dating and families and our upcoming bike trips. When I arrived in Hudson Valley, high on my planned agenda was to catch up with her, specifically to take a long bike ride together in the beautiful autumn mountains.

We caught up before breakfast, and I finally got a tour of her house. And it was the composite of the stories I had heard; years of individual projects all built into a massive comfortable family home. Her projects showed how time and craftsmanship more than compensated for money and experts. It was beautiful. Yet, she still had more projects to go, each laid out in an individual year, individual budget. A garden with fresh vegetables, and home canning and preserves. The house had a large comfortable porch; it was unnecessary to add was her favorite place to entertain, or relax and unwind. It overlooked the neighborhood and the people and cars scurrying by on their business. I laughed to peek into her closet; dozens of pairs of blue jeans overflowing two shelves, over a dozen pairs of cowboy boots lining the floor, and a hat rack custom built specifically to hold her dozen various cowboy hats. When she changed outfits, it often didn’t change very far.

On our way to breakfast we talked about social policy, not in conceptual ether but in concrete practicality. We talked about our individual neighborhoods & neighbors, co-workers and friends, and how their attitudes and outlooks affect their own life experiences and thus impacts the lives of the strangers they meet. Even though we were two so different people, she and I choose to both see the good in each individual and wished only that each of us everywhere might do the same. The context of our conversation was not good, evil, and social norms but rather morning jogs, prior vacations and coffee shops; or was it? We ran into an old friend who was in a terrible bad string of events. She was compassionate and empathetic and offered good advice (and turned to me to add in!). But she gave her friend the jewel she had said to me throughout our year’s conversations: We all have challenges, bad things happen to everybody. You need to figure out what you are going to do about it. Pretty darn simple.

When we mounted our bikes she lead, of course, as the local expert. And we headed off west into the surrounding autumn hills. When riding in a pack, motorcycles form a letter “W”, with riders staying in the two paths from car tires, alternating to the left and right. Much like a spring, when going fast they spread out and when stopped (at a red light) they compress to a perfect 2-abreast square pattern. Two riders do the same, left and right, trailing and catching up; only they may add the fancy step of side-by-side riding when feeling particularly in spiritual sync. Sharing the lane is risky, and unnecessary, but a sign of confidence and trust. She and I did not do this, as our rhythm was not based on daring risk.

With her tiny frame atop her large solid bike, she lead among the rolling hills and beautifully curving roads. We were nearly always bordered by tall stands of trees, sometimes even covered over and driving through a tunnel of fall foliage. Then majestically, the trees would part at the top of some hill to reveal a panoramic valley vista below. A magical ride from a car; a near spiritual experience from a motorcycle.

Following her, I stayed a length behind and to the right side path; watching her graceful form among the natural surroundings. Its important for a ride leader to set a steady pace or followers gain and fall and are forced to accelerate and brake excessively. When lead well, the follower still must constantly adjust speed to fit into the spring like fluid connection, but in a dynamic undulating way. And while the follow is still forced to watch and concentrate upon his lead, they use only minor throttle adjustments to maintain formation.

And we moved fluidly among those low hills of the eastern Catskills, me following her lead. After awhile it became so apparent to be just another living allegory for ballroom dancing. One person must lead, and one must follow, but the follower has their own role, and enjoys in it (not to undermine the lead). The leader enjoys their responsibility, and forgets the rest, expecting each to carry their part … like a team, like a dance … like magic.

But our dance was definitely NOT a Tango, with its stark latin starts and stops. That might be for rush hour traffic, lunging, waiting on red lights. Not modern dancing, where each partner feels the beat individually and expresses it in their own individual movements. It was not even my favorite, the Rumba or Box step, requiring a firm lead and permitting a graceful follow to show off with complex independent twists and turns.

No, as I followed my angel on her massive white steed I felt closest to a waltz, the slow and constant never parting dance; arm in arm, face to face, hand to back, moving in time about the dance floor, covering great distances, but feeling like you are tip toeing across clouds barely moving yet an inch. Today, while she drove through the beautiful hills and vistas, I felt the romance of a waltz, where the two partners are inches apart, looking into each others eyes, studying not the floor (as that soon takes care of itself), but rather their partner’s expression, smile, and look. Waltz provides a moment out of time, a few minutes to look into your partner’s soul and wonder what exactly they are thinking, as romantic music plays, and the rooms slowly disappears from each of your consciousness.

The ride, for me, became a beautiful dance, following her lead. Watching her strength, and confidence, and character. We would break, and laugh and giggle. We stopped for coffee and to each take turns sharing stories. We shopped and bought trinkets. We returned to town to walk the “bridge to nowhere” and see the city lights under an overcast but determined full moon. But time after time it was a waltz, as two hearts, two lives, two paths, danced across each other for the length of a song, and an evening … for one beautiful day.

Let it be said, you CAN capture lightning in a bottle; two, now three times. And before we parted, we raised our two glasses (tequila, of course) to celebrate this simple toast: Same time, Next year

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