(From a 2011 column, which popped up today in my On This Day feed. Feels appropriate somehow to repost.)
I take my unimportance in the world very seriously, since it frees up my day considerably when I acknowledge that the universe will exist without me, no sweat.
I also understand that the universe does not need pictures of me in a towel or my boxer shorts. I’d be glad to pass this knowledge on to random members of Congress. There is comfort in insignificance if you look at it the right way.
And although I’m weary of Rep. Weiner and all the rest, Sarah and Arnold and the summer stories like this that always crop up, I will say that there is a secret closely held by men of a certain age, men whose bodies are not suitable for framing. Men who are sometimes short, or balding, or homely, or chubby, and often all of the above, and still have managed to sustain long relationships with lovely, alluring women without once sending them a suggestive tweet. Men who have loved and lived with women they didn’t deserve, women who somehow tolerate them and aren’t tempted to place a pillow over their sleeping faces while they snore and forget to take it off.
But it’s a secret.
I will tell you this, though. I had a very nice weekend, and it comes with a story.
I’d volunteered to help out some teenagers trying to raise money for a trip, which happened in the usual way. That is, I found out after the fact that I’d offered to help. This is because other people know what’s best for me, and I’m married to them.
It was a good cause, a mission trip designed to be fun but also to teach young people the benefits that come from helping others, feeding hungry people among them. My daughter participated in a few trips like these when she was a teenager and came back with an appreciation for the lives of others and some skill with a hammer, always useful, so I was glad to pitch in.
The fundraiser involved a variety show, lots of people volunteering what talent they’d been storing in a closet somewhere. If you’ve never been involved in this sort of project, if you’ve never seen perfectly ordinary-appearing people dust off their tap shoes or drag the saxophone out of the attic, you’ve missed a moment. You think you will laugh and poke fun, and you’ll realize later that the entire evening was infused with grace. There is such hope for us, sometimes.
This was in my comfort zone. In college, needing a summer job, I got hired at a small dinner theater. I suspect they mostly wanted me to write skits for the show, although part of my job description involved singing and dancing. It was the first time I truly understood the phrase “comedy of errors,” but I had a great summer.
And I met a young woman, and so on. You either know or can guess the story. The next year we did it again. We even sang a duet, the sentimental and jokey “I Remember It Well” from the movie “Gigi,” two older people looking back on their long romance, remembering what they’ve forgotten. We sang it every night, six nights a week.
Including the night we got married, by the way. That was special.
So she and I were old hands at this variety show business. I was given the job of emcee, no dancing required, and my wife accompanied some acts on the piano. She also sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” bringing down the house. Of course.
Here’s the thing about my summers, long ago, spent on a stage in a college town: They were also infused with grace. I fell in love, I got married, I sang with my wife on the night we were wed. And when we were done, when we finished that last summer, packed our bags and headed for the Pacific Northwest, I knew my singing days were over. You can only fool all of the audience some of the time, and my time was up.
So 28 years later, when the suggestion came up that my wife and I sing together, I had some doubts. But we flipped through songbooks anyway, while we listened to a CD of accompaniment, and then we heard it. A familiar intro, a few bars, a memory.
“We met at 9,” I croaked.
“We met at 8,” she answered.
“I was on time.”
“No, you were late.”
And we sang “I Remember It Well” until our faces got scrunchy and our voices caught. We settled on something from “The Fantastiks” instead. It went OK.
So here’s the secret, Rep. Weiner: Save your flirting for the one who married you, for she will be the one who tells you you’re not getting old. The one who remembers when you forget. The one who still loves you, who still dances with you, who still sings with you, after all these years.