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The Truth, Mainly - 11/24/2003

Dancing and the downward spiral

"Uh oh," I say from behind the newspaper. "Look out."

"Uh huh," my wife says without looking up from her crossword puzzle.

"Don't you want to know," I ask, "what you should look out for?"

"Um," she says. "What's a five-letter word for 'intrusive'?"

"Look, m'love," I say. "I'm trying to alert you to impending catastrophe. That's not intrusive. It's my duty as your husband—to protect your physical and moral safety."

She sighs and looks up from her puzzle.

"Okay, Mr. Protector Man," she says. "What's about to happen? Why should I look out?"

"Because," I say, ominously furrowing my brow, "all hell is about to break loose. That's all."

She rolls her eyes.

"Not again," she says. "You broke my crossword concentration a week ago to warn me that all hell would break loose in the second half because the Huskers were about to score six touchdowns. So what does all hell breaking loose mean this time? Try to be brief."

"Wheaton College," I say. "About to implode. And when it implodes, all hell will break loose."

"Wheaton College?" she says. "Billy Graham's alma mater? What could possibly go wrong there?"

"Dancing," I say.

"Dancing?" she says.

"After 143 years of no dancing," I say, "Wheaton students can now dance. It's the end of Christian education as we know it. Billy Graham would be spinning in his grave if he weren't still alive."

She studies the ceiling for a minute or two.

"This is a lingering vestige of your misspent youth, right?" she says.

"Sure, make fun," I say. "Scoff if you will, but remember what happened to Baylor."

She studies the ceiling again.

"I give up," she says after a while. "What happened to Baylor?"

"A foreshadowing of perdition," I say, making my voice deep and sorrowful and Really Serious, the way I remember the voice of the preacher who used to try to scare me out of hell. "Baylor went 151 years without allowing student dances. Then they turned their back on their mission and told students they could dance."

"Well, Baylor's still there, isn't it?" she says. "It didn't implode, did it? What am I supposed to remember about Baylor?"

I bow my head and pinch the skin between my eyes.

"Their basketball players," I say. "They began shooting each other."

"All of them?" she says. "They all started shooting each other?"

"Just one so far," I say. "But it's a start."

"They started shooting each other after they started dancing?" she says.

"Well, not right after," I say.

The Truth, Mainly


"How long after?" she says.

"Well, a little while," I say. "They started dancing in 1996 and they started shooting each other this year."

"Seven years later?" she says. "You've got a warped sense of cause and effect, don't you?"

"All I know," I say, "is what I learned in church when I was growing up. You don't dance, everything's fine. You dance, you go into a downward spiral. Because dancing leads to cussing and going to movies on Sunday and all kinds of things I can't talk about in a family newspaper. Then all hell breaks loose. Salome danced and then asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter."

"I forgot," she says. "You grew up believing that the measure of virtue is what you don't do instead of what you do do."

"Sure," I say. "Didn't you?"

"Didn't you learn anything about what you should do rather than what you shouldn't do?" she says. "You know, like getting acquainted with the vacuum cleaner or taking your turn cleaning the toilet bowl or donating your body parts to someone who needs them after you die? You know, silly things that help other people. Didn't you learn about that?"

"At my church?" I say. "There wasn't time on Sunday morning after the preacher got through with dancing and cussing and Sunday movies. Besides, he probably didn't want to open up that can of worms."

"Helping one another's a can of worms?" she says. "Strange church."

"Well," I say, "it's like this. . . ."

But she's not listening. She's back at her crossword puzzle.

"What's a seven-letter word," she says, "for simplistic religiosity?"

There she goes again. She can't stick to the subject for diddly-squat.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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