The summer sun came out for a couple hours Saturday evening and so I grabbed the dog and headed to my favorite spot on the planet, Lake Harriet, which has been overrun by thousands of skaters, bicyclists, runners, walkers, swimmers and tourists ever since the leader of the free world paid her a visit a few weeks ago and made her all the rage.
Which is why I’ve been avoiding it during the daylight hours of late, choosing instead to take in all her glories well after midnight, when there are no people anywhere and the lushness, stillness, and sound of wildlife and insect songs make for the most perfect meditative place a city dweller could ever hope to bask in.
“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous,” wrote Thomas Mann, a truth every kid with a crayon and a couple hours alone knows by heart, and it was with this mindset that I set out on Saturday.
I’d spent much of my week writing about attorneys, the law, and the terrible things people do to one another, so I was in the mood for no interaction, opinions, stories, or egos, and embarked on a mission to save my own soul and refuel my inner juices so as to rejoin the rest of the pack in a day or so.
But as I walked closer to the Rose Gardens and the beckoning sunset, it was clear the universe had other ideas. The horde had taken over my normally spacious and people-free park. The surrounding streets were choked with parked cars, and a wedding or some other celebration was underway. I kept going, straight into the maw, when I was gifted with a mini miracle.
There, flitting upon the July grass amidst the rose bushes, bunnies, and birds, were modern dancers telling the story of the human condition with precise, passionate movement. I stopped, stared, and held my breath. The dancers of all ages and styles were accompanied by live and recorded jazz, classical, rock, and hip-hop, and their sunset-kissed bodies melded with the earth easily, naturally, magnificently.
I later learned they were part of the Christopher Watson Dance Company’s 13th annual Dances at the Lakes Festival, which featured professional and student dancers from Minnesota and California, culled from modern dance companies such as Anda Flamenco, Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble, Young Dance, Youth Dance Ensemble, Ballare Teatro Performing Arts Center, Brownbody, and Kinetic Evolutions.
As I stood there, eyewitness to a display of timeless human grace straight out of ancient Greece or Stonehenge, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful moment or a more perfect setting, and I had one thought wash over me:
How did we get so lucky?
Two nights earlier, 10 miles away in North Minneapolis, more shootings. At the very same moment on the very same planet, Israel and Palestine declared war, again. Meanwhile, we here in our perfect little burg known as South Minneapolis regularly walk out the front door of our mansions to not only a cornucopia of nature, but to the embarrassment of riches that is the free music and other performances at outdoor stages all summer long.
We’re spoiled and jaded, straight up. Every day we’re privy to numerous concerts by talented, innovative, and committed artists (as well as prosaic, safe, and just plain boring, but I’ll save my When Bad Music Happens To Good Sunsets column for another day), and I for one have been taking it for granted. For sure, those dancers and musicians rekindled something in me that not even silence or a spiritual practice can, and I plan to carry its grace with me always.
To not take a moment and be grateful for it, to not say out loud, “Thank you for the reminder of humanity at its most fiercely optimistic,” is the only definition of sin I know of and adhere to, and so I’m doing it here.
Thanks, universe. I needed that.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]