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Dancing Under the Moon

I suspect that thousands of people leave Los Angeles every week to live somewhere else, and on Friday, a day brushed by Santa Anas and laced with falling leaves, one of them was a little girl named Nicole.

Nicole, her father and her mother packed up a yellow Ryder truck and just as the morning was edging toward noon they left for Eureka, where the redwoods reach the sea and the air rings with the clarity of chimes.

They leave our house in the glow and silence of memories.

If you will abide a personal column for just this day, I’ll tell you how it feels to heed the rhythms of life that determine when movement is required; when, quite simply, it is time to go.

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Marty and Lisa moved in with us almost three years ago to buy the time required to save money and to solidify their new life together. Into that new life was born Nicole, my granddaughter.

Ours became a house suddenly under siege. I had not even seen a diaper or a pacifier or a bassinet for more years than I care to remember, and suddenly I was surrounded by them.

I am, by nature, a tidy and efficient man, easily riled by simple disruptions and driven mad by chaos.

My life, when not occupied with writing, is given over to straightening pictures on the wall, putting magazines in neat piles and picking almost infinitesimal pieces of lint off the carpet.

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No one in the whole history of Western civilization has been better at spotting lint.

But babies turn households into shambles and shred with singular determination any inclination toward tidiness.

The presence of Nicole in every room, from toy stoves to small, lacy dresses, could have been the very essence of disruption to a man like me. It wasn’t.

There was something special about this girl with the eyes of a pixie and the smile of an autumn morning that almost immediately captured my heart, and as she grew, the attraction increased.

As quick as a humming bird, as enchanting as a field of wildflowers, Nicole filled the corners of my life with experiences I had not encountered since my own children stopped dragging the cat around by his tail.

Here were my kids all over again in microcosm, learning to walk, learning to talk, reaching toward the upper shelf, trying to sing, demanding the world but settling for a hug.

Nicole is a child of rare sensitivities, as the very young often are, and she defined my moods with a maturity beyond her age. She knew when to laugh with me, when to avoid me and sometimes when to simply touch me.

Moments with her were filled with enchantment.

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I saw her one evening on the back deck of our home in the Santa Monica Mountains as she studied the wonder of a starry sky. She looked for a long time and then turned to me and said, “Let’s dance under the moon, grandpa!”

It was a full moon and it lit the night with the kind of secret half-light that illuminates dreams and fairy tales, only half-real and vaguely perceived.

Along with my tidiness goes a reluctance to perform. Dancing under the moon was not high on my list of things to do.

But I was being summoned by a poet who saw magic in the union of movement and moonlight, who sensed the exhilaration of that night and the imagery it evoked.

So we danced under the moon, Nicole and I, me with my clumsy feet and her with her butterfly grace . . .

Dances end. Moonlight fades. Wind shakes the liquid amber trees bare, and time flickers past like fireflies in the night. Fridays come before we know it.

And on this Friday it was time for them to leave.

I’m terrible at goodbys. My wife is able to articulate all the emotions I am too tongue-tied to express. I stand like a fool in the midst of last moments, hoping the wind that touches their faces will say my love and the sun that shines on their new life will warm their memories.

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This is a difficult column for me to write, but write it I must and write it I will because there is universality to the rhythms of life we must all heed, observing rites of passage that clock our rush to darkness.

Our house will be tidy again and the pictures straightened and the magazines piled neatly on the coffee table, but the flow and the magic are gone and that saddens me.

I just don’t feel like dancing under the moon anymore.


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