The flash mob that wasn’t

"Flash Mob." Photo by Fernand De Canne on Unsplash

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Dancing as they moved along, as if plucked from the scene of some musical set on a college campus.

They promenaded merrily on the campus of the University of Virginia: from the steps leading down to Bryan Hall, past the McIntire Ampitheatre, and on toward The Lawn.

All smiles.

I was surrounded.

It was like a flash mob had broken out on the middle of Central Grounds and I was the only one that hadn’t received an invitation.

flash mob
noun
a large public gathering at which people perform an unusual or seemingly random act and then disperse, typically organized by means of the Internet or social media.

They clutched their books by their sides as they went on their way, then loosened their arms a split second later, swinging their arms in front then back again to the beat of the music.

The ones not dancing, skipped.

It was hard not to smile at seeing them this way. So that’s what I did—smiled.

smile
/smīl/
verb
1. form one’s features into a pleased, kind, or amused expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.
“she was smiling”
synonyms: beam, grin (from ear to ear), dimple, twinkle

That’s how I imagined them all at least. I was depressed, and no one knew.

depressed
/dəˈprest/
adjective
(of a person) in a state of general unhappiness or despondency.
synonyms: sad, unhappy, miserable, gloomy, glum, melancholy, dejected, disconsolate, downhearted, downcast, down, despondent, dispirited, low, heavy-hearted, morose, dismal, desolate

Strangers all around me. Just another face. Another student on his way to class.

“The tumor is back,” he had said. “And there’s nothing they can do this time.”

tumor
/ˈt(y)o͞omər/
noun
a swelling of a part of the body, generally without inflammation, caused by an abnormal growth of tissue, whether benign or malignant.
synonyms: cancerous growth, malignant growth, cancer, malignancy

I had a hard time hearing him on the other line. He was speaking in whispers almost. Somehow I knew what he had said.

“There’s nothing they can do this time.”

It was almost three years to the day. The phone call had come just months before shortly after I began summer session at the University of Virginia; and now, fall semester had started, and I was surrounded by strangers, thousands of them.

I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me.

We didn’t have a past together, nothing shared.

It wouldn’t be long, I knew.

So I watched them dance, all of them.

Except none of them did.

It was all a mirage I had concocted to protect myself.

I needed something to smile about.

It wouldn’t be long, I knew.

So I just watched everyone dance, and everyone did. Smiles abound. Hundreds of them dancing their way to class.

O gentle creature, friend of mine—come hear the words I say:
Cast a rod into the pond; fish swim forth and stay
Reflections pass and tear descend, rippling away
Thirty nine years young you’d be on this beloved day.*

Happy birthday Jeremiah.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Fernand De Canne on Unsplash

Footnotes

*I wrote this poem on May 8, 2007, a few months after Jeremiah passed, on what would have been his twenty-eighth birthday had he lived. To read more about our childhood and friendship, check out When the Lights Go Out at 10:16, a memoir.

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