A Night at the Museum

I’m on the Stranger’s mailing list for citywide events so I learn about all kinds of things to do. Most of the time I’m not that interested. Most concerts aren’t really my thing (I don’t like crowds or loud noises), and a lot of the “events” are just restaurants making up occasions to sell more food. Which is fine, but again with the crowds.

However, every few weeks something really jumps out at me. The Ballet was one. Turns out I’m not really that into ballet, but at least I tried it! HUMP is another. I knew about it, but having a timely reminder meant I got tickets and found a date this year instead of realizing too late that it’s time. And last month I saw an opportunity to spend an evening on the dance floor…. With fossils!!!

Burke After Dark is an event where the special exhibits area at the Burke Museum of Natural History is cleared out and in it’s place they put a dance floor, an open bar, and some nibbles. You can dance until you get sweaty and out of breath, then wander through the displays and exhibits for a while, then wander back to the dance floor. A little Lady Gaga, a little T Rex. A little Michael Jackson, a little cladogram. A little Disco, a little marsupial specimens.

It was a small group, most of them in their thirties or so, and as I took a moment to people watch, I felt this wave of warmth and belonging. I didn’t know a soul (other than my exceptional date, thank you my dear) but I knew them. The one guy getting super dirty with his girlfriend. The nice lady who kept checking to see who was watching her sweet dance moves. The crowd of girlfriends giving zero shits what other people were doing. It reminded me of prom, specifically of going to prom with my theater nerd friends. And all of these strangers gathered here, now, for this unusual crossover event.

There’s a special feeling of safety and belonging for me in those spaces. A place where there’s a crowd of people (but not a large crowd) and enough space to stand apart and observe. Soak it in a bit. I feel like this at parks, or book readings, or sitting in the corner alone at a restaurant: there are people, and they are happy, and they ask nothing of me. They offer without knowing it their camaraderie and I am free to accept it, or not, when I’m ready.

I remember one night, years ago, when I took my book to dinner. I sat up at the bar with my charcuterie plate and a glass of wine and my book, when about halfway through, we noticed each other. Down the bar, another woman and her book, and her charcuterie plate, and her glass of wine. And at the same time, at a table in the middle of the room, another. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the coincidence, but we gravitated to each other and wound up migrating to the table. “What book are you reading?” “Do you do this often?” “I’m so glad we met.” An hour later we had traded life stories, three of us spanning six decades, and shared a unique moment of community with strangers.

These moments, of solitary community, of serendipity, of solidarity, don’t come often. Sometimes I can manufacture them, but usually I just have to stay open and see what happens. This evening was a created opportunity. The organizers, myself, my date who let me talk them into an extravagant evening, the students and faculty tirelessly working, and the other attendees all had to go out of their way to make this happen. I am so grateful to everyone who did, and I am looking forward to the next one.