April 19, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther

The half pirouette that the young woman made as she stood on a street corner mimicked a movement many of us have performed, waiting for a school bus, another ride, a friend. It is akin to looking at our watch, staring at our shoes, whistling in the wind.

It is life itself, one of those awfully small but reaffirming heartbeats that keep the current moving through the routine of a day. A pirouette, like looking at your shoes, happens only in the ordinary, not when you are climbing one day’s mountain or descending another’s steep hill. Your pulse is normal, your expectations routine, you know you are breathing, and you expect to continue.

A pirouette – spinning a bit on one foot – is perhaps a subconscious test that you are still here, not that you are worried you are not, but simply a check of the status quo, like a watchman pausing at stations on his tour. The key goes in, it is turned, and life for the watchman is as ordinary as it is supposed to be. No surprise.

I was driving in a small town when I saw the woman do her half-pirouette, spinning on one leg, not in a staged ballet style or serious affectation, but in passing time. I saw her only for an instant, but you could read a life in that time.

She seemed happy, content, life humming along, and whoever, whatever was next in her day was more than acceptable. It, he, or she would be the next watch station, and the lady with the pirouette had the key. She could safely lift one foot off the ground and spin, for there was more than enough trust for that.

We all have our scary days – going to the dentist or the doctor, taking a school exam, facing the boss, getting older – and there are no half-pirouettes on those days. For most of us, thankfully, life does not consist of scary moments, and the motor runs without misfiring. It is in such security that we can lift one foot off this mortal coil and know we will not come crashing down.

I knew that the lady I saw in this small town – and she could have been in a big city or in a rural cornfield – was having a good day.


The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.