Recently I was leading a “Travels of Paul” tour for members of the church I serve. We went to Turkey, Greece and Rome and saw fabulous things. The engineering and art of the ancient world were on full display. Greek sculptures lined our path. Roman ruins reminded us of the Roman Empire’s power and ingenuity. In Rome the Catholic Church filled every piazza with a repurposed basilica or a baroque church complete with vaulted ceiling, walls adorned with art depicting the life of Christ, scenes of the Bible or the story of a celebrated saint. The place was big—big ideas, big buildings, big displays of wealth and affluence. Around almost every corner was some piece of the ancient world that captured my attention.
One of great moments of this trip, however, happened while sitting in a small piazza. A lesser fountain sat empty. It looked too tired to care that it was dry. A drab basilica anchored the corner, covered in the grime of centuries of city life. A group of us sat in an outdoor café and enjoyed some coffee. We were doing what the guide told us to do: “Just sit and take it in. Look around. Enjoy your conversation. Be like a Roman.” People were milling in and out of shops. A woman was throwing treats to her dog, which was alternatively picking them up and then racing about chasing pigeons. Another dog joined the first, and the two barked at each other. Then I heard music, the perfect music for that setting. At first I thought it was being pumped in through speakers, like malls in America. When I commented on it, one of our group members pointed out an accordion player. He was an older man, smartly dressed as he sat on his stool and played. I realized that he was also a feature of this place. He took a break, and when he returned to his music, he started playing a tango. A group of older tourists walked over to him and listened. After a few minutes, something came over them. They began to dance. First a woman by herself. Then two women together. One of the men took a partner, another reluctant man was recruited, and soon, the tango was in full swing on the piazza. They danced one song, then another, the accordion player walking among them, smiling at the joy of their dance. The men looked younger, but with the confidence and maturity of older men. The women carried themselves with poise and bravado, their legs weaving a pattern in the air as they glided across the cobblestones. I watched as these couples danced in the warmth of the noonday sun. People stopped to watch and smile. After each song a smattering of applause echoed around the shops and church of the square. The dancers requested a third song, then all hugged and congratulated each other at its conclusion, as the onlookers offered their appreciation again. The accordion player returned to his stool, the dog to its master and we to our conversation.
There is much to learn from history. The mighty civilizations have produced art, architecture and engineering, and they show us the rise and fall of the centuries that comprise the human story. But in that moment I felt that God was speaking to me about the value of small moments in life and the importance of acknowledging its brevity. The author of Psalm 144 reminds us of the fleeting nature of life, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
So tango while you can, when you can. And if you don’t know how to do the dance, at least take time to enjoy the music and yell “Bravo!” to those who do.