Remember the Hokey Pokey?

Very big in Luther League circles, Brooklyn, circa 1955.

You put your right foot in

You put your right foot out

You put your right foot in

And you shake it all about

You do the Hokey Pokey

And you turn yourself around

That’s what it’s all about .  .  .

We — boys and girls — would stand in a circle. Through the Sunday school sound system, an adult leader would play Ray Anthony’s version of “The Hokey Pokey,” vocals by Jo Ann Greer and The Skyliners.

At Greer’s urging, we put forth our right feet and shook.

This continued until — in order — all available feet, arms, elbows, head (singular) and hips reported for duty.

Next came “whole self” — a tiny jump required here — and finally the “backside,” and at that point, likely unperceived by the adult leader, began the precipitous and irreversible decline of Western culture because once the backside was volunteered and eagerly shaken all about by teenagers in the Sunday school hall of St. John’s Lutheran, anything, everything, was possible.

Memories of the Hokey Pokey occurred recently when we saw that a friend had tacked this homemade sign to a tree outside her house: “What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it’s all about?”

Hilarious, sure, and lovably off the wall, but a heavyweight philosophical question to spring on the unsuspecting visitor at a moment when any sane person might be inclined to answer, “You know, that makes as much sense as anything else.”

We had just been through another snarly election season, after all, when candidates portray opponents as appalling rascals whose elevation would guarantee apocalypse, and even the neighborhood internet chat line drew nasty commentary amid recommendations for dog groomers and complaints about downtown parking.

“Whaddaya expect with your guys in office?”

“Turn off the television and get a life.”

That sort of thing.

Also playing into my thinking was news that the world population grew to 8 billion, according to the United Nations, an increase of 1 billion in approximately 12 years.

Improvements in public health, better nutrition and medical advances accounted in large part for the population boom. Let’s give a cheer.

On the other hand, more people mean greater “pressure on nature,” says the United Nations. Keeping dear Planet Earth habitable is going to take some work. We all should enlist in the environmental army.

Just think of it, though — 8 billion people.

The number is humbling, to say the least. We are told as children to rise above the crowd. So far as I recall, no one mentioned the crowd was going to be this big.

Easy to feel a little lost and wonder where things are headed. Easy to get a little downhearted about the way we treat one another politically and personally. Easy to think not much counts any more than the Hokey Pokey.

Then, wait a second, what about Michele?

She is our neighbor up the road.

During the pandemic, we told Michele a local food pantry was running low and could use donations.

Every week since — I mean, every week — Michele has dropped off at our house two or three boxes of food so packed with beans, rice, canned goods and the occasional container of oat milk (have cows gone out of business?) that I remind myself to bend from the knees when loading them into the car for delivery to another terrific woman, Linda, a volunteer who takes the groceries to a nearby community center.

“You’re a generous person, Michele,” we tell our neighbor. “Unbelievable.”

“Oh, no,” she says each time. “Oh, no, really, it’s a pleasure. So glad there’s something I can do.”

There are people like Michele and Linda everywhere, doing their part without asking for thanks, standing above the crowd but without intending to draw attention. They are what it’s all about.

At Thanksgiving, I mentioned the big-heartedness that surrounds us if we look hard enough, and the decent souls we are privileged to know, and some who, sadly, have departed. Keep the faith, I said in one of my trademark, teary holiday toasts. Stand for something, do a little good.

Turns out civilization didn’t slip its mooring with the Hokey Pokey, after all. Hey, it even survived the Bunny Hop.


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