Two Violinists and a Platform of Lonely People

DSCN4615If your eyes swept the platform we all looked basically the same. Oh we were all different sizes, colors, shapes; you could tell basically who was rich and who wasn’t  so rich. But our expressions? They hardly differed.

We all looked resigned.

No one smiled.

Everyone looked lost in their own worlds.

We were a platform of lonely people.

Ironically it was at that moment that two violinists set up their personal concert hall on a dirty subway platform and began playing a duet of the famous Beatles song “All the Lonely People”.

It was perfect really. The playing was stellar, the song completely capturing this platform of lonely looking people. We, the lonely, were being treated to a world-class concert and we didn’t even know it.

I wondered if anyone else saw the irony, experienced the connection between the song and the people, the melody and the faces.

That’s the thing in the city. Loneliness can’t be hidden behind beautiful clothes and houses; it’s not masked but right out there in full view. And there are times when it feels depressing, overwhelming. When there seem to be no answers to never-ending loneliness and the bleak face of a city in winter.

Worst of all is when I feel I’m a part of it – I’m one more lonely person; one more sad face in the never-ending crowds of humanity that move through the city system.

It’s times like this when I have to know there is more, have to make sure there is a human connection in my world of lonely. I find it through the homeless, Sheryl, Geoff, others who I’m slowly learning to know; through Bashkin, the fruit man – leaving for Albania to wait out the winter; through Winston, the door man at the Parker House who leaves for Haiti tomorrow; through the personal connection with a bus friend and bus driver.

It may not seem like much but it somehow helps to know faces, personalities, and a fraction of the circumstances of these – so I know where the lonely come from. So I know the lonely have a name.

An Unlikely Dead Head

I became a Dead Head while working in Pakistan with displaced people at age 51. It was an unlikely love story.

I had embarked on the journey a week before, armed with medical supplies and a head trying to remember all my past nursing skills when in crisis clinical situations. I was in Pakistan, my childhood home, working in flood relief after millions of people had been moved into refugee camps because of losing their homes to the rising waters. I had not been sleeping well and woke up early on the one day off I would have in a two week period. I  was desperate for some relief. To make it worse, I kept on telling myself that it wasn’t that hard, that the patients we were seeing had a far more difficult time than me, and that I was a big baby. None of these were helpful in the current situation.

I went into the living room of the small apartment that served as our home during the two weeks. Sleepily I grabbed my iPod, dropped my tired body onto a chair, and scrolled through the play list, hoping to soothe my soul with worship music. I stopped scrolling after a short time, furious. None of my music was there! Instead I had my choice of 1,200 songs from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Aerosmith, The Velvet Underground and lesser known bands that I had never listened to. In an instant I remembered that just before leaving Boston my 15-year-old son had told me he would charge my ipod before the trip. As he returned it, he had a smile on his face that I didn’t catch. I was too busy gathering passport, ticket and malaria medication. He had decided to give me a taste of his music on the journey, knowing that I would be unable to do anything about it.

There I was, eight thousand miles from the United States, bone-tired and I wanted to strangle my youngest child. In my frustration I happened to hit play on one of the songs from the Grateful Dead. As I listened to Jerry Garcia‘s folksy voice, the words from a song moved in a melodic moment  from iPod to soul.  “Reach out your hand, if your cup be empty. If your cup is full may it be again.” I began to cry. The sorrow and pain that had been a part of the journey as we daily tried to meet the needs of people in crisis came in a wave.

In what could only be described as a holy moment, the words and music worked their magic. God was present reaching out to fill my cup so I could move forward, meeting me in an unlikely way in the midst of exhaustion and inability.

On that day, in that time I knew two things. One – that I was an unlikely Dead Head, and two – that God’s creative ability to meet us through unlikely venues knows no bounds. Jerry Garcia will forever hold a holy place in my heart.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone