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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

December 22nd, 2011 (04:56 pm)

There is a man sitting in front of Uno's in Harvard Square, singing Christmas carols. He's homeless; I've seen him before, sitting out there silently, jangling his coffee cup every now and again. But today it's three days before Christmas, and so he's singing Christmas carols.

He has a good voice. Rich, strong. Not the kind of good voice that would make a professional career for him, and not the kind of good voice that you are astounded to hear from a guy jangling coins in a coffee cup in Harvard Square, but the kind of good voice that I would be glad to have in either of the choirs I direct. He has a good voice probably at roughly the same level that I have a good voice. Nothing astonishing. Nothing to write home about. But a good voice.

He grew up with a good voice same as I did. He liked to sing. I know nothing of his life or how he ended up where he is now. I don't know if he sang in choirs when he was a kid - maybe church choirs, he knows the words to all the Christmas carols he's been singing - or if there were things hectic or things messed up or just things that got in the way. I don't know if he was a National Merit Scholar or if his mother blew up his house cooking meth like I saw on TV recently in an episode that could have been titled Look Here We're Explaining What a Fucked-Up Childhood Looks Like. Or both. I don't know what kind of music he likes best. I don't know anything.

Except I know he has a good voice. This is the one thing I know, the one chip of humanity visible to me. I like to think about that because I have a good voice too and it's just a thing about me, not the most important thing, not anything I could make a living on or that anyone would write home about. But it's important. It's part of what makes me me and makes my life what it is. Which, fundamentally, is human.

I could make up sob stories to explain why that man has the life he has or I could make up self-righteous blaming stories or I could make up any other kind of story I wanted to, but they would just be stories, a way for me to settle things in my mind, nothing to do with him. He has this whole life that's a mystery to me, the same as any stranger's story is a mystery, but we only think about that, the mystery of the life of another, when the person in question has a life that we want to have an explanation for so we can rest a little easier at night, certain that everything is in its place and everyone, from the 1% to the homeless, has a reason for being where they are. Or for being the way they appear to us in that second or two we see them striding out of Burberry or jangling their cup. The reason might make us sad or thoughtful or empathetic, it might make us rage against the injustice of society or against the great mass of the poor leeching off their betters, but it's a reason that we can keep to hold on to. And sleep well.

I don't know that guy's reasons. Somehow, at this moment, they don't matter to me much. Because he's not a story, he's just a guy, a guy with a good voice singing The First Noel outside of Uno's three days before Christmas. Just a guy with a personality and a history and a life, but all I know is he can sing and it was nice to hear him singing.

I gave him a dollar because that's what he was asking for. We smiled at one another. He'll forget me soon enough; I'd forget him if I hadn't written about him, but I did, so now I'll have a marker of it, the fact that on December 22, 2011, I met a guy who could sing. His face, his smile, the rest of this day will slip away in the wind.

I wish him well.


Posted by: Michelle (two_grey_rooms)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
one can't possess reality

thank you so much for this post.

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