photo by Femke Ongena

A Chance Meeting

August 2016.

I boarded the train in the afternoon. Ten days of silent meditation and I was still seeing everything with newborn eyes. It was the tail end of a summer of listless energy and strong questioning. Why was I here? Why play music anyway? The challenges of the music life were wearing on me and I was feeling stuck.

A woman boarded the train with a violin and sat next to me. She looked stressed and worn out. I often keep to myself on trains. But I wanted to talk to her. She played and taught violin. Her parents played together in a string quartet. She had two kids. Her mother had stage four cancer and lived four states away – she was going to visit her.

We talked for a long time about many things. The subject often came around to music. I told her I was struggling to make sense of why people play. Think about why birds create their songs, she said. The animals have their sounds. Humans create music. That’s our thing – it’s how we tune in with nature. I loved that.

She offered to play me a recording. It was a string quartet – her parents. I remember putting on the headphones and hearing this incredible weaving of intricate lines, played with such care and warmth. I sensed people working together to make the most beauty they could in each and every moment of the music. It instantly brought me to tears.. and I started crying really hard, next to this person I had just met. Something was so moving about hearing the musicians play together.

It really surprised me. I couldn’t recall the last time I had listened to music and felt that way. And I realized, the meditation had opened me up to have this experience. It was an incredible gift, one that before this I had built walls to prevent myself from receiving. And this woman I had barely met was willing to share that with me, and was sharing all this wisdom with me. When we arrived at Penn Station, I said goodbye and wished her well, and walked off the train.

On the platform, I had this sensation. At this crossroads, she was awaiting the train’s departure, continuing onward in her life journey. And I was walking into my next phase. Our paths crossed for such a short time, and yet it had such an impact on me. I often picture this moment in time, the train sitting in the station, departure imminent. I haven’t heard from or seen her again.. and I can’t even remember her name. But she gave me a special experience I will never forget, and I am so grateful to her.

One comment

  1. Carol Randazzo Orito Jones says:

    What a sweet, powerful story. Your writing is just as clear and integrated as your playing. My Music Therapy background makes me think of so many things. Feelings about this musician who was losing her parent could also relate to a personal experience of being a musician losing a parent thus also adding up sorrow. Musicians are so rare and carrying an instrument may appear vulnerable, carrying their source of expression in plain sight. Your release of tears gives me a vicarious release in memory of my dad who was a musician and died alone. Your open expression of emotion is very appreciated in this world where people hid their feelings or mix them up and confuse others. When a musician asks why am I making music I laugh because it reminds me of myself asking “Why do I sing?” The more I think about it the same answer rises up. If I ask “Why do I talk, or walk or think or eat?” one answer stands out above the rest, the same answer rises…because “It makes me feel good to experience a mystery.”

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