Last week I headed out after work to a house concert in Montpelier, the town where my office is. A random series of connections had led to my receiving an invite, and while I had been happy to say yes at the time, on the actual evening of the concert, I was less than excited.
I was going to spend the next few hours at the house of someone I didn't know, with people I didn't know, listening to a musician I hadn't heard of, and I wouldn't get home until it was too late to really spend any time with my wife before going to bed so I could get up and go to work the next day. Nothing about it sounded good to me. I was tired and feeling low. The last thing I wanted to do was be sociable with strangers. I just wanted to go home and cozy up on my couch and feel sad. It was one of those days.
But instead I left work, looked up the address on my phone, and pointed my car toward the concert. After a drive that included approximately ten harrowing minutes on a dirt road so muddy and riddled with potholes that I was sure my wild veering and sloshing was going to land me in the ditch at every turn, I arrived at the house no more excited for the evening than I'd been when I left.
I followed a line of pink balloons up a long, very steep, winding driveway and tried to fit my car into a the mash of others, realizing instantly that the way these cars were parked, I wasn't going to be able to leave until everyone left. No showing my face and slipping out early. Awesome.
I bundled my coat around me, stepped out of the car, got my arm tangled in my seatbelt, and proceeded to dump out onto the driveway the entire contents of my purse, which basically consisted of a pile of crumpled receipts and to-do lists, one tube of lip gloss, about 187 coins, and two tampons thrown in for good measure.
A carful of people pulled in next to me just in time to witness the whole event and several of them jumped out, but I shooed them away saying I could get everything but thank you very much. I shoved the final slip of paper into my purse and grabbed a rogue quarter, fully intending to get back in my car and leave when I realized they'd blocked me in.
So that was that.
I turned toward the house and ran smack into an elderly man who had been in the car that had just pulled in. He asked me if I was okay and if I needed any help. His voice was so quiet and gravelly that I had a hard time understanding him, but I could tell what he was asking. I thanked him and told him I was fine and smiled and gestured toward the door and we walked in together.
He was tall and was simultaneously sharply bony and soft in that way that only very old people are. He wore a newsboy cap and a short wool jacket. He pulled a worn bifold wallet out of the back pocket of his pants. It was so thick with slips of paper that I wondered how he sat down. He held it out to me and said, "I'd be lost if anything ever happened to this."
I nodded my head in agreement, smiled, and patted my purse.
Then I made my way around the event, engaging in awkward small talk. I felt out of place and lonely, surrounded by accomplished musicians and benefactors, wondering how it was that I had ended up at this random house on a Monday night. My thoughts spiraled downhill into a barrage of questions about community and family and where my place in the world was.
When someone announced that the music was going to begin soon, I headed for an empty seat, which was next to the elderly gentleman with the thick wallet. He smiled at me as I sat down.
The music was wonderful - electric violin. It was different from anything I'd ever heard before, and I finally let myself sink into the experience. I finally forgot to wish that I were at home instead.
When the short concert was over, I stood to leave but noticed that the elderly gentleman was still sitting, seemingly pondering what he had just heard. I sat back down and asked him if he'd enjoyed it.
"I don't know that he did anything a normal violinist couldn't do."
I appreciated his frankness and told him I could see his point.
He leaned in close to me and said, "I think we were destined to meet." I laughed.
I can't remember the next few things I said or the next few things he said, but before long we were talking about how someone had told him he wasn't a good singer when he was thirteen years old. And he'd stopped singing. He had just never done it. For years and years. For decades. And then he retired, and someone asked him to join a choir at the nursing home. And he thought, why not?
It turns out that he loves singing. He sings in three different choirs now. They mostly sing what he called "the old classics" - Rogers & Hart, Gershwin, Cole Porter. Those songs changed his life, he told me. Even though he didn't sing back then, they taught him about love and beauty. Those men were geniuses.
His favorite was - and still is - Blue Moon by Rodgers & Hart.
I love that one too, I told him.
And then he started to sing it. With the little post-concert cocktail party going on around us, sitting in a corner of the room, he started to sing.
you saw me standing alone...
He stopped and looked at me - he'd forgotten the next line.
I chimed in.
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own.
We went on like that for the rest of the song, me jogging his memory and him joining in with me to finish out each line. In the corner of a cocktail party.
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for
And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms could ever hold
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked the moon had turned to gold
Now I'm no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
I can't remember the last time I heard that song, much less sang it. I was shocked that I remembered the words, but they all came back to me like I'd sung it every day of my life.
When we finished singing, I put my hand on the elderly gentleman's arm and told him thank you.
"I told you we were meant to meet," he said.
"I think you were right," I told him.
I sang the whole way home.