A couple of evenings ago, I had a rather humbling experience. Not just humbling, timeless. For half a second, my psyche was able to transcend the arbitrary walls between these so-called “seconds,” and “years,” and “decades.” These are the rapturous in-between moments that I’ve found give a delicious, meaningful dimension to existence.
It started, ordinarily enough, in a crowded train station. Overdone with fatigue, impatient to get home, I threaded the throngs of fellow commuters in a kind of flat, grey fog. I felt adrift, anchor-less. Everything seemed like so much effort. Trying to recapture the joy I used to feel at my 9-5 job, navigating a veritable minefield of interpersonal relationships, even expressing myself coherently — it was all too much. I realize that what I’m describing is a classic depressive state, which is a monster-void that’s shared my existence for the better part of 20 years. In this precise moment, it was no more than a crust, or frost, over my faculties.
A shrilling “next, please” from the electronic fare gate, a dull thud of footsteps on stairs, a flicker of fluorescent lighting, and a muddy cocktail of anxiety as the mass of humanity closed in around me. I was resigned to letting this moment pass, as so many others had, and would continue to do.
As I wound my way through yet another set of mechanized gatekeepers, I became aware of a tweedy undercurrent of rhythm. Guitar notes danced along the echoes of the subterranean corridor, seeming to defy the sharp edges of reality with their very mellowness. At first I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. Then, in my periphery, I identified a man, sitting on the ground, propped up by a wall, plucking a tune from his battered instrument. It was difficult to immediately distinguish the person from his garments. He appeared to exist in a tangle of time-stained blankets and layered jackets. I’m sure most people would have passed him without a second thought. I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but I almost did. If it wasn’t for the melody he was offering up to the world, I might have.
The thing that broke through the crust and thawed the immobilizing frost, though, was his voice. The song was “Yellow Submarine,” which might seem like a bit of a silly, inconsequential tune to some. But somehow, his notes managed to encompass and give an impossible glimpse into a decade I’d never visited. Hope and violence, change and expansion, tension, understanding, love. It transcended the established temporal boundaries. Have you seen dust motes dancing in a sunbeam that’s filtering through riotously-coloured antique glass? Have you felt the dichotomy of crackling leather against silk? Or maybe you’ve identified with the vinyl pops and sighs that are the undercurrent of so many of history’s most enduring songs. These are the tiny things that help to outline eternity. In a more important sense, they’re agents of perspective. And that man’s voice brought them all into focus. It was as if the fetters had fallen from my brain.
This experience was nothing more than a single moment snatched out of a day of dull fatigue. And yet, the unexpected nature and surprising source only served to make that moment even more precious.
Always look for the hidden talent in others. For opportunities to connect on unexpected levels. I am grateful to this man for the flash of timeless joy he introduced, and will strive to preserve and remember it.