The following story has to do with this writing project, I promise.
It was years ago, after one of my African drum & dance group’s performances in a food co-op’s cafe. An audience member walked up to me as I coiled the straps around my drum’s middle and prepared to leave. She was older with grey hair, small glasses, and a cardigan. When I looked up at her, she had her hands clasped together in front of her. She spoke softly.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said, dreamily, tilting her head to emphasize the earnestness.
“Oh, it’s no problem,” I said. I still had my hands on my drum, not outright saying I wanted to leave, but indicating I was looking forward to it.
“I was brought to tears because your music was so moving” she said. “Seeing you all play together was just beautiful. It’s just amazing.”
My eyebrows raised. I wanted to ask “Really?” She reached out to me. I let go of the drum and took her hand.
“Thank you so much,” she said, holding my hand with the both of hers.
We chatted briefly about how often the group practiced and how difficult it was to learn these rhythms. As she gushed over our performance, I thought of the mistakes we made and how middling our playing was. When she first came up to me, I certainly wasn’t pleased with the show, let alone on the verge of tears.
I never felt that same feeling about our music that the woman had, but her response stayed with me. Performances were a big deal, yet it was the process of getting better, narrowing the gap between what I wanted to play and what I actually played that I cared about. I spent so much time hunched over the drum, playing to cheering crowds that I’d not thought about the effect of our music on the individuals in those crowds.
The woman we made cry made me reflect. We had power. And not just strength, but the power to reach inside a person and manipulate their emotions and, in turn, their thoughts. The notion buzzed in my mind, a thought that was exhilarating and a little scary. It was so easy to just write off what we did as “just music,” but I couldn’t after that. I didn’t know what this meant, however.
Who knows why she actually cried? She could’ve been reminded of a distant youth, one spent practicing music, much like we were. Maybe that made her think of her children who were now grown-up. There’s a chance she then decided to call up her kids after not having spoken with them in years. Perhaps she just really liked the music.
I wouldn’t find out since I just smiled and said I was glad she had fun. I would realize over time what that moment meant.
Fast-forward to Nov. 5, 2012 when I was sitting on my frame-less mattress in front of my laptop, reading the email Brad King sent out, saying that our essays were now available for the public to read. I had a bad habit of letting those life-lessons slip the floorboards of my mind, so I was back in the introverted mindset of doing something (non-destructive) without any consideration of what happened after.
I stared at the screen and read the subject line. “The Essays are live.”
“Well, that’s out of the way,” I thought.
It was such an anti-climactic moment. No champagne bottles popping, no romantic kiss, no pats on the back, no cigars. Just me in my underwear, in the middle of my empty apartment. Not that I was bothered; I had fallen back into that odd, detached attitude I get into on occasion.
Later, I noticed I was mentioned in a Facebook post and saw that Brad had posted about my essay. To this day, there are no comments and no likes on it.
It wasn’t until five days after that I’d received a message on Facebook. It was from Steve, an old friend of my father. Steve and he used to be in the same Christian rock band in their youth and had been a family friend ever since.
Steve said my story, “Rhythms,” was “soup for the soul.” He said he and my father hadn’t had one of their marathon conversations in about two years and this made him want to give my dad a call.
I realized the practicing, the playing, the writing and the reminiscing were all for me, yet the music and the story had impact on others, whether I wanted them to. I remembered why I would go to drumming practice each week those years I was with the group, and why I kept writing.
If I ever had any reservations about putting effort into the craft, they were pushed aside when I thought of that woman in the food co-op. She made me pay attention to how we made people feel. Steve’s message was no different; if my words could incite a conversation between two old friends who’d grown apart, then that means the writing is more than worth the trouble. It can’t be half-assed, downplayed or phoned in if it can have such an effect on the world and those in it. Finding out my dad and his friend would share at least one more laugh together was anything but anti-climactic.
I never thanked the other writers in this project for sharing these glimpses into their lives. It means far more to me than I’ve ever let on. There’s not much I have to say to them aside from thank you, and please, watch and listen to the results of our work all together.