What I mean is I meet the most interesting people. This has happened to me my entire life. Once, a man on a bus tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would believe he was an actor, then demonstrated his command of some Shakespearean soliloquies. I was eight and on my way to ballet class. Seriously. Sometimes I don't ever think much about them past our transport interlude; but SOMETIMES I end up meeting someone really special. Today, while on the 96 tram to brunswick in Melbourne, I met Jay & Silent Bob.
Okay not really, but they were pretty damn close to the real thing. I'll call them Jay & Aussie Bob. They crowded next to me-Aussie Bob plopping beside me reeking of cigarettes, and Jay sliding a clear trash bag of clothes onto the seat in front of me and immediately asking me questions. Granted, sometimes I walk around with a ukulele and this seems to make me more approachable. Lots of people smile at me or ask me to play a song, and sometimes I will oblige. I wasn't so keen when Jay asked me for a tune.
"Aw, come now, don't be shy!"
"I'm not shy, I just don't always want to talk"
"Okay, love, I understand...is that a ukulele? I played the piano when I was a kid."
And I was hooked. He had the gift of gab and leveled himself immediately to make me feel comfortable. Aussie Bob, characteristically, just sat there. Jay went on to tell me about his childhood scholarship to music school in Queensland to his father who gave him a guitar to his recent time in the slammer to his five month old baby girl who died from SIDS.
Heavy. He was a professional at accepting a strangers sympathy, which is a quality I can recognize in a heartbeat. Perhaps I project, but I know a little about personal tragedy and the awkwardness that it can bring to a conversation. Awkward so much that you, the person in pain, feel the need to reassure the listener and convey your plucky togetherness to prove you've accepted it and are healthily moving on with your life. I had to stop him in his starring role in this two man show and took the mic.
I told him to take care of himself. I told him that these things take lots of time and you don't understand what happened right away. I told him exactly how I knew the pain he knew, and he took my hand and said how sorry he was that I knew. He thanked me, and called me genuine. Whether or not he listened to what this stranger shared with him about taking care of himself I'll never know,, because even when people told me that I never understood what they meant. That may sound naive, but I had no idea that it meant really big important things like DON'T BE AFRAID TO STOP AND GRIEVE FOR AWHILE, and DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF, and especially, WHEN YOU ARE READY, DO THINGS THAT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY ABOUT LIFE AGAIN, and most importantly-IT'S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP.
Those really big, helpful, loving, honest things that you need to give yourself in order to keep going. Maybe Jay had that, maybe he's learning. He wasn't much older than me, and although he was imprisoned for assault (he assured me he was defending himself and he wasn't a criminal) he seemed to be a pretty quick witted guy. Maybe these were lessons he had figured out. I really have no idea.
But I do know that because of him I was reminded of the laborious pursuits of understanding and love over the years and how much I have learned and how much more there is still left. I'll probably never get to thank him.
Jay was a quick learn on the uke and after nailing three chords, made up a little tune about meeting me...
"I learned to play the ukele-leeeee, from a girl who looks like Gwen Stepha-neeeee, she didn't judge that I was arrested for getting in a fight..."
then Aussie Bob chimed in with an almost unintelligible mumble,
"I play the trombone every night."
Aussie Bob, everyone. Aussie Bob.