Joan Didion once said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I guess that this must be true, no matter who you are, because in the end the things that we cling to are the memories that become stories that we tell ourselves over and over again, whether they are good or bad.
My stories from Chile are the kind that mesh together to make up one long novel of a realized newness, of romance, of discovery, of wonder, of a consciousness developed while a life is lived in moments swallowed whole. But this is a story of one particular moment, so fleeting that it could have been passed and forgotten, an unsacred shame if I had remembered my headphones that day.
On the train one day, there was a man who played the guitar for a mostly oblivious audience, one of the best gifts Chile has given me so far. He played a song that had no lyrics, no other instruments; a man and his guitar. I think he may have been a kindred spirit, or someone that I crossed paths with in the past life, only to see him again briefly in this one, for two train stops that would have passed me by if I kept my head down in a world entirely my own.
And I swear, in those two bus stops, the sound of the guitar fit so perfectly into the rhythm of our lives; the precision of the chords lent themselves to the looks on our faces, to the positions of our bodies, to who we were and who we might have been to each other as the world outside sped past us in the dark. It was a story in motion and we were given our own beat to live to for a little while, no matter who we were, what languages we spoke, or where we lived, packed into the same car.
And somehow, the man playing that tune on the guitar, going in that one direction at that time, gave to that mother kissing her baby sitting in the middle of the car, and the middle-aged man staring off into the distance, thinking about something that I will never know, a beat to live to if but for a moment. A tune to kiss to, to think to, to cry to, to smile to, to be rocked to sleep to, wrapped up all into one.
To that little unknown tune, anyone could have felt the presence of the mother kissing her baby on the subway, or a couple resting their heads on each other for what looked a long ride. Or felt the presence of the man reading psychology studies on his IPad who could have been a professor or a concerned citizen, or the young man sitting across from you with a backpack who could go to the same school as you, and maybe he does, and you wonder if you will see him again because you want to ask him what he listens to every day on the subway.
Maybe we do walk to our own beats, sometimes with our heads down or in the clouds. They play as we walk in the street, or wake up in the morning and imagine how our day is going to be. They become aligned with a thumping inside our chests that quickens as we run to catch the subway, or feel someone new for the first time, or find ourselves lost in a new place after dark. But this was a kind of tune that could be the opening tune to a story of a life in motion, a backdrop of a melody that is entirely our own, yet belongs to everyone around us at the same time because of where we found ourselves in one particular moment.
And I could swear in that moment, the made-up tune of an anonymous musician belonged to all of us at once, even if we all didn’t know it, a sacredness that hung in the air even after the last string on the guitar ceased to vibrate against his fingers.