Play Me, I’m Yours

I was in London last month visiting my ‘other’ home. I arrived feeling dislocated.  It’s an odd sideways movement returning to a place where you have left roots. A place where  you have made memories… sweet and bitter, clear and fuzzy, quiet and loud. When I land at the airport I feel like explaining myself. I want to pause at the passport control and tell them my story.

“I’m both you know. British and American. I have an American passport but a British accent. I’m double sided. Split. Torn in two. I was born here. Have lived in both places. I am always questioning where I belong.”

I wonder if they would listen – momentarily intrigued by the chance to see me as dimensional, rather than a flat document needing to be stamped.

So often we bypass opportunities to hear people’s stories. To colour in their outlines. To add flesh to their bones. I can think of too many occasions where I have met someone in a social situation, and even though I have asked numerous questions expressing a genuine interest in who they are, I am met with indifference. They show no curiosity. Ask nothing about me.

Sometimes we become so bound up in our own head space that we forget to look outward. We forget how nourishing and surprising it can feel to make connections.

During my trip to London, a friend and I set off optimistically with our daughters for a walk on Hampstead Heath. The sun above our heads was daring us to peel to off layers and believe we could be warm. But within minutes of embarking on our jaunt – the heavens cracked open and drenched us through and through. There was nowhere to hide. The four of us huddled together on a nearby bench under two small umbrellas for almost an hour. We shared biscuits and gave in to the absurdity of an English July, growing wetter by the second. When the rain finally let up and we stood up, a rainbow etched itself onto the sky and I knew the afternoon would remain vivid in my memory, even more so than if it had been a simple, sunny picnic.

As we made our way back to our cars we passed a piano in the park. Recently pianos have been dotted across the city of London with signs inviting people to ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’. They even come with piano ponchos to protect them from showers.

My eleven year old daughter took up the invitation. She carefully removed the dripping plastic cover, sat down underneath the rainbow and played ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay — the smile on my friend’s four year old’s face was priceless. I stood transfixed by the magic of the moments unfolding — knowing that the outing was transforming into a story I would always want to tell.

An older man on his bike stopped to listen too and when my daughter finished, he took over, playing an enthusiastic rendition of a Bee Gee’s song. He told us of his frequent visits to the piano in the park. He told us about the others who gathered around him each time for a ‘sing-a-long’.

We became threads linking each other together.

Whoever it is who came up with the brilliant idea of putting pianos in public spaces is a genius. I’d like to write them a thank you letter and tell them how grateful I am that they understand the value of connection. The pianos are providing the gift of a story… a story told through hundreds of notes played in countless configurations daily. These instruments, bared to the elements, hold chapters of lives lived in sudden unexpected bursts of creativity. They are bringing people into contact. Encouraging expression. Allowing strangers to seem less strange.

I only wish they had thought to place a piano in Heathrow airport. At the front of the queue . A welcome distraction while we all wait to be stamped.

Write about an unexpected interaction or connection. Curiosity about others fuels our writing lives. Pay attention. Don’t pass up a chance to ‘Play Me.’

15 Responses to “Play Me, I’m Yours”

  1. Melissa
    August 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    Hi Rory – Great story, great afternoon! So glad you shared it. I haven’t seen those pianos, but they seem like an awesome idea. I read something (actually only a skim of a headline that I didn’t get a chance to go back and read the whole article) about how more than tea and biscuits or rain and wellies, a sense of community and shared space is what defines the British character. I wondered what you think about that?

    • Rory Green
      August 14, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      Hi Melissa – having left London – it is the ‘shared space’ that I miss the most. I never thought I would reminisce about travelling on a packed tube train… and I don’t exactly(!) but I do miss opportunities for people to exist in spaces together – parks especially. LA, where I live now, is a particular bubble – built around vast spaces that rely on people only moving about in cars. It can be lonely. Humans need opportunities to connect. The British character is multi faceted – reserved, but in my experience, open hearted and welcoming too. I think the Olympics proved that we can be excellent hosts! Thank you, as ever, for your contribution and for reading! Hope you are enjoying your blog break – we all need one of those once in a while!

      • Melissa
        August 24, 2012 at 12:24 am #

        Hi Rory – This ‘shared spaces’ idea as part of the British character keeps coming back to me – in the terraced houses, the well-loved parks and pools, the village pub, the smaller spaces in the car park, the way most people give to charities, and then even in bigger ways like the NHS and various benefits for various groups. Now that I notice it, this awareness and magnanimity is everywhere (perhaps not always cheerfully delivered with a ‘have a nice day’, but mostly deeply aware of others and others’ needs). Hmm..thanks for making me think!

        • Rory Green
          August 24, 2012 at 8:02 am #

          You are welcome(!) and I totally agree. It helps to close the gap, make connection (even unspoken connection) and it reminds you that the UK is a ‘small island’. Often it can be easier to feel part of something small and inclusive, than trying to find your space in a much bigger landscape. That has definitely been my experience since moving to LA.

  2. Lisa Hills
    August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Your post brought tears to me eyes. I think they came from a longing for those connections and opportunities for them. L.A.’s set does feel like it blocks rather than facilitates them. Your post, however, has encouraged me to start looking for them instead of lamenting their absence. Where’s our heath?

    • Rory Green
      August 14, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Lisa – I’m so happy to know the posts are speaking to you. I think you’re right – we need to activate what we want in life rather than sulking because it hasn’t found us. I’m prone to sulk! I’m working on activating!

  3. Erin
    August 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Lovely, lovely story! I’m guilty of not getting to know people’s stories. I think part of it is that our culture doesn’t really invite that kind of questioning — some people view it as intrusive. But another part (probably the bigger part) doesn’t know what to ask, how to make the sharing of stories feel natural.

    I love the idea of pianos in public spaces, but I think it’s the invitation — “Play me” — that does the trick. So often we wait to be invited instead of jumping in, going where we aren’t sure we’re “allowed” to go.

  4. Lou
    August 16, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Fantabulous account of an afternoon in London. I had an afternoon in a beautiful wildlife park in Berkshire with one of my Goddaughters. Her face kept lighting up as she ran from place to place. We were virtually the last to leave and having spent a beautifully aimless day, I then met Dom’s Form Tutor in the local pub, by the canal, to discuss his school options for next year.

    Such randomness – could only happen in Blighty!

    • Rory Green
      August 24, 2012 at 8:03 am #

      Lovely story, Lou! I’ve missed you! Thanks for showing up here again and sharing a slice of your world…

  5. Frahnseen
    August 16, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Pianos just for the playing in the park. It’s a reminder of the moments of joy that are all within our grasp. It takes me back to The Old Settler’s Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The girl scouts make a whole stack of large hula hoops out of PVC pipe and decorate them in vivid colors. (I tried to paste a photo, but you’ll just have to imagine or google an image) They bring them to the festival and lay them in piles around the event site for anyone to use and leave behind for the next person. It’s amazing how much these hoops add to this event. Hooping brings out the child in almost everyone and for those too shy to partake it gives a welcome amusing distraction in the midst of all the crowns of people and heat. I remember a few years ago my husband and I sat transfixed in a state of hilarity watching a women try and try and try again to get the hoop to stay around her at least one rotation. She just couldn’t do it. But she was determined and persistent. Every once in awhile a passerby would stop and give advice and perhaps a demonstration and she would try again, but sadly to no avail. We knew we should not take pleasure her inability to hoop, but watching her body jerk and spasm in exactly the wrong ways struck us funny. We talked about trying to go help her and put our two cents worth of advice in, but we couldn’t stop laughing. The hilarity just welled up and exploded out of our gleeful hearts and we laughed hysterically, although as quietly as we could. We couldn’t stop laughing but we couldn’t leave either as we were drawn into the magical world of merriment, so seductive to our adult hearts of rational and appropriate behavior. We were beginning to gasp for breath and hold our sides but we couldn’t stop laughing as hard as we tried, until we finally had to leave the area.
    What fun it was to be transported by joy. It reminded me of the slumber parties when I was young we girls would get the giggles and every time we even looked at each other would start cracking up again. Sometimes we had forgotten even what we started laughing about. I think that is one of the most precious moments in life when laughter flows up uncontrolled out of the depths of your soul. As an adult I have forgotten how good that feels and rarely allow myself get to that place of hysterical abandon. It’s pure bliss. So get a hoop. Be a child. Laugh until it feels your sides will split. Revel in the joy!

    • Rory Green
      August 24, 2012 at 8:04 am #

      Your account of the day made me smile too! And it made me think about how little I laugh until it hurts these days… a perfect motivation to seek out opportunities! Perhaps I need to buy a hoop?!

  6. dilly
    August 20, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    hey rorys- i though that story was so beautifully written and i can really relate to the feelings you feel of being torn between to country. I often feel the same way as i am hikeing in L.A and you get to the top and see the beautiful view and feel the sun on my skin

    • Rory Green
      August 24, 2012 at 8:05 am #

      I hear you, Dilly! Always there with you…

  7. Jen
    August 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Only moments ago, a lovely yet leathered, older lady stopped me and said, “Ah! Your dress is so beautiful against the flowers. They match the coleus.” I stopped to thank her and our moment had begun. She told me she was an artist but stopped painting people in 1968. She said she only paints abstracts now but if she did paint people, she’d want to paint me in this dress in front of these flowers. She was transfixed by my dress in a way that really taught me that there is true beauty in everything – even a $10 dress from Target.

    We go on talking. She wants a coworker to take a picture of me in front of the flowers but he doesn’t have a camera. I have a camera but I keep it a secret. I recognize this moment as too precious to be interrupted by the urge to capture and preserve it. Why trap a butterfly? Allowing it to flitter in front of you is the true pleasure.

    Omyrrha, as we’ve now made introductions, asks where I think the dress was made. I tell her “China” with some sense of disappointment. “I’m assuming it was made in China since I bought it at Target. I was just thinking yesterday that I wished I’d bought two of them.” She then proceeds to tell me a story about a knitwear designer in the 60s who once made the most amazing brassieres so she bought 28 of them knowing this was a one time thing for the designer. This makes me laugh.

    Although our conversation is banal, I realize that I’m experiencing a special connection between a stranger and myself – a moment I’ll remember forever because I sense the energy of the universe uniting us precisely then. I wish I could remember what she said next verbatim. It was something like, “Thank you for being a moment of vision in my day. I have really enjoyed the experience.” Wow! What a beautiful sentiment – one that should be uttered and received by each of us more often. What kind of world could this be if we all stopped for a moment to make these connections? A world, I hope, that comes to fruition soon.

    • Rory Green
      August 24, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      I love this story, Jen! I can picture the entire interaction and it leaves me wanting to know more about that woman’s life. I especially loved the words she left you with… a special encounter. “Why trap a butterfly? Allowing it to flitter in front of you is the true pleasure” and what a beautiful quote that is and so true!

      Thank you for sharing…

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