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.’