At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a plane landed in JFK airport, one of many; the city was still opening its eyes. Among the passengers (the lawyers, businessmen, wives, criminals, teachers, students, and prophets), there was a group of exchange students from Bordeaux, France. When the students arrived at my school, I knew something had opened. An announcement was made and the students were introduced to the school. I knew I should be poised to reach out and touch their newness, smell their rain-soaked jackets, and talk.
A week passed. I remained silent. As irreversible time did its work, I continued, simply not knowing how. Moving forward again to the final fated day of the exchange, the last hours of promise were reaching their end. Change was negligible. The aria’s final suspended chord was ringing into the present, playing to an auditorium of nobody and nothing, and I was the only one onstage. There had been a few cursory moments of connection in the previous weeks, but they never transcended the moniker of organized formality.
It was in this final hour I decided to act. Seized with life, the morning propelled me forward. During breakfast, I grabbed Tomas, my closest French acquaintance and requested that he gather his comrades and meet me on the sixth floor. A seed of an idea entered my mind.
I laughed with excitement. It was simple. I was going to send the students on their way with the one gift I could offer: music. The venue was to be the sixth floor alcove. The weapon of choice was an old beige piano, christened by the fingers of more boisterous children than I cared to imagine. As Tomas and his friends filed into the room, I could tell that they were quietly questioning the reason for this excursion. Once seats were located, they looked at me openly and expectantly. I clumsily related my intent. It probably sounded something like this:
“Hi, I uh just wanted to tell you all that your presence has been important to this community and I wish had gotten to know you better but yeah anyway I just want to wish you farewell and leave you with a piece of music you are all beautiful this is ‘Liebestraum’ composed by Franz Liszt.”
Finally I sank into the piano and played. I entered the keys and sparked waves of sound. The French students sat silent. My posterior hovered a full American inch off the bench. As the final rippling notes of the piece disappeared into space, there was a momentary pause. Then they clapped. I did not expect them to clap. I had made mistakes, but the smiles on their faces made me forget. A moment was shared between us. Something beyond words, whether they be English, French, or more accurately, a combination of the two. For the rest of the day, there was a warmth of rapport and a familiarity that was previously unknown. I am still in contact with two of the students who that day I learned to know.
When they got back on that plane and flew out of JFK to a place hundreds of miles away, they carried a tiny segment of my soul with them. A life lived in delight is a life in which every piece of the soul is distributed outward, one by one. A life lived in delight is a life in which these pieces attach themselves to the people and the trees and the birds and the falling dust, and nothingness becomes irrelevant.
This is why I want to be around people people people people. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, White. All people. I want to know their stories, their passions, their fears. Because they are also my own, they resonate within me like a hammer hitting the string of a piano. The mechanism at work, creating imperfect sound.