maybe our hearts will break open
It is almost 10 o’clock in the evening when I step out of the yoga studio and onto the city sidewalk, so I am surprised to hear music. But there it is, the familiar sad-sweet melody of that John Legend song, “All of Me,” down the street from a few blocks away.
You know that song, even if you don't know it. It's a bit much. It's great.
Love your curves and all your edges / All your perfect imperfections
Let me tell you that the man singing has one of the most lovely, rich voices I’ve ever heard. As I walk toward it, I notice most passers-by also slowing to listen, to peer down the street. A car passes packed with young women shout-singing along, windows down, willing to deal with the cold air in exchange for sharing the song.
Give your all to me / I'll give my all to you
I walk, and I know the high note in the chorus is approaching, the A♭ an octave up. I feel eager-anxious, a tightening in my belly and chest, as I wonder if the lovely, rich voice can possibly reach that far. And I am filled with delight, a sense of shared triumph, as his voice soars to find the note easily, clearly. I smile broadly. I can’t help it.
I’ve walked a block and can see him now, bundled in a black coat, standing in front of a mic, a single speaker beside him and a small collection box in front of him. He is tall, his hair graying. He seems perfectly ordinary and of course he is not.
He reminds me no one is.
I rummage in my bag to find every dollar, and as I approach I see he sings with his eyes closed. He puts his whole self into the song. He belongs on a stage, in a recording studio, I think. I am overwhelmed at my good fortune in attending this improbable winter’s weeknight performance.
How many times do I have to tell you / Even when you’re crying you’re beautiful too
This is the evening of MLK, Jr. Day, 2017. In three days, the Obamas will move out of the White House, and an openly hateful man will assume the office of the President. In four days, women will coalesce to march on Washington. I will be there with my young daughters, and my old friends. And then life will somehow go on.
It is proving difficult to hold all these happenings at once.
The world is beating you down, I'm around, through every mood
But right now, in this moment, I do not worry or lament or rage or analyze. I only listen. I open up to the moment: the lovely, rich voice. The moisture and surprising warmth in the air, signaling rain moving up from the South. The group of young men sprawled around a bench on the plaza, smoking. Cars passing on the street. Street lamps sparkling.
I notice - by its curious absence - the stoic guard I have been maintaining against being fully present. Right now, it's gone, and I am inhabiting my heart and head and body and the world and the moment, all at once.
My head's under water / But I'm breathing fine
It is a relief to be here, to take more of it in, to be with the whole of it. My ears are open to the song's overwrought blend of sweetness and heartwrench. Open to the Carnegie Hall voice on the city sidewalk. My skin feels the omen of climate change on my gloveless hands. Feels the eyes of the young men now noticing me. My eye catches the gleam off the shining new library, brightly lit on the next corner, many-windowed and full of ideas and already-worn furniture.
My heart is so full. We are so powerful, we humans. And sometimes, we are so generous.
I stoop to place my gathered dollars in the collection box. The man opens his eyes and crinkles their corners to smile with them, still singing. My hands move to my heart and I bow in gratitude.
We give what we can. We let it be enough.
I turn to walk away, and one of the young men on the bench presses his eyes onto me. I look up to meet his gaze - I wouldn't, usually, but this night feels so unusually benevolent - and he smiles warmly and says, "He's SO GOOD, right?"
Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts / Risking it all though it's hard
So good. Yes. Goodness. There is goodness. We can share it. We can help each other to be courageous enough.
Sometimes, we are so generous.
Maybe, to know this truly and to manifest it fully, our hearts will have to break a little more. They will have to, for us to win even when we lose.