Monday, June 20, 2016

Background music

It was a chilly Friday evening in Midway airport in Chicago, pouring rain outside and thousands of people scurrying up and down the terminals.  The monitor blinked  like Christmas lights with red delayed flights flashing on the screen.  We were all soaked from the rain.  And many of us were stuck in these halls for hours.  Passengers milled about and mumbled.  There were too many flights delayed.  Customers complained in the turmoil, "Why mine?" Babies cried... and many adults wanted to do the same.

The truth was that we were all going to be late for something.  And there was nothing we could do about it.

I sat in the crowded terminal, waiting on my two-hour delayed flight.  At one point, the people from my flight were shuffled from gate to gate as if to give us something to do.  Flights landed.  Flights departed.  And our plane did not.

I read for a while, working my way through Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring.  At one chapter's end, I looked up from Middle Earth, realizing that I was surrounded not by irate passengers but by thousands of stories.  I watched.  I wondered about all these people and the tales they are living, going someplace or coming home.

And under the fray and the waves of crowd noise, bits of conversation floated on the surface and ebbed away like the ocean tide, pieces of words, a passage or two left behind like so many broken shells, the visible evidence of life, a woman talking on the phone to her elderly mom, another discussing what to do with a child in foster care, a man whose flight from Seattle was disrupted, an appointment missed, and a young woman facing the reality, "I won't be there now until 2 am."

And then, quite suddenly, a melody entered this disjointed drama.  Amidst the frustrated mosaic of faceless travelers, a man in tired-red shorts and an old blue t-shirt leaned down, took out a guitar and began strumming.  A strolling musician was in our midst.  People pretended not to look, but they did.  They appeared not to listen, but his notes were slowly changing the landscape.  The man passionately played his guitar, lost in his thoughts, lost in the music, lost in the wanderings of his songs.  People continued to talk on their phones, desk clerks dealt with irate customers, and the dull roar of a crowd subsided just a bit.

There was a rhythm.

I saw a few people take off their earphones, a two year old danced, and an old man patted his foot. The crowds swirled and surged around him.  And still he played.

No one was obviously listening to him.  And yet, we all were.  His tunes formed the background music, underlying both conversations and personal silences.  I found myself rereading the same paragraph, my attention compromised and drawn into another dimension.

I realized that he too was a weary traveler with a choice.

He was not performing before a willing audience, nor for personal gain.  It was as if he was practicing out loud what lived within, practicing over and over songs long engraved, whether anyone listened or not. His notes got all over everyone.  And with a joyful tune, he changed that dismal place...just a little bit.

Music does that.

Just like grace.

I will sing a new song
     to You, O God,
on a ten-stringed harp
     I will play to You.

                   Psalm 144. 9

No matter what,
no matter where,
practice grace
            in unlikely places,
sing a new song
          where no one expects it,
the distinctive sound of worship
        that changes life in more ways than we will ever know.

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