I was sipping a cappuccino in an underground cafe. I’d only been in town a few months and was still adjusting to the new rhythm of my day. I’d found the good coffee shop, it would be a while still before I tried the best breakfast joint. My two favorite things: coffee and eggs. But I’d started to accept the randomness of this seaside town. Looking out my fourth-floor living room window would prove to be an ever-changing experience.
For such a transient community, The Port was surprisingly inviting. I was raised in a small town but this place blew everything I’d known about people out of the water. I was from a fairly red county, where people were quick to make snap judgments, where being different made you a pariah, and where good ‘ole boy club was alive and well. But here? In this bogus little town, different meant special. Different meant you brought something new to the table and people celebrated that. They listened when you spoke, and while it could still be clicky, it was a different kind of clicky. It was organic versus processed and punk rock vs folk; and the whole time, everyone secretly loved both. It was completely foreign to me. For the first time in my life, I learned not to be afraid of my shadow. This is where I grew up. Where I found my heartbeat and heartbreak time and time again.
I looked around the cafe and memorized the faces of the strangers around me. Their habits, their drink orders, where they preferred to sit, what they read, who they talked to, and who they ignored. When they were anxious, I picked up on their ticks; when they were happy, I counted laugh lines. I wanted to know who these people were and why I felt safe for the first time in my life.
My thoughts often move much quicker than I can find the words to express them properly. It’s as though my brain splits into different segments and I’m busy trying to follow all the leads as my lips stumble over sentences. As those who’ve seen me excited can attest to, this can be difficult for me. I’ve learned to slow down and that sometimes in the moment matters less than if I give myself time to catch up with my brain. I often feel as though I don’t have the words I want in any given instance but it doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I just sometimes pay attention to the things that others miss. I’m of this silly belief that so much can be said without words if you’re looking for it.
Words are just one way to tell a story. But have you ever watched a silent film and felt the emotions expressed on camera with a gut punch? People are really good at wearing a mask, hiding the parts of themselves they’re scared to share with the world. Being vulnerable is a shared human fear. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about people, but there’s a universal truth. People want to be seen but they are often scared of things outside of their comfort zones. They are scared of letting the mask slip far enough down to really show themselves to the world. As you can understand, I’m always extra fascinated when I come across someone who’s utterly honest. So honest that their kindness, vulnerability, anger, love, excitement, hurt, is just splayed open for the world. To live in such an honest way is breathtaking.
I was sitting in an underground cafe, sipping a cappuccino, and the man behind the counter was one of these such unicorns. There was a band playing on the speaker system. The song was called “The Ballad of Love and Hate” and I’d never heard it before. Sitting on a barstool with open ears, I was brought to tears.
“Who is this?” I asked waving a finger in the air.
Jesse raised an eyebrow at me, “The Avett Brothers… You’ve heard of them, right?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. But that song was… beautiful doesn’t do it justice.”
“You’ve never listened to them before?” Jesse was getting indigent.
I shook my head. “I mean, I’ve been here for a while? So, whatever’s been playing.”
He rang his fingers in his shaggy hair, his eyes bulging, and passing judgment. I started to say something and he placed a hand up, stopping me. He unplugged the iPod and slipped a CD into the stereo. “Here.”
I stared at him, skeptically. No way was he trying to hand me his iPod. We didn’t actually know each other.
But he was.
I took it but continued to stand with my jaw on the floor, dumbfounded. Who just trusts a stranger with their expensive possessions?
“You need to experience them properly. So clear your schedule, take that, and go to the beach. Just listen. Listen to all of it. It will change your life.” He turned and went back to making a drink for the next customer.
I just held the devise, rolling it over in my fingers. “Why do you trust me to bring this back?”
“It’s just stuff.”
It’s just stuff. That sentence changed my life. The whole experience did, he was right about that. I paid my tab, tipped him a little extra, took his iPod, and went to the beach. It was two blocks away and sitting there staring into the ocean, I listened. I was about four albums in when an orca came up close to shore. I was near an old ferry dock where the water was plenty deep enough for him. My heart stopped and I watched this majestic beast come so close. It spouted air and seemed to hold eye contact for a brief moment before it turned around swam back out into the strait.
Every time I hear an Avett Brother’s song I think of that first time I listened to them. I think of Jesse, who later became a roommate and friend. I think about the trust he bestowed on me when I didn’t know how to trust anyone. I think about that orca and how life is filled with small magical moments. How it can slip by quickly and how much I want to feel that sense of safety again.
So here’s the Ballad of Love and Hate. I hope you listen to the whole thing, and maybe explore their other titles. I hope you find a little magic today.