Last Friday I took a day off. I had a great morning at home, playing with our little daughter and reading a book, and in the afternoon I got out to finish some business in the nearby town.
On my way back home in the afternoon, I stopped by a local shopping centre to buy something. While making my way to the shop, I noticed a man playing an old accordion. He seemed to be in his late 50s, and there was something really tired about his look. Yet he was smiling and playing passionately something very light and pleasing. Beside him there was a box for his accordion, opened for people to throw coins into.
The music seemed very familiar. One of the tunes I’ve recognized for sure – it was a rather popular Russian romance – Ochi Chernye (Dark Eyes). I stopped to listen for a short while, but felt guilty for not dropping him a coin (I simply had no change on me) and left pretty soon.
I’ve gotten back to the car, still thinking about the man. What I actually thought was that if I was a better person, I would’ve stayed longer and got some change from the shop, and gave him a coin or two, and maybe bought him a coffee and had a friendly chat.
Do you know this feeling when deep down inside you know you’d love to do something, but you’re so unsure of how it would look to others and how you would be judged, that you start looking for any excuse to bail out? That was the feeling I was experiencing at the time.
I was coming up with one reason after another along these lines: I have no time. I need to go. It would look stupid to buy a complete stranger a coffee. He would not appreciate it anyway, he probably sees hundreds of people just like me – passing him by and never giving him a coin. The bottom line: coming back will make no difference, nothing will change.
I started the engine, and headed for the exit. I kept reassuring myself of various valid and absolutely urgent reasons to leave immediately, but instead something different happened: in the very last moment, I’ve turned and took the last parking space right next to the exit. I shut the engine down.
From that moment on, I knew – the decision was made.
It’s been a good few months of me trying to raise my awareness of everything and anything that happens to me, in order to improve myself. I absolutely hate giving in to minute weaknesses, and always try really hard to force myself and make a conscious decision about some acts and thoughts I particularly dislike. With the time, I’ve developed this external view of myself, as if I’m looking from aside, and this helps me see where I behave absolutely irrational, and I actively try to stop myself from acting like this.
The decision had been made.
It’s incredible, how hard it is to be nice to some stranger. You suddenly have all the reasons in the world to believe it will not make any difference, but trust me it will. It is hard to stop rushing somewhere and smile to someone you don’t even know, but you should try it sometime. Not smile as you’re walking, but actually stop to talk. Stop to ask how life is treating a person, and be genuinely interested.
You know what I did? I came back, and I got my coffee, and stood next to the man listening to his music. I dropped him a coin. I sat at a table of a nearby cafe, and enjoyed another 10 minutes of him playing. And when he made a pause, I walked up to him, and asked if he would like to enjoy a cup of coffee with me. He asked for an espresso, and as soon as I bought it, we sat at the table and started talking.
We talked for about half an hour. He told me about his younger years and his career of a professional musician. Apparently, he had travelled the whole Europe in his early days – he was so good that many famous people invited him for a friendly visit. He knew many great composers and artists personally, and had a house full of photos and music contests trophies back in Romania.
This man had spent his last 9 years in Ireland. He came with his big family, but couldn’t find a proper job due to various reasons. Playing accordion is his only way of bringing money into the family, and so he plays almost every day. I’ve seen him a number of times playing in the city centre, his music was always great and his smile was always a sincere and cheerful one.
We talked like some good old friends. His English wasn’t perfect, but I’ve demonstrated the ability to understand many Romanian words, and so we had a complete understanding talking on various topics.
In just half an hour I’ve learned a lot about his past, his travels and his family. He told me about 3 sons and how he taught them to play various instruments and it’s like a small family orchestra now – they are welcome guests at any party because of this. I told him about our little daughter, and we talked about eternal things like life passing by too quick to notice and children growing up in no time at all.
When the coffee was finished, I stood up and asked for his name. Severin. It sounds like a last name in Russian, but that’s his name. I gave him my name, and we shook hands.
We smiled, and in a moment I was gone.
The last thing I remembered was his box for coins, with the most sincere words I’ve ever seen written on it: NO MUSIC – NO LIFE. THANK YOU.