“Unaware of where I’m going / or if I’m going anywhere at all / but I know I’ll take the leap, if it is worth the fall // so long as the blood keeps flowing / I’ll set a sail and swim across / I’m not looking to be found / just want to feel (un)lost” -The Maine
It’s October, and I’ve been having a bit of a hard time. I said goodbye to a visitor who was here for both too much time and not enough, and it took a lot out of me. I’m still wrestling with the grief of things long past. I have two tickets to see my favorite band in Atlanta, but the person I had planned to go with is no longer in my life, and I haven’t found another to claim the ticket. But I want this night — I need it. Traveling a few hours to a big city alone frightens me, but missing out on the experience scares me more. So I take the leap.
It has taken years of therapy and introspection, but I finally feel like I am at the threshold of feeling safe in my own body. I’m at the doorstep of a world I thought didn’t want me in it, and I’m closing the door behind me. I’m done missing out because of fear. The world before me is flawed, pocked with adversity. But I also see pockets of sunlight awaiting me that contain multitudes of wonder.
My car, nearly as old as I, runs half on gas and half on prayers. I’ve taken precautions so that multiple people have my location at all times. I’m doing this despite the risks. Something larger than me is telling me I must.
I make it to Atlanta, find a parking deck, pull up my maps app to take me to my venue. I’m extremely early. I like being early to concerts because I’m short and can’t see if I’m not close enough to the stage. I’ve waited as long as eight hours for a show before, playing cards and ordering pizzas–making a day of it. I’m not that early this time, but enough so that I hope to find a companion.
I make it a couple blocks when frustration gets the better of me–I’m already lost–so I pull up Uber. Right as I do, an older Black man stops and asks if I’m lost. I smile, thank him for the concern, but tell him I’m fine. He sticks around, though, and we chat for a bit. He’s homeless, and looking for a meal. When I realize that he probably knows the area better than anyone, I ask him if he knows where my venue is, and he assures me he does. He offers to walk me there.
“There’s a restaurant just right up there,” he says. “Would you mind buying me some food?”
“I can do that,” I reply. Gratitude floods his face. He asks if we can stop and pray. I have a contentious history with religion, but I’ve been living in the Deep South for over a year now, so have grown more comfortable with it as a whole. We clasp hands and bow our heads in the middle of the sidewalk, and he thanks God for crossing paths with me.
I buy Andre some wings and a soda, which he announces he will return for after he walks me to my venue. As we walk, he freestyles, beating on his chest and making our circumstances rhyme, cracking jokes, making me laugh. We draw near the block my venue is on, and tentatively, he says, “Can I ask one more favor?”
I cut a wary glance in his direction. “Depends on what it is.”
He laughs. “Could you buy me some cigarettes? Just at a store right up there.” He points. “I’m banned from it for getting into a fight once.”
I want to laugh, but I don’t. Rather, I answer, “Yeah, I can do that.”
This is a derelict part of town that looks like it once thrived with life. Now, though, storefronts are shuttered and people lounge on the sidewalks, using backpacks for pillows and threadbare coats for blankets. The store I enter has bars on the windows and a bulletproof barrier between the cashier and me. I ask him for some Newport 100s; he doesn’t ask for ID. I pay and leave. Other patrons look on; I stick out like a sore thumb, and I know it.
Andre lights up a cigarette and offers me one. I decline. We walk back to my venue.
“What time does the show end?” he asks.
“I’m not sure,” I respond.
“I can wait for you, walk you back to your car,” he offers.
I hesitate. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll be okay.”
He smiles despite himself. “Not like I’ll be busy anyway. I’ll be out here around 11.”
We part ways. I want with every fiber of my being to believe he has no insidious intentions, but I also don’t want to be so trusting as to put myself in harm’s way. I find the line of concertgoers, seeing there are already about 50 people queued up. I sit on a little concrete ledge and breathe, think, decompress. Down the line, I see a young woman and who I assume to be her mom, and I text my roommate. “There’s a mom down the line. Maybe she’ll want to be my mom for the night.”
We’re filtered through security, then form another haphazard line outside the doors of the venue itself. I look to my right and notice that the girl and her mom have ended up right next to me. A little nervously, I strike up conversation with them, small talk to crack the ice a bit. Finally, I ask, “Is this your mom?”
They laugh. Peggy is Courtney’s mom, and goes to concerts with her sometimes. Courtney had planned on coming alone, but Peggy likes The Maine. I tell her she’s a cool mom–and I would know, because I have a cool mom, too. I muse aloud that they’d probably get along. I sense a wariness about Peggy, a protectiveness of her daughter that I admire deeply. I tell Peggy and Courtney about my adventure with Andre, confessing that I am a bit nervous for him to escort me to my car late at night. Both women immediately reassure me that they’ll walk me; I instantly feel a weight lift off my shoulders, and give myself permission to enjoy the night.
Courtney and I become fast friends. We bond over our love of The Maine and music in general; our obsession with our cats; our guilty pleasure of trash television; our fascination with true crime. I’m almost sad when the opening band comes out, because then it’s too loud to carry a conversation. Peggy is near the back of the venue where she doesn’t have to fight crowds and withstand shrieks; Courtney and I have found a place off to the side and far enough back that we can see the stage. It’s nice not having to battle for the front row, like I usually do.
Between bands, Courtney and I talk a little more, conversation flowing freely with no awkward silences or lulls. I realize that if I would have brought someone else or worse, not come at all, I’d never have met this incredible person or her cool and caring mom. I’m sharing this experience with someone who values it just as much as I do, and that’s not something I’d trade for the world.
The Maine emerges. Immediately the night is painted in hues of pain and healing; grief and euphoria; enjoying the fleeting and fickle nature of life and carrying the weight of the world on tired shoulders. The music surrounds us, envelops us, wraps us in an embrace that feels uncannily like home.
Partway through a song, I have my hands up in the air, involuntarily. I’m feeling the music on a molecular level, feeling the energy of the room, the miracle of the moment. I realize, with a start, what it resembles. I’ve been to a panoply of churches over my lifetime, and have always watched with envy as congregation members lose themselves in reverence–standing among the pews, eyes closed, arms upraised, palms out. I look around the room, breathe in the pure intangible ecstasy that the music is stirring in all of us, and feel it. Finally. I get it. After all this time, I feel like I am worshipping. My hands are open like I can invite the healing energy from this music I love to permeate my very being and tighten the stitches on all of my wounds.
I’ve been on a spiritual expedition for nearly my entire life, seeking that unseen, unshakable faith that so many seem to have. But tonight, in this room, I’ve found it. I know. God flows on the cadence of stanzas that infiltrates your bloodstream and makes you feel less alone. God is in the hand of a stranger as he bows his head and thanks the universe for meeting you. God is a carton of cigarettes that you open and offer to the person next to you, because being homeless can be harrowing, and any little connection is better than none. God is in the strength that it takes to speak up and make friends, and God is in the words that you put to feelings and infuse into harmonies that not many can describe, but all can relate to. Anything that brings us closer, bridges gaps, creates connection, lessens suffering, however momentary: that’s what breathes life into life itself. Austrian philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
The show ends, and we stick around to talk to the band and get some autographs. It’s after midnight. Courtney, Peggy, and I take a different route out of the venue than I’d come in, so I never do get to see if Andre is waiting for me. We pass another homeless man on our way out and Peggy stops first, Courtney and I doubling back. We look up some phone numbers of shelters for him to call, read them aloud as he punches them into the cracked screen on his phone. We bid him well. I can’t speak for Courtney and Peggy, but I feel uneasy at the privilege of the money I spent to be here tonight, the merch I bought, as we leave that man there. I send up a prayer for him, since I know how to do that now. It’s not enough, but it’s something.
Peggy and Courtney deliver me safely to my car. I wish them safe travels and thank them profusely for taking me in, and walking me afterward. We make plans to meet up in a couple of weeks when I’m back in town for another concert, this time with a friend. And on the long drive home in the smallest hours of the morning, I send up a prayer of gratitude for crossing paths with Andre, and these two amazing women.
A night I almost denied myself or shared with someone who might have enjoyed but not appreciated it has turned out to be one of the most transcendent nights of my life. I’m in awe of what has occurred because I never thought it would. As it turns out, I just needed to take a leap of faith to find faith–there, in the car, in the street, in the crowd. And it was certainly worth the fall.