the street musician

Like the janitor on Scrubs, the street musician is a now a regular member of our cast. On the weekends we can't go anywhere without hearing instruments of all kinds or spotting a Michael Jackson-impersonating dancer. The Saturday before Easter we were riding the subway in Manhattan when a lanky woman with a red plastic shopping bag stepped into our train, took a deep breath and released her vibratto into the vacuum that is the subway silence code. All fidgetting and movement ceased as the passengers around us assumed a stone-like quality.

Mid-song, she noticed there were young children on the train and switched directly into Jesus Loves the Little Children. She walked to where we were sitting and planted herself there. At the end of every line she would break character and say in a surprisingly normal speaking voice, "Don't be ashamed to give change, don't be ashamed to give change." The jingle of her bag was proof that others had not been stopped by such considerations.

I wasn't sure how her song choice would go down. Looking around me I saw people who looked distinctively like members of other traditions and races, and I prayed, yes, prayed, that she wouldn't list the skin colors ("red and yellow, black and white") but would insert the new lyrics my sister assures me are always used these days. Meanwhile, Amelia is shouting out next to me, "Mom, we have this song! We have this song at home on my lullabies!" The singer was working a crescendo, then climaxed: "Red and yellow, black and white..." She didn't, I thought, stunned. Thankfully, she was unharmed when she got out at the next stop. After our exit, Justin and I argued about whether red and yellow are appropriate or offensive ways to describe people.

Last weekend when we descended onto our platform, a steel drummer was playing along to a techno-dance background track. He began a new song and I smiled when I recognized "Blessed Assurance". It was an unexpected pairing of song choice and delivery. I stood on the platform holding Amelia's hand, but in my mind I was standing in a pew, holding my grandmother's hand. I could hear her voice singing, and after a few minutes I picked up Amelia and sang to her, "This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long." When he kicked into "When the Saints Go Marching In", I fell into a full-blown giggle. "Sing me these words, mommy," Amelia said.

street musician lets amelia play
A musician lets Amelia play along in line for the Statue of Liberty ferry.
Picture by Aunt Marla.