I have one last musical guest to applaud on the road to Easter. It seems appropriate for this man to precede the the remaining people. The rest of the bunch are those who have directly or indirectly shaped my spiritual life. To some degree, he falls in that category too. Some context for you.
In autumn of 2009, My husband and I packed up our apartment in Marpole and migrated to South Granville. Someone miraculously volunteered to buy our beaten-up car, freeing us to experiment with the pedestrian lifestyle. The timing wasn’t great though. By then it was November. We spent the winter huddled under umbrellas, cursing the rain with the best of them. We darted on and off of buses and punished our wellies. Needless to say, when spring arrived and the rain subsided, we were elated to dry out. We flung our windows open and let the fresh air purge our stale apartment.
That’s when the opera started. I was painting in our dining area the first time I heard faint strains of a bellowing tenor in the distance. I hardly paid attention at first. The voice steadily approached our home. Curiosity got the best of me and I moved to the window. Opera. It was definitely someone singing opera.
Soon the vibrant tenor notes were practically scaling the wall and climbing into my home through the window. The volume of the mysterious voice peaked. I craned my neck out just in time to see a man slowly sauntering across a gap between apartment buildings down our lane. Slowly the voice faded, hidden in the gritty pile of city noise.
Listen, my words cannot do his voice justice. Just know that it was robust and mesmerizing, like something in a dream.
One day I witnessed him singing on a busy shopping street down from our place. He didn’t scurry or hustle with the majority. He seemed to hover over the sidewalk, gliding along Granville Street. His weathered cap sat perched on top of his disheveled grey hair. He was neither polished nor tattered: faded jeans, tennis shoes, an unassuming lightweight jacket.
His posture set him apart. He stood rooted like a tree, tall and proud. He cast his gaze well above the horizon. Eyes fixed, neither emotive nor lifeless. His arms fell by his side, palms open. No phone. No shopping bags. No vices. Just Opera Man and his exquisite tenor range.
Over the spring and summer we enjoyed his unexpected visits to our neighbourhood. I purposefully left the windows ajar. This was all happening while my work life and identity collapsed and I was grasping for fleeting moments of hope in the world around me. It sounds so over dramatic to say that time stood still when he was nearby singing but, honestly, it kind of did. His presence made me ponder.
“What is your deal, Opera Man? You seem to have no destination and yet you walk with more purpose than most. Are you mentally unwell? Is your behaviour a symptom or are you completely sane and choosing to bless us all? You possess this transcendent voice, something fit for a stage, yet you call the streets your auditorium instead. How on earth do you project your voice over the droning pulse of traffic? Where is that confidence born from? And how does your voice remain so pure? And how do you dodge piercing stares from confused strangers? And what on earth are you singing about?”
These are the things I ponder now without the distraction of a dishwasher. Opera Man.
If you’ve been in the pleasure of his company, please testify that I am not romanticizing the guy. If you haven’t – oh, friends. I long for you to get the chance, if indeed he still roams the streets. Now is a perfect time to hunt for him. The thought of strolling the streets beneath the safety of the cherry blossom canopies makes me swoon. I want to go to there. Vancouver is breathtaking this time of year.
Opera Man, you will never see this but I’ll tell you anyway. You were the embodiment of God’s lesson for me in the midst of my turmoil at work that summer. When I heard your singing I also heard a gentle whisper in my heart.
“Elissa, forget the agenda. Slow down. Stand tall. Cast your gaze upward. Project your voice. Bless others with your gifts. Don’t expect anything in return. Don’t let people’s opinions interrupt your song. Please. Keep singing.”
Thank you, Opera Man, for the lavish gift of your music. You coloured my summer in radiant hues when my spirit felt a solid dozen shades of beige. These lessons continue to challenge me. I’m willing to be your humble understudy just please don’t expect me to sing like you.
P.S.to the reader: I did some digging on the internet and came up with this newspaper clipping. It’s a keeper, one for the time capsule. Here’s a little audio teaser too for you to enjoy, my friends. xoxo