I had been corresponding with a young couple from Bowling Green, Kentucky for about six months. We’d had many phone conversations, and exchanged letters. This was a couple that knew my music and was very intimately involved with what I had to say. I became for them a kind of counselor and confidant. It was not a position I chose for myself, it was kind of assumed of me as the relationship developed. They were impressed that my songs, and correspondence, spoke to their personal lives. In many ways I felt trapped by their embrace. I felt obligated to their trust in me. It was not a role I relished, but a role I felt I needed to move, casually and gracefully, away from. I was beginning to feel that their reliance on me was inhibiting their own development, and their dependence on one another as a couple.
My touring eventually landed me in Bowling Green. I was to do a solo concert at the University there. These people had previously arranged with me to have dinner together after the show. I had a successful concert; nice theater, full house, satisfying performance etc. I was feeling pretty good. We connected after I was finished saying my goodbyes, after the social obligations connected with doing a show. At that hour of the night there were few restaurants open. We landed at a family style establishment, a Denny’s kind of place. Y’know, the kind of restaurant that serves your drink with a straw. Anyway, it was kind of a weird dynamic because this couple was relating to me on two different levels. First, they were connecting with me as an artist, having been to my show; and secondly, they were relating to me as an advisor. I was uncomfortable with both. I was just me, and quite comfortable with that. In my mind we were equals, meeting, catching up on things, enjoying a meal after a show. That is the dynamic I wished to be, needed to be, engaged with. They were having none of it. That is not how they saw, or wanted to see, me.
At probably the most opportune moment of our time together, and as I was about to insist that they change the lenses in their glasses in order to see me more in focus, I bent my head down to take a sip of water through the straw in my glass. Because I was looking across the table at my friends, I misjudged the alignment of mouth and straw. The end of the straw hit me in the front tooth and got stuck in the narrow gap between two of my teeth. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but instinctively raised my mouth and head up and away from the straw. As I did, I pulled the straw out of the glass, and it was now sticking straight out of my mouth, still lodged between the teeth, dripping water on my mashed potatoes. Trying to save me the embarrassment, the couple across the table continued with their discussion, looking at me like they hadn’t even noticed. I thought that was kind of weird. OK, so I pulled the straw out of my teeth, put it back in the glass, recovered gracefully, and then, while paying renewed attention to what they were saying, I bent my head down to take another sip of water. Again, not looking, this time I misjudged the alignment of face to straw even worse than before. The end of the straw poked me squarely in the eye. In response, I instinctively closed my eye as a protective measure. My eye had, unbelievably, closed around the end of the straw, and as I raised my head back up I, once again, pulled the straw all the way out of the glass. Now I had a straw sticking out of my EYE, pointing disturbingly across the table, and dripping on my already soggy mashed potatoes.
This time my friends couldn’t help but acknowledge the blunder. We all laughed. It put me in a different light, made it possible to relate to one another more equally, and cast a relaxed shade of commonality across the rest of the evening.
It’s important for all of us to see those we look up to, or admire, as who they really are. People just like ourselves, with strengths and weaknesses, with passion and indifference. In spite of our gifts, talents, abilities and contributions, we are all truly just humans with our pants having sometimes fallen down around our feet.
I was happy to have enabled those two people to know that about me.