If you’re a music lover of a certain age, you’ve probably been to a few—or more than a few—rock concerts during which more than just good energy was being passed around. You know what I mean. You’d be standing there getting lost in some amazing vocal or instrumental performance when you’d feel a tap on the arm. Perhaps it startled you a bit, but when you’d turn, someone would be there, offering a hit of whatever they were smoking. Inviting you—a perfect stranger— something they valued in exchange for nothing but a smile and perhaps a word or two of thanks.
Of course, the decision to partake was always up to you, but if you’re anything like me, you at least appreciated the gesture. There was something special and communal about being offered to participate in someone else’s enhanced experience. It made me feel part of some larger reality, even if I declined.
I’m speaking in the past tense, though, because although I still get out to rock shows with some regularity, I haven’t been offered a joint at one of them in a while. Sure, people continue to smoke pot at shows—especially outdoor ones—but I haven’t witnessed people passing it around like they used to. That’s probably got a lot to do with the cost of marijuana these days, fear of getting in trouble, and perhaps also a concern about catching some communicable virus.
So last weekend, when my husband and I went out to see Jeff Tweedy at the Portsmouth Music Hall—a terrific performance, by the way, featuring Jeff’s son Spencer on drums—I was surprised to feel that familiar tap on my right shoulder during one of the first songs. We were sitting in the balcony, and when my eyes followed the tap, I saw the man next to me offering…a pair of binoculars.
Which turned out to be an extremely kind gesture. I’d been squinting through my glasses for a while, trying to get a better look at what was going on below, and although the sound was great, my eyes were feeling the strain and missing a lot. “Thank you,” I said to the guy, taking the binoculars and checking out the scene. Suddenly, everything was so much clearer. The expressions on the musicians’ faces; the details of their clothing and instruments; the chemistry between them. I didn’t bogart the binoculars for long—only a minute or two—but having that clearer vision enhanced the entire concert for me. Better than marijuana? Well, that’s a subjective thing, but I’d have to say yes.
Later on that evening, I remembered something similar that’d occurred a few months earlier. It was a chilly spring day and I’d been walking the dog around a reservoir near my home. This particular reservoir is a well-known haven for rare birds, and also a great spot for exercising dogs. And, as you might imagine, there often exists a certain tension between the “dog people” and the bird watchers. Anyway, on that day, an inordinate number of bird watchers were out, and they all seemed focused on one thing. There was lots of whispering and pointing going on, but all I could see was what appeared to be a typical assortment of ducks, geese, and a couple of seagulls in and around the water. Finally, I asked one man what was up. He hurriedly explained that one of the creatures sitting on a rock in the middle of the reservoir was a sea bird called a Caspian tern, and it was very far from its home. Most likely, it was sick or in trouble, and everyone was feeling helpless while also marveling at the appearance of the bird.
“Which one is it?” I asked, as there were several birds on the rock.
“The one with the bright red bill,” said the man. But I wasn’t wearing glasses, and despite much squinting, couldn’t distinguish anything exceptional or even red.
Meanwhile, my dog—who doesn’t have much interest in birds—was standing by quietly, but I could tell that some of the birders didn’t approve of his presence. So I began to move on, feeling sorry for the poor bird. But just then, the bird watcher I’d spoken to called out to me, “Would you like to borrow my binoculars for a second? Just so you can see him?”
I stopped, realizing that for some reason, I did want to see the bird. “Yes,” I said. “Thank you.” The man handed me his binoculars and I was amazed at the beauty of the creature. He was smaller than the seagulls, but his feathers were pure white, he had a little black crest on his head, and his beak was fire engine red. “He’s gorgeous,” I said. “Isn’t there some way to help him?”
The man shook his head as I returned his binoculars and said we could only hope the bird would get better on its own before it died of hunger. All evening, I thought about that lovely displaced creature and wished for its recovery. Of course, there was nothing I could do about it, but I felt so much more connected to it after having seen it.
What’s the point of this post? I’m not exactly sure. It’s got something to do with sharing our vision, and helping people we don’t necessarily know, and remembering that we’re all part of a crazy world that many of us can’t see clearly a lot of the time. I know I’ll be eternally grateful to those two strangers who shared their binoculars with me for no reason other than kindness, and I hope I can follow their example some day.