I find New Orleans to be one of America’s most iconic destinations, a unique mélange of distinct cultures, languages, flavors and smells, and a place where the discordant sounds of jazz, blues, early African, Caribbean, Creole, and zydeco music can be heard simultaneously from nearly every quarter.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Big Easy while attending a conference organized by the Independent Book Publishing Association Exhibit at the American Libraries Association. The IBPA is a favorite organization of mine because it supports independent publishers and writers like me.
Saturday afternoon I took some time off from the conference and headed down to the Iconic
Café Du Monde, located in the world-famous French Quarter, where patrons have satiated themselves on steaming café au laits, chicory coffee, and sumptuous powdery beignets since 1862. While the beignets and chicory coffee were what first attracted me, I was quickly caught up in watching a gathering crowd by the park at Jackson Square, an excellent vantage point to take in the sights and sounds of this unique and timeless place.
As I strolled around the square enjoying the view of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in what would ultimately become the United States, I was drawn to the hypnotic sound of two street musicians playing drums near the cathedral. One of them especially caught my eye, as he sat on a park bench drumming in perfect rhythm. He paused for a few minutes to rest, leaving his partner to carry on the rhythmic beat solo. I pushed forward, approached him and introduced myself, asking if I could join him on the bench for a few minutes. He graciously assented, and we began to chat.
“My name’s Tyra,” I said, sitting down. “What’s yours?”
“David, mam.’ Where’re you from?”
“These days, Texas,” I responded, “but Chicago is my second home.”
“Really,” David responded, “I grew up in Chicago and my mom was an elementary school teacher there. I believe she taught at Ryerson Elementary School, but I think it’s closed now,” he reflected, a bit wistfully.
“Really,” I responded, “I was a school administrator in a couple of Chicago towns called Highland Park and River Forest, next to Oak Park.”
David grinned in recognition, “I know Oak Park. Nice place.”
Suddenly, catching some invisible cue, he jumped up, mumbling, “I got to jump back into the piece in just a minute.”
“Would you mind if I take some photos of your hands while you drum, David,” I asked. “One of my hobbies is sculpting – especially hands.”
“No problem,” he said, pausing. “Hey, would you like to stay and play for a few minutes?” he asked, gesturing toward his drum.
“No, I just want to take some pictures of you playing,” I responded, noting self-consciously that the throng had continued to grow while we spoke.
Then, in a seemingly effortless manner, he resumed his drumming, in perfect synch with his partner and with the universe. I took some photos and listened for a while. Then, as the afternoon sun began to fade, I waved good-bye and walked off. David nodded back, as if to acknowledge our shared experience as two strangers who briefly made a human connection.
As I headed back to the conference, I was struck by how much David and I shared, despite all our differences. As I reflected, David and I had very little in common. We were separated by race, age, gender, lifestyle and education; and yet we were still able to relate to each other for a moment, by celebrating our common humanity, and the things we shared – Chicago, the education profession and a passion for music.
In my upcoming book, Your Turn, Ways to Celebrate Life Through Storytelling, I encourage readers to capture and share their own stories. My life has taught me that storytelling brings us together in powerful ways. My brief, but memorable connection with David was an example of how humans can connect to each other in a meaningful way by sharing unique stories that have been woven into the intricate tapestry of our lives.
© Tyra Manning 2018