Last night I took my wife to a concert in Boston. It was her Christmas present, finally come to fruition, and we both left work early to make the drive/pilgrimage to the House of Blues to see her favorite band, Walk Off the Earth. The concert was standing-room-only, which I thought would be fine because I also labor under the misconception that I am still 23. But, as it turns out, I am no longer young enough for a standing-room-only concert.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than standing in a big crowd of people listening to music and dancing. It’s just that, between the line to get in, the opening act, and the act switchover, we were on our feet for over four hours. My knees and back are still killing me. Couldn’t they just have retractable seats that slip into the floor once the main act comes on stage? Because the rest of the time I just needed to sit down.
The other problem of course, is that when you are at a standing-room-only concert, personal space is at a premium and must be defended to the death. There are no assigned personal spaces, so everyone is out for themselves, pushing, struggling, and conniving their way as close to the stage as they could get. It was in the midst of this nightmarish melee that the evening was almost ruined for me.
A young woman, long dark hair, male companion in tow, was slaloming her way through the crowd, sluicing her way cross-stream in our general direction. She seemed to be passing through, so when she said “excuse me,” I took a step back, surrendered a bit of my own hard-won space to allow her clear passage to wherever her final destination might be. But she came to a stop directly in front of me, her dark hair swishing in my face as she turned to her friend to tell him that she had found what looked to be a good spot.
Yes, it was a good spot. It was MY spot! I had been standing in that spot, carefully cultivating my view of the stage for almost two hours. It was perfect. And she took it. And now everything was ruined. I was seething. You couldn’t see it because of the fog machines on stage and the dim lighting, but smoke and steam were beginning to escape from my body by way of my ears. And so I began to plot my revenge.
The first thing I did was to angle myself sideways, making sure I got a foot and an elbow in between this girl and her poor friend, who did look back and give us a resigned and apologetic shrug. I don’t think we were the first people to be steamrolled by my most recent mortal enemy. No, she was a serial jerk, and I was going to make this once beautiful area the most uncomfortable and miserable spot in the building. We were still waiting for the main act, but I had it planned that as soon as the lights dimmed further, I would scream in her ear as loudly as possible in my opera voice. It would be a deafening shriek of excitement that would make her wish she had never set foot on my foot. Did I mention she stepped on my foot? Not important. That was the least of her transgressions.
My wife was off to my left, fighting her own battle with a bald gentleman who kept sidestepping his way into her, and we both looked at each other to steel our resolves and then turned back into our respective frays. I began listening to the girl in front of me speak with her date, hoping to glean some new information that I could then use against her later in the evening. She was very excited about the show. She loved this band. She mentioned her favorite songs. She was looking forward to a fun evening, just as I had once done before having to swear a vendetta against her. But it was too late now. I was going scorched earth. This once perfect spot would become a open grave for our mutual hopes and dreams.
And then, for some reason, a sermon popped into my head. Unbidden, a story unfolded itself across my psyche, and I remembered something that my pastor, Rev. Dark Murmurs, had said in church once. He had told us the story of the time his wife was asked by the person behind her on an airplane to put her seat back straight up. And she actually did. Even though she was entitled to that space, she gave it up. And the flight was less comfortable for her, but more comfortable for the person behind her. She was not angry, she did not dwell on it or resent that person. She just gave something of herself to a stranger to make their day a little better. And I realized at that moment that the only person’s concert experience I was ruining was my own.
So I stepped back. I gave some space. I stopped worrying about it. I still was not overly fond of the woman in front of me, whose dark hair continued to swish at me in invasive and bothersome ways, but I began to focus on my own excitement and anticipation. Everything changed at that moment. The world was new. Everyone around me was a friend, and not an adversary. I repositioned myself so that I had almost as good a view as I had had previously, and I waited for the concert to begin.
Funnily enough, I did not spend the concert behind the woman with the dark hair and the tagalong man after all. A few minutes before the band came out, she saw an opportunity to sneak further forward. She did try to yank her friend along with her, but he got stuck on some other people, being slightly larger than she, and he was left behind. She kept going on without him, slipping through the cracks in the crowd, and he ended up two or three rows in front of me, and she disappeared into the throbbing mass of concert-goers. And it didn’t matter to me. She could have stayed or gone. My focus was no longer on her, except to make sure that I was not bumping into her by accident. I was able, at least this one time, in this one instant, to be a better version of myself. It was a great concert, and I savored every second of it.
And that’s why I go to church.