Kristelle Lavallee is the Content Strategist at the Center on Media and Child Health and the founder of this blog.
Off in a music-induced haze, I was suddenly brought jarringly back to reality. Was I seriously being hit while shopping in the holiday section of my local novelty shop? I looked around and saw… nothing. I popped my AirPod out of my ear, stopping the music I had been peacefully enjoying, and assessed the situation with full focus. And then I saw her: a 4ft tall, slender, white-haired woman with intense hazel-blue eyes, standing just below my line of vision. She held a leather satchel at the ready, which I presumed was the object she used to get my attention. I also noticed that the woman looked frustrated, maybe even angry. I immediately felt horrible – what had I done? Had I ignored a question she had asked while absorbed in my music and browsing for gifts? I could feel my face turning red as I stammered out an, “Oh hi?”
She immediately demanded, “You need to tell me why all the kids are sticking marshmallows in their ears.” I felt an immediate mix of confusion and relief. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “this one is a little off… I didn’t do anything wrong, but maybe I can find the person she came in here with and help get her back on her way?” But as soon as I started saying, “Oh, I’m not sure what you mean…is there someone…” she cut me off, shouting, “YOU need to tell me – YOU’RE one of them!” She then grabbed my hand and pried it open, revealing the single AirPod clutched in my palm.
“Ohhhh!” I exclaimed, understanding a bit more. “They’re AirPods. They’re like headphones, but without the cord.” She looked at me quizzically. “May I?” I asked, and then took the AirPod and gently placed it in her ear. I told her my name, and let her know I was going to play music. She maintained the same questioning look, but told me her name was Gladys and that she had just turned 88. I fumbled for my phone and hit play.
First her face melted into a broad grin and then her body straightened and swayed. She grabbed for my hand, which I first thought was an attempt to steady herself, but quickly realized was a sign of solidarity – my other AirPod was in my ear, and she knew I could hear the music too. I took her outstretched hand, and the two of us toddled around the wide aisle enjoying Kygo’s remix of Whitney Houston’s Higher Love, much to the enjoyment of the store’s only other patron and the shopkeeper.
The song stopped and Gladys proclaimed, “Wow, well isn’t that a wonder! I’m so happy Whitney is singing again – girl’s got a voice!” She popped out the AirPod and held my hand tightly as she gave it back to me. I quickly put the AirPods away and went in for the hug.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Gladys about Whitney, but we did talk about the different genres of music that we like, and I learned that we both share an affinity for Sondheim. After saying goodbye to Gladys, I left the store. As I paused on the steps and noticed the snow swirling in the sky, I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk home without the perfect musical accompaniment. I popped in both AirPods, and played George Winston’s Walking in the Air, as I descended onto the sidewalk.
I have debates with myself nearly every day over whether my profound love (ok, obsession) with music isolates me or provides me with deeper connections to my world and others. That day I knew it did both. I suspect it does both every other day as well, but Gladys reminded me that it’s important to share what we love with others.
-edited by Sarah Wolfson
-photo by Beth Scupham