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I made sixteen dollars and fifty-two cents this spring break. And, all I did was sit on a worn-off curb and play my ukulele.

Trolling around Balboa Park in beau­tiful Southern Cal­i­fornia, my friend Taryn and I skipped along the bold Spanish fortresses, and burned our pale shoulders in the sun we thought had aban­doned us in cloudy Michigan.

As we ven­tured in to the park, we stumbled onto a gravel road — a ragged gravel lane lasting longer than even the mem­ories imprinted on it.

Kids were screaming as their parents ran behind them pushing the stroller with yet another baby. Young couples sat laughing, as an artist sketched the car­i­cature that would be the first picture hung in their new home. Old couples care­lessly strolled the path — probably one that they had walked several times — and yet they couldn’t help but smile and point at the familiar beauty that refreshed the ‘good ole days.’

Then we had an idea.

Each action quickly fol­lowed the next as we tossed our people-pleasing mindset to the wind.

We pulled out a ukulele case.

“To hell if we make money or not,” we thought. “Let’s just try.”
We sat down in the wet grass, our legs dan­gling over the two-inch curb that rimmed the gravel road. We smiled at each other briefly, glanced at the hurried crowd that passed us, oblivious that they would soon become our audience. And then we began to sing.

With a shaky hand, I strummed the opening chords and as we con­tinued to sing, we looked up and sud­denly 20 people were singing along with us about how they “wanted to dance with somebody.”

A little boy planted himself on the curb and bopped his head to melodies he’d probably never heard. A young man filmed his wife as she clapped her hands and shame­lessly danced to the music. An old woman stood front row and center, blowing us kisses — she said she was out of money and hoped those would be enough.

Music is an effer­vescent pearl, an endless firework that sur­prises our lives. Drenched in peace, music tran­scends the caustic con­ver­sa­tions that strip us from real com­munity. The most trivial places — like the old gravel road — sud­denly become a magical scene cel­e­brating the com­mon­al­ities we share with strangers we will never see again. And heck, we know there’s only a few things that bring us together. We all clap, we all sing, we all dance, we all laugh. These simply joys — they’ll never change.

But we choose not to grab onto these rare pearls that were made to knit us together in com­munity.

Instead, we stiffly waddle around our com­fortable life bubble and quickly speed through the drive-thru, frus­trated with the kind employee that acci­den­tally gave us cold french fries. We forget the name of the dependable mechanic that changes our tires year after year, but obsess over the “popular” person who just liked our recent post on Instagram.

“It’s a com­fortable life,” we think. But that’s because we don’t know oth­erwise. The pearls seem too trivial, almost too unim­portant to pick up amidst our lives that we’ve so metic­u­lously tai­lored to be a stage fea­turing the same people, the same foods, the same songs, the same hour routine.

Everyone had some­where to go on that day. But for a short moment, there was no fear in standing around a ragged curb in front of two singing strangers, no hurry to brashly move on to the ‘next thing,’ and no shame in singing the song lyrics that we all sep­a­rately sang in our cars as we bopped to the crackly radio.

I will not forget the 74 minutes that we sat on that curb. Brazilian foreign exchange stu­dents laid on the grass beside us, making us feel like they were in the front row seats at their favorite concert. Two little Asian sisters eagerly grabbed our phone and typed in their favorite K‑pop song. Sud­denly, there were four of us sitting on that curb and singing. An aspiring little bal­lerina spun in circles and trans­formed our curbside street show into a mag­nif­icent stage to showcase her passion.

These pearls of life were non-existent until we dusted off our shorts and sat down on that curb.

And the sixteen dollars and fifty cents? It doesn’t even compare.