My husband and I moved to Jamaica nearly five months ago to work on a farm in Nine Mile, which is best known as Bob Marley’s hometown, and is also in the middle of nowhere.
I suppose I was naïve to think that the technicalities of farming were going to be our greatest lesson. I should have known that when the universe drops an opportunity like this in your lap—and you say “yes”—that the lessons you think you are going to learn aren’t the ones that end up changing you forever.
During our stay in Jamaica I watched a video on YouTube about a man who was going around New York City offering people help, from giving directions to carrying groceries, and more often than not, people declined his offer. Who knows why these individuals turned down a genuine gesture. It could have been provoked out of fear or feeling wary, trying not to impose, avoiding someone who appeared different, or simply because they were having a bad day. Whatever the reason, it was profoundly disheartening to watch so many connections missed.
We often lead tense, ego–driven, and busy lives. We let connections pass us just as easily as the passing of time. This story, and its subsequent lessons, is a stark contrast to that YouTube video. These lessons unfolded before us, each one building off of the foundation of the next, first with the overcoming of hardship and insecurity, building into the sharing of a gift, and finally, growing into a story of music, connection, and receptiveness.
This is a story about Prince.
Not the artist formerly known as Prince, although that would have been pretty neat, but Prince, our humble and reliable Jamaican taxi driver.
When we first met him he was pretty quiet. He was a tall, older, and seemingly stoic man, responsible and focused on his duty as a taxi driver. Soon we started asking him questions, engaging his interests, and he slowly started opening up to us. He spoke with a strong stutter and as he told a story about a near fatal accident, it only got worse.
Conversation soon flowed easily and casually between us, but the stutter was always present. Talk shifted to music and singing, a common denominator between most, regardless of ethnicity, hometown, or age. Without introduction or hesitation, Prince started singing a gospel song in a cappella. As his voice hit each note smoothly and effortlessly, we were struck by our fortune in this moment.
While he sang, the same thought occurred between us simultaneously: Prince wasn’t stuttering anymore. It was amazing to watch his demeanor become so calm and confident as he sang each word. While this shift in verbal control was amazing and inspiring, Prince didn’t solely teach us by singing without abandon—he taught us by talking without inhibition. Through his singing he found a steady voice, but even before that moment, he had a story to tell, he had words to share, and he didn’t let his stutter quiet that.
Here are the lessons I took away from this wonderful encounter:
1. Don’t let hardships or insecurities suffocate your life. We constantly hold ourselves back, fearing humiliation, discomfort, or judgment. While I know it is easier said than done, let’s embrace each part of ourselves, find strengths in our weaknesses, and own them.
Without Prince’s comfort and self-assurance, we would never have experienced the beauty of his voice. Had he let his speech impediment deter his love for music and song, he may have never found the courage to share his gift. How many of us would do that, share something so personal, allow ourselves to be so vulnerable, in front of complete and total strangers? Probably not many. His musical extension solidified a bond and a shared experience. It was so genuine, an authentic desire to express emotion and faith, share a gift, and make a connection between people from three different countries.
2. Share your gifts with others! Singing may not be for everyone, but perhaps your gifts lie in your ability to tell a story through painting, write a powerful message, or listen and help build up others. The gift itself is less relevant, but the sharing of something special, from one person to another, can help heal the world.
Building off of the first two lessons, I was reminded of a desperate need for increased receptiveness. Had we been quiet, hesitant, or judgmental, we would have never experienced such a beautiful moment. Too often people shut themselves out to exchanges, interactions, and connections. We are distrusting of each other, always avoiding eye contact or a genuine exchange of feelings. In this instance we were open, buzzing to the vibrations of a new country, and invested in a taxi driver who happened to pick us up and who wanted to share a story and a song.
3. This is a call to arms to live open, receptive, and connected. Openness begets connection and being closed off begets isolation. Which side of the spectrum do you want to be on?
During this pivotal time in our history, when some leaders pride themselves on ego, bigotry, misogyny, and greed, we need people like Prince more than ever. The next time you find yourself in a situation to share a gift, take that chance. The next time you are asked to receive one, keep yourself open. Turn off your phone and turn on eye-contact. Say yes when someone offers assistance. Surrender to the powerful life-force which serendipitously places people in our lives to change them.
The story of Prince started with a word, a hello, eye-contact, and a simple exchange. It concluded with a crash course in overcoming insecurity, the giving and receiving of gifts, music, and vulnerability.
The artist currently known as Prince continues to spread his gift to those lucky enough to enter his taxi and keep themselves open to something deeper.
Author: Danielle Press
Image: Author’s Own/Flickr
Editor: Taia Butler