And Make It Better

08/17/2008 By Shawn Burns

I climbed the stairs from the parking garage, emerging onto the street-level sidewalk next to the theater and walked toward the entrance.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.

I heard her singing and when I turned to look directly at her I wondered how I had missed her in the first place. She was standing behind an open guitar case, smiling with the nervous confidence that only a 12 year old girl can muster: acutely aware of the attention, but also immortal.

Remember to let her into your heart.

She was singing “Hey Jude” with that same self-aware immortality: her voice was pitched loudly enough to carry down the sidewalk, but it cracked, and popped a little. Unwilling or unable to stop singing she rushed across those nervous notes, the sound warping a little as she fought to articulate the words in spite of the grin that took over her face.

Then you can start to make it better.

Her hands were clasped tightly behind her back, and she sang without swaying, her neck arching and chin dropping as she came over the top of the high notes, powering through long phrases by singing from her gut, not her shoulders. She had worked hard for this, to sing, wherever it was. Tonight it was behind an open guitar case.

Hey Jude don’t be afraid. You were made to go out and get her.

Not alone. The man to her left in the denim shirt, the ponytail of greyed hair pulled back from a deeply receding hairline, strumming the guitar formerly housed in the mostly empty guitar case, and gazing at her with smiling eyes as he hit harmonic points, was clearly her father. He had the confidence of an old performer, but one who was enthralled by the experience of seeing someone he loved, helped, created, step up and perform on her own. He loved his Sidewalk Star, and his pride in her was infectious. I was proud of her myself.

The minute you let her under your skin

I was leaning against the wall outside the theater, Tweeting or reading an e-mail on my Blackberry as I waited to go inside and drop $20 on a movie on one of my rare nights off. And I was listening, raptly, as were so many of the people on the sidewalk. But I wasn’t just listening to the song; that wasn’t what was keeping my attention. I was experiencing an aspect of parenthood that I’ve only had small tastes of, so far: pride in choices, in hard work, in effort, in caring.

Then you begin to make it better.

I see a lot more of these father-daughter moments now, it seems, these little previews of my future with Erin. I don’t know if I will ever be able to pull off a pony tail or denim shirt (well, another denim shirt; I’ve had my fair share, but it was the 90’s, and in Canada), but I can certainly see myself strumming the strings, literally or metaphorically, in a soft accompaniment to whatever it is she has chosen to do. Showing her off to the world for the woman she is promising to be.

A woman stood up from where she had been sitting against a lamp post nearby. She stepped behind the case, next to the girl, and added her alto voice, smoothing out the slight choppiness of the girl’s soprano with a mother’s loving confidence, knowing that the girl could sound even more beautiful if she believed it, and knowing that believing it meant recreating those times when she believed it most, at home, before dinner, before the television was turned on. She was the sensible counterpoint to her husband’s shining, blind enthusiasm.

Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.

And listening now to that family, created for me out on the sidewalk as I was on my way to see a movie, I had to do something to let them know that their song, their evening, their intimate sharing, had not been lost on me.

Well don’t you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.

So I walked over to them, pulled my hand out of my pocket, and dropped my twenty in the guitar case. Not because I thought they needed the money or had earned the money or because I wanted to patronize the busking arts, but because I knew that she would know that she had done something special, and she would gush about it with her father, and he could be proud of her all over again because he knows, from experience, how rare it is for someone to do more than toss a couple of quarters in the case.

Hey Jude don’t let her down. You have found her now go and get her.

I dropped the bill in because I saw Erin standing there, and I saw myself standing there, and I saw Emily standing there, and I wanted to do something for our future selves. It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t carrying a hundred dollar bill with me, because Erin’s voice, that voice I hear in my head when I think her, was directing all of my thinking.

And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey, Jude, you’ll do, the movement you need is on your shoulder.

“Have a good night, guys, said Erin’s voice through my mouth as I released the bill and turned to walk into the theater.

Guitar cases don’t accept credit cards, but movie theaters do.