He first heard it when he was a child. A rusty, old tune on his mother’s old radio in their one-bedroom apartment on the fringes of the colorful Latin Quarters in Paris.
He had been home alone a lot when he was very young. His mother worked in the nights. He had his old toys to play with but had gotten bored and clambered up to the shelf in their tiny lounge. Pushing away all the frayed fantasy books his mother kept up there–she had named him after her favorite American author–he had stretched and found the radio. His little fingers had run along its surface until they found the buttons and prodded each of them until it sprang to life.
The crackling, old radio started playing music. It was beautiful. He got back to the ground and then stood very still, hardly daring to breathe just in case it would break the ethereal melody filling the lonely apartment.
An angel was sorrowfully singing as a slow drumbeat and blues rhythm provided her texture. Her voice was both strong and quiet at the same but intensely loving with a sense of regret that gave him goosebumps on his arms. It was in some foreign language but he could feel what she was feeling as each weeping word caressed the air.
It reminded him of his mother and things that had not yet happened and he could not explain, and he had started to cry. He hoped that one of her clients did not hurt his mother tonight. He wished she did not have to work at night.
And then the song faded into its end as the DJ’s voice started.
“And that was the lovely ‘Longing’, now moving onto more recent and better-known hits–”
“I loved that last piece you played,” the pierced and tattooed guy leaned across and told him before walking out of the bar, “Really good stuff, man. Soulful.”
“Thanks,” he said, nodding as he began to pack his guitar away, “Wrote it for my late mother…” he started but the guy was already gone and the focus in the bar had now shifted away from the stage back to each patron’s own drink.
He sighed and stepped down from the shallow stage at the back of the small London pub.
“Hey, Ursla,” a gruff voice barked at him, “Go have your smoke break but be back by ten. You play another set then, cool?”
He nodded, swung his guitar over his back and stepped out into the night as he lit a cigarette. Just then, a London cab drove by with its window rolled halfway down and music emanating from its interior.
Ursla was transfixed. Tears came to the corners of his eye as he held his breath, forgotten cigarette in hand and frozen halfway from his mouth.
He suddenly remembered how his mom’s old apartment had smelt as crêpes, smoke and tourist bustle had wafted upwards from the Latin Quarter’s Parisian streets. He remembered his mom and holding her as she cried. She had asked him if he was alright while waiting at the hospital for her later that night. He remembered how frightened he was as a little boy and how the Minister had called his mom by her maiden name at the funeral. It had sounded so foreign and alien to him. He remembered how much more alone that had made him feel…
He stood there remembering so many things as the ethereal song floated through the air.
Instantly, he knew this was the same song that he had heard once all those years ago. The woman’s voice softly caressing her sorrows in what he now recognized as Spanish poetry while the drums kept her heart beating and the blues guitar gave her a stage to weep on…
Exquisite and heart-wrenching.
And then the London cab was gone, the damp English evening continued and the moment had passed. He remembered his cigarette and completed the motion to his mouth where he pulled a long, hard drag of it before sighing the smoke out.
One day, he swore, he would find that song and play until the end of time. He would show his children and his children’s children that song and explain what it meant to him. That was his song. If his life was a movie, that song would be the soundtrack.
“For those who were lucky enough to know my grandfather,” the young man said, his face taught as he struggled with emotions, “They would know that he did not have the luckiest childhood nor the easiest path through life to arrive here in California. But they would also know that he strove to make everyone else’s lives luckier and easier and better in every way imaginable. Music was his second love while Granny and my mother, my uncles and all of us were his first love. We are his family and he was ours. We are here because of you, Grandad, and we are better for you, but you will always, always be missed–”
The young man stepped away from the podium and wiped his eyes, his brave mask showing cracks as his eyes misted up. The small crowd into the church hardly noticed as some were openly crying while the rest were barely holding themselves together.
“Thank you, John,” the Minister said stepping up to the mic, “We will walk out to the cemetery for the burial before we come back for tea and coffee and to give our condolences to the family. Now, as we proceed, the three grandchildren–John, Ronald, and Reuel–have selected their Grandfather’s favorite song and we will play it. Everyone, please stand and let us proceed out the back of the hall.”
The church was suddenly filled with an angel’s sorrowful singing as a slow drumbeat and blues rhythm provided texture. Her voice was both strong and quiet at the same but intensely loving with a sense of regret that gave those hearing it goosebumps on their arms. It was an old Spanish poem and none gathered there could understand it, but they could all feel what she was feeling as each weeping word caressed the air and mixed with their sense of loss at Grandad Ursla’s passing.