iPod: For body + soul

Yesterday I had lunch with Terry. It was the first time we’d seen each other since my accident, and I needed to give him a much-deserved bear-hug of thanks. Because, against all odds, he turned out to be an angel in disguise: he gave me the gift of music when I needed it the least – but, soon after, craved it the most.

About fourteen months ago, I was taking the shuttle from Washington, D.C. to New York, en route thereafter to Europe. I had just settled into the window seat on a plane with so little leg-room it ought to have been put out to pasture long ago. The aisle seat beside me was empty. Announcements were crackling through the air, engines were revving, and I’d belted myself in, when suddenly a man appeared in the aisle, stopped at my row, and started grumbling something about first class while attempting to shove a bag into the compartment above.

Though momentarily annoyed, he nevertheless came across as a jovial fellow, one not easily fazed. With a sweeping glance around the plane, fumbling to take his seat, he mumbled – loudly enough for surrounding passengers to hear – something like: …so THIS is what I get when I pay for first class?! Why didn’t anyone tell me I’d be forking out the big bucks for a tiny seat?!!

To be fair, it wasn’t just about the money. Terry is one heckuva large man, a tall, Texas-born, big-talkin’, cowboy-boot-wearin’, football-lovin’, swashbucklin’ type of guy. So, as he wriggled into his seat, I – partly intimidated by his size – offered to nudge over toward the window so he could have more first-class-equivalent elbow room. Lucky for me, he caught onto my humor.

Terry then proceeded to pull out a sparkling white hi-tech thingamajig that was still then, to my starry eyes, utter novelty: an E-book reader. A what, I asked? For someone like me who’d been living under Asian skies for nearly a year, I was mesmerized by this nouveau gizmo: Qu’est ce que c’est? I asked, once I realized that Terry spoke (and wanted to practice) un peu francais. The Kindle, I soon learned, was just one of the many toys that made up his entourage.

We chatted amicably during the brief flight; here was a man of many stories. At JFK Airport, we both had layovers of a few hours; I was headed to Berlin and Terry to the south of France – to pick olives on his friend’s farm. We spent a few hours in the business lounge, where he showed me plans for his current real estate project, and I gave him a peek at my new sub-notebook and Flip video- camera. (Inquiring minds: I assure you that there were no sparks; it was merely a chance encounter between two friendly but otherwise mismatched individuals.)

And then he popped the question: do you have an iPod? Fair enough query, after all: who goes traveling abroad without an MP3 player? Me, for one; I much prefer the company of live people and the benefits reaped from overheard conversations; the hums of nature and a multitude of other unfamiliar sounds. Plus, since I’d been traveling on my own, I would have felt a diminished sense of safety had I kept my ears plugged up. Aside from which, it was not in my budget.

No iPod?! Terry exclaimed. You can’t very well travel without an iPOD!!. And, like a modern-day Mary Poppins, he reached deep into his soft black leather carry-all, and pulled out a handful of iPods. Strange, I thought, who travels alone with so many iPods? Turns out, Terry does. He gives them out to friends and, apparently, new acquaintances.

He fiddled with a few of them, finally giving one his blessing and handing it over – with charger and earbuds to boot. The most touching aspect of this particular gift was that partial profits from the sale of all Red Special Edition iPods are earmarked for the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa. Ok, I didn’t pay for it, but Terry did. And that was good enough too.

Sure, I graciously accepted the gift and pulled it out once in awhile during my travels for the following two months – mostly, before falling asleep. But my gratitude to Terry goes beyond the generosity he showed that one day that our paths crossed.

And here’s why: It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Every day since I started doing physio exercises, I have plugged into that player. Every day, it’s helped me through agonizing pain, through tears of fear, through breakthrough moments too. I’ve welcomed the Eagles, Andres Segovia, Everything But the Girl and Colbie Caillat into my home; and I’ve been serenaded by the likes of U2, James Taylor, Seal and Duncan Sheik. Through my daily ingestion of i-Tunes, I’ve felt inspired, beleaguered, frustrated, hopeful, defeated and much more.

Call it music therapy. Call it the sounds of healing. Or just call it a palm-sized gift of tunes that came into my life from the most unexpected source at the most unexpected time.

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