The man stepped out of the shadows in the rainy night like a snake lurking after its prey. Walking square into my path I swerved left, clearly in no mood to make conversation. Please, just let me go home, I thought. I’m in no mood to deal with crazies tonight.
“Excuse me Miss, do you like the opera?” Realizing that we were standing in front of the opera house, I thought fast.
“Don’t know. Never been. Good night,” I quickly replied trying anything to shut the conversation down. If there is one thing worse than talking to a crazy, it’s talking to a semi cultured crazy who is vaguely aware of his own surroundings.
“Would you like to go tonight?” The openness of the question took me by surprise. I had never been approached by someone scalping tickets before. Was that all there was to it? Just a simple proposition on the street corner? My parents live in Las Vegas, so the fact I was suspicious about any street proposal was not so much saying anything about the man now making a proposition outside the English National Opera House as it did about myself and subsequent background. “Look Miss,” he said, noticing my skepticism, “the ticket is right here. Check it for yourself.”
From a tattered coat pocket he produced a single ticket with the ENO’s official logo on it for that evening’s performance of Radimisto. It had sold for ninety pounds.
“Don’t you want it,” I began, stumbling for speech and trying to wrap my head around what was happening. I was being offered a ticket for the best seat in the house to the opera, by a man who sold the Big Issue on the street.
“Nah, it’s a warm night. I’ve seen this production about five times and I’m getting tired of it. Besides, you always smile at me when you go by and I like to see you smile. You’ve never been to the opera before, you said.” Did I really smile at him? Usually, when I was going up that street I was in such a rush that I didn’t think I noticed anybody.
“No, I’ve never been to the opera. I- I’ve always wanted to, but… I can’t take this ticket, it’s not for accessible seating,” I stammered. Absolutely nothing in my life had remotely prepared me for a situation as gracious as this.
“Oh, that’s not a problem. I know everyone on staff here. Eddie will change your ticket to one you can get to, no questions asked. I’ve known him for years.” At this point, if I hadn’t been sitting in my wheelchair I would have fallen over. “Let me just hide this Big Issue badge, so the public doesn’t mind me, and we’ll go in and I’ll introduce you.”
“I really don’t deserve this,” I muttered under my breath, realizing my horrible actions of a few minutes ago.
“I’ve been to the opera over eighty times this year. I’ve been a drinker my whole life. Look at me. Do you think, out of anyone in this city I deserve to go to the opera multiple times a week? People just give me their ticket when their friend can’t make it or they have a conflict. I don’t deserve it, it’s a gift.” With that he took me inside.
After the performance that night, with the snow coming down against the taxi I took home, I had grace on my mind. It is one of the few words left in the English language which doesn’t have a negative connotation. Charity, faith, hope, even love can be said in such a sneering tone that it gives the impression of naiveté and starry eyes. ‘Grace’ has yet to be soiled by such cynicism. There is no such thing, yet, as being too graceful. I have yet to read a performance review where the critic says “the singer’s grace was distracting and lead to a loss of depth in the character.” We love grace in all its forms, in movement, in character, in language, in passion. We talk about the ‘grace of God’ when we are afforded a fortune we do not deserve. In short grace saves us from a very bleak existence.
In music a grace note is defined as “an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.” And perhaps in an aria or composition a grace note is not essential. In fact, many who do not find value in music or art may say the entire piece is inessential to life on this planet. We can survive without art, or music, or dance. But the fact that a Big Issue seller finds joy in being given tickets to the opera eighty times per year proves that we cannot survive without grace. The fact that he was willing to give his ticket to me, a cynical person more willing to rush about her day than look at the man right in front of her who offers a gift, proves it still further.