He was there, in the earth.
To find him, you had to go down a flight of stairs, through the subway turnstiles, down two more flights of stairs. And then you saw him. Sitting under the sign for Flatbush Avenue, wearing black velcro sneakers, playing Italian love songs on his accordion.
I’d guess he was in his mid-sixties. His accordion looked to be about the same age. But the music he made with it filled up the subway platform with this tender, longing sound that came from years ago and continents away.
People walked past him, in front of him, behind him. Nobody was stopping. Or bending to drop change into the black suitcase that lay open and empty at his feet.
I watched him. Watched his small body sway just slightly as he opened, closed, opened the accordion bellows. Watched him keep on opening, closing, opening even though no one was looking or caring.
So, here is courage, I thought to myself. Sitting on a subway platform in black velcro sneakers. Playing on when people dismiss you or put their headphones on over you or turn their backs toward you. Here is courage again and again.
I dropped a dollar in his suitcase. “Grazie,” he said so softly I almost didn’t hear him above the accordion.
Then I got on my train. And the last thing I heard as the doors closed was one man’s courage filling up a subway platform in the earth.