“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

This is not Sylvester. This is Bob Marley. He wasn't from Haiti, and as far as i know, he didn't hang out in the 7-Eleven parking lot, but he DID have some admirably unruly hair.

This is not Sylvester. This is Bob Marley. He wasn’t from Haiti, and as far as i know, he didn’t hang out in the 7-Eleven parking lot, but he DID have some admirably unruly hair.

Sylvester has very dark skin and endearingly unruly hair. Al and i had seen him before, asking for money by the entrance to the 7-Eleven, but we hadn’t talked. Then one night, as we leaned against the railing, watching people come and go, Sylvester approached us.

He stopped about five feet away and, instead of asking for money (which, i confess, is what i expected), Sylvester started singing. His voice was a little raspy, and he sounded good! We didn’t know what he was singing, but because it sounded like French but not quite, i wondered if it was Creole.

When Sylvester finished, he just stood there, grinning. So i figured it was my turn:

J’étais triste et pensif quand je t’ai rencontrée,
Je sens moins aujourd’hui mon obstiné tourment;
Ô dis-moi, serais-tu la femme inespérée,
Et le rêve idéal poursuivi vainement?

It’s a poem that Gabriel Fauré set to music. So, yes, now that you mention it, with years of Outreach experience behind me, i determined in that moment that the best response to this possibly Creole-singing homeless man was to hit him with a 140-year-old French art song.

And Sylvester’s face lit up! As soon as i stopped singing (after just those four lines, understand, because i learned that song almost 30 years ago and haven’t sung it since), he started rapidly talking to me in French/Creole—i don’t know which!—and i had to stop him to explain that i only know how to sing a little French, i don’t speak it.

“Ah…” Sylvester’s face fell a little, and i felt bad for disappointing him. But his English is great, and we spent some time talking and getting to know one another. Sylvester seemed happy to have company for a little while.

As we parted ways, i told Sylvester that, because of the many languages spoken in my church, i could confidently say one thing in French. Shaking his hand, i said, “La paix de Dieu soit avec toi.”

“Aha!” he said, “Toi aussi!”

We have talked to Sylvester many times since that night (go here to read about another musical interaction that Al wrote about), but i love that the first exchange we ever had were words sung to one another.

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