All I was searching for was me

Music has such an interesting way of transporting you back to certain feelings and memories that may have otherwise been long since forgotten. I heard this song while I was getting ready this morning, and my mind went back to a place that feels far away today. Here’s the story…

While in graduate school, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Australia for two weeks. I was going through a bit of a rough transition in my own personal life and struggling to deal with the ambiguity that lay ahead.

One evening I took a stroll through some gorgeous and incredibly hilly Sydney neighborhoods with a few colleagues, who have since turned out to be great friends. We stopped in a local pub and began chatting with the bartender. Interestingly enough he was from Ireland and felt just as out of place down under as we Americans did.

The place was pretty quiet and he was working alone, so he started to play DJ and tell us about his favorite bands. I was born and raised to be a music lover, so naturally I began talking shop with him. I can’t make a lick of it myself, but I have an ear for a wide range of styles.

So he starts telling us his story about how he moved there with his wife and kiddo. He’s describing the cultural differences and the quirks of the neighborhood. The things he likes and the things he misses about home. I guess it’s the inner therapist in me, but I really enjoy getting to know about someone’s background. It helps to put them into context in the present and highlights the complexities of being human.

He’s describing some of the hardships he’s been through, and we’re commiserating over times we’ve felt down on our luck. Then his face lights up and he runs over to the stereo. He says that I must listen to this song. It literally changed his life and got him out of some dark places. “It is impossible to listen to this song and still be unhappy”, he says. Cue the song…

“Keep your head up” by Ben Howard

It was just what I needed to hear in that moment. For the rest of the trip I walked around with my earbuds in listening to it over and over again. I ventured out by myself on lunch breaks from training, admired the giant fig trees in the park, and started feeling more alive. The fog that I had been walking around in started to lift. Looking back now it’s incredible to me that a chance meeting with someone from halfway across the world who I will never see again changed me in such a profound way.

So here’s my take away. As great as Ben Howard is, I don’t think his song has magical powers or anything. I do however think that storytelling can be healing both for the author and the audience. We are social creatures with a natural propensity to want to relate to one another. We want to feel understood. Stories give meaning to our lived experience and motivate us to keep moving forward. This was yet another unexpected lesson in narrative therapy that reinforced just how well this theory fits with my worldview.

I feel like the least I can do is pay it forward and share this song with the hope that someone else will be in the right place at the right time and need to hear it. And to my Irish bartender friend, I hope that life treats you well. Cheers!