This photograph is one of my favorite pictures of myself.
Objectively speaking, I probably shouldn’t feel that way about it – and not just because there are some issues with exposure and focus (both due to its being taken on a cell phone in a dimly-lit room).
I’ll be honest. I don’t remember the name of the woman who took it; I don’t know about half the people in it; and I definitely don’t look good in it (especially since the angle highlights my rapidly – and quite obviously – receding hairline).
So why is it so special to me?
Every time I see it, I remember the story of the night that it was taken.
A couple summers ago, about a half a dozen or so friends and I were hanging out at the College Lunch, a little dive bar in Fairmont, West Virginia. One of my friends put a few dollars in the jukebox (or whatever they call the computer screens that have replaced them over the past couple decades), had each of us pick a song we wanted to hear, and used up the last few credits picking out some songs himself. There was probably enough music to last about an hour by the time we were finished. There wasn’t any particular order to the songs – and no real rhyme or reason why any of us picked what we pick.
About half an hour later, “Country Roads” came on the jukebox, and we all stood up, put our arms around each other, and started to sing along. A few seconds later, two women that we’d never met before got up from their table in the next room to join the circle, and then the three guys who were sitting with them stood behind us and joined in on the chorus. (Everyone in West Virginia (and, it seems, a surprising number of foreign countries) knows the chorus, but not nearly as many people know the verses, too.) By the end of the first verse, pretty much everyone in the bar was singing, and the bartender had climbed up onto a bar stool, cell phone in hand, to take a video and some photographs of us.
I like the photograph because every time I see it, I’m reminded of the sense of togetherness we all felt that night: even though we literally were strangers to half the people in it, we all, friends and strangers alike, knew – and understood – that song. The music – and our shared connection with it – brought us together. That’s all it took.
And it gives me hope, because if something as simple as a song on a jukebox can bring strangers together – even if it’s just two minutes on a summer night – then maybe, just maybe, there’s still a reason to believe that we can let ourselves be united by the things we have in common instead of separated by the things we don’t.