So in Boston the subway is called the “T,” short for the MBTA (which is short for Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority). Many of the stations have public art. The Kendall station has a set of chimes. In order to ring the chimes, you have to move a handle back-and-forth (trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds). There’s a rhythmic way the handle must be moved–you can’t just force it by going faster, you have to be patient.
Recently I had some friends from across the country come and spend the day with us. I took them back to their hotel in the evening from Kendall Square. As I got back to the Kendall station there was a seven-minute wait for the next train. It was a Sunday (I try to refrain from social media on Sundays) so I was bored for the next seven minutes. I decided I would try to make the chimes ring. I had seen them before but I’ve never heard them ring even though I’ve been in the station hundreds of times (often twice or more a day) but the station is usually filled with people and you look a little silly pumping that handle trying to get the rhythm just right.
So, trying to use my seven minutes and with only one or two people in the station I was enticed to see if I could make it work. Guess what? I couldn’t! I tried going fast, I tried going slow, nothing was quite right. By this point there were half a dozen people in the station all pretending like they were not watching me: looking at their phones, looking at me, looking at their phones, looking at me–I could read their minds, “There’s no way this big dope is going to get this” and “How hard can this be? He’s been trying for like three minutes.”
I decided I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was gonna make those chimes ring no matter what it took. I could feel the tension in the handle at a certain point–if I timed my moving the handle with that tension, I could see the mallet swing in between the chimes. I knew if I got the rhythm right long enough the mallet would have enough momentum to strike the chimes. Finally, one mallet hit one chime. Everybody looked at the chimes then back at me. Two minutes until the train came. I read their minds again, “Dude he’s close. Super dork might get these chimes to ring.”
Then the mallets started to move in unison, multiple mallets striking multiple chimes. One minute until the train. Here’s the important thing: you can’t get anxious and over pump the handle. You have to keep the rhythm and you have to be patient. The announcer came over PA. The train was approaching. Now the dozen people in the train station we’re completely looking at the chimes, no one was looking at their phone. And then it happened: all mallets, all chimes, striking in rhythmic beauty. Such a contrast to the loud boisterous trains that roll through. In my mind the dozen or so people in the train station all applauded (of course, they didn’t.) But I could tell they were thinking it, “He did it! I’ve waited in this train station a billion times and never heard those ring. Thanks random dude for making the chimes ring!”
Honestly, it felt kind of magical. I felt like a victor. As I rode the train home, I couldn’t help but think how many experiences I’ve missed in life because I was too embarrassed to try in front of spectators. How many experiences I’ve missed because I default to looking at my phone. I really think we are all cheering for each other. I also think we all feel like fools and imposters just waiting to be exposed. Waiting for the village child to laugh at us and say that we are naked, our worst fears confirmed. That which we valued as regal cloth was sold to us by a humbug.
I want to suppress the voices in my head that tell me not to try. I want to take more chances, sing more songs, read more poetry, live more life. The chimes were magical. Their brief song moved me to try more, to be more, to live more. Thanks subway public art! You did good.