Opinions: Rocca-ing the world: Harping on people


A man played his harp on the side of the street in Maui, March 15. I wish I would have gotten his name. That’s my biggest regret.

Spring break taught me that the vacation itself is not what makes the memories.

It’s like having an instrument without any idea how to play it. All the bones are there, but if I don’t learn how to make the music, it’s pretty worthless.

The activities, the location, the itineraries… they don’t mean squat if I only let that guide my trip.

I traveled to Maui, Hawaii.

And, yes, while I was extremely lucky to travel to such a beautiful place and participate in fun and exotic activities, I found that I felt luckiest because of the people I met and the things I learned from them during my time there.

Maui easily ranks the most picturesque place I have ever been with sherbet-like sunsets, green mountains lush with vegetation, black-as-night volcanoes and beaches of different colored sand–black, white, red—everywhere I looked.

While that was awesome, I also realized that pretty pictures are just pretty pictures, but pictures with people tell a story.

The people were even more picturesque with their brightly colored flowers in their ears, their carefree transportation of a skateboard or their shirtless-with-beach-matted-hair look.

Homeless musicians lined the streets, free-spirited artists filled the shops and galleries and fearless surfers made their way to the giant waves as tall as half a house out in the middle of the ocean.

I know they were homeless because I made a point to talk to them.

I had been to Maui twice before, but I had never talked to the people.

I had only focused on the bones of the island instead of the character of the life there; the instrument, not the music.

Through talking to the people who I usually overlooked, I learned so much beyond how to surf, paddleboard and zipline.

I talked to an artist who gave up his life in California and moved to Ohio just to be with his son. He travels to Maui every so often to show his Dr. Seuss inspired dot paintings.

I talked to a man walking a goat (while laughing), and he told me how he actually had a recliner at home for Kahiau, his goat, because they are best friends.

I talked to my zip-line instructor who confessed she had never seen or felt snow her 20+ years of life.

I mean seriously? I dislike winter as much as anyone, but never having the memories made on snow days is a tragic thought. She made me grateful for confusing Missouri weather.

But one man in particular really stuck with me.

I was walking along the shops, and across the street, I saw a man playing a harp. He stood out to me with his graying dreadlocks and unusually large instrument.

So I walked over and talked to him.

As soon as I simply made eye contact with him, his whole face lit up. It was as if no one had noticed him in so long, and now someone finally saw him.

He finished a song and actually got up so I could play his harp.

He taught me some chords and laughed like he was having the time of his life when I, the undeniable rookie, would mess up.

I asked how long he had played the harp, and he said, “Well, I play the piano and cello, too, but now I play the harp to get ready for heaven.”

He started singing me a song with his harp, a touching song about seeing me again. When he finished he exclaimed, “I like your dimples, too! Keep on shining!”

I realized that the people who looked so rough with their missing teeth and unwashed hair were, in fact, people.

I learned to look past and avoid these people who are real, accomplished human beings. They have a story just like everyone else. They are thirsty for conversation and for the human interaction I take for granted every day.

I brought this lesson back with me to St. Louis.

When I came home, I went to the Delmar Loop with some friends and decided I wouldn’t overlook the overlooked.

I saw a raggedy artist on the street painting beautiful black and white scenes with one object in a single color.

I thought back to Maui and decided to talk to him.

I found out that he was actually an accomplished artist who travels from place to place on the streets so everyday people have the opportunity to see and possibly buy his artwork.

This way of thinking, this mission of finding out people’s stories, really has changed my life.

I don’t see dirty people or homeless people anymore. I see a story.

Not only that, I have realized that the stories are universal. Awesome people do not just live in Maui. They are everywhere.

I’ve been learning so much more and have exposed myself to so much culture I had been missing out on with paintings and music, stories and lessons.

I’ve finally learned that activities and situations are the instrument, but the people are the music.