The first time I heard Tom Russell‘s song, “Finding You” was through the walls of our little train cabin as we barreled through the northwestern mountains headed for Portland. My Music Man slept sublimely across from me in our petite bunk while I read quietly and watched the mountains fly by our window. The song was being played softly by our next door neighbor, Hans, whom we had just met the day before. Separated by a meager partition, we were merely one day into the trip and a certain level of intimacy was inevitable.
Listening to Hans’ guitar penetrate our morning brought a slow sweet sob effervescing from inside the core of my heart. It was one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I had ever heard and watching my lover sleep, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the couple next door and the love they expressed with a simple song.
As the song ended, I tiptoed next door to peek inside and thank them for sharing it with me. And that’s when I felt it — these precious people and their love for each other was tumbling out of the room. I saw it in their eyes, felt it in their welcoming smile and I wanted to know them forever. Sometimes falling in love with someone leaves that indelible tattoo on your soul that seeps into your essence. Hans and Marita Fredriksen had that effect on me.
Last week in Houston, Texas as My Music Man and I stood in what we agreed was the longest airport security line of our combined lives trying to get home after a grueling tussle with United Airlines amid cancellations and miscommunications, I received an email from Hans. He told of recurring dreams about moving luggage around on the train and described his surprising connections with several specific passengers on the train, and he included us. Reading the email aloud as we stood in that monstrous line, I was struck by the stark contrast to the mellow train trip adventure from only a couple of weeks before. The familiar warmth of friendship and deep gratitude for Hans’ beautiful and perfectly timed email reminded me of how the song became a strand of gold braided throughout the trip, beginning with the morning I first heard it through the walls.
I loved when Hans would play his guitar, encouraged him often, and even requested (okay, begged for) a daily wake-up song. It turned out that I was likely the reason he got in trouble for playing in the sleeping compartments once we were parked in Portland. Hans recounted that being asked to keep quiet by the “Powers That Be” left him feeling discouraged and frustrated, not wanting to play at all. But, as he tells it, he entered Portland’s Historic Union Station for our return trip to L.A. and was ambushed by my own sweet Music Man insisting he play with the group in the middle of the station, “busking” as it is called.
I’ll let Hans finish the story…
“… everybody was out in the station, playing, taking pictures and having a grand time. Chick spotted us. He came up and pushed his guitar into my arms. ‘Come on Hans, play!!!’ he said, reading me like an open book! I slowly started to play, but it was hard to get my spirit up and feel I was really there. I then spotted [Chelsea] at the station, and it struck me, “it’s now or never!” I hurried Chick’s guitar back to him and asked to borrow “the professional busker‘s” guitar for a minute, which by the way was out of tune, and approached you all (this is not exactly the way it happened, but it’s how the story goes). ‘Chick,’ I said, ‘we’ll play “Finding You” for Chelsea – are you with me?’ ‘I’m right behind you!’ Chick said, ‘and Elsabe is here on the fiddle!’ We started to play the intro, starting out in a slow waltz tempo … ‘They’re blessing the animals, in the old Cathedral Square …’ I let it go like that because I didn’t want to change things at that point. People were gathering around us, first in a wide ring, then closer. Chelsea sat smilingly down on the platform, and I figured I had to get as close as I could to be properly heard.
“So I kneeled down on one knee close to her, resting the guitar on the other … What caught my attention as we were playing the first lines was the brilliance of Chick’s guitar playing! You were just great man! I am glad we’ve got it on tape. We talked about playing something together earlier, but nothing like this! So we put it all on, and I knew, that we could bring on ‘the goose bumps’ if I could get myself properly coached into the passage of all passages in the song – which I did; ‘… and I’ll pray to any God who keeps his light on late at night, for the miracle of miracles, the one that changed my life – finding you, oh, finding you, finding you, finding you.’
“The world stopped turning for a brief moment …
“The gig and the train station in Portland is all history now … the ‘greatest of all’ performances on the trip, brought to you by Elsabe, Chick and myself and all the rest of us who knew the story behind it and helped make it such a memorable moment!”
I should also add that Margie was a part of that song, lending what I think is a tiny ukelele…
Of all the songs on the trip this one was laser-etched upon us and created a steel-cased bond. It’s a song of love, of friendship, gratitude, and hope symbolizing the hidden treasures of the ROTR* experience. Love comes in surprising ways, and often on the wings of a simple song.