Caleb McAlpine, working with Forever during the YWAM 2012 Olympic outreach, recounts how playing a piano opened the way for a significant conversation.
If you’ve walked through London St Pancras train station in the past few months, you would’ve surely noticed the handful of pianos peppered throughout the station’s main hall. Part of an ambitious, global project called Play Me, I’m Yours, these “street pianos” sit beneath staircases in the station with those very words written above the keys: “play me, I’m yours”. There are times I’ve walked through to witness huge crowds of people circling these pianos singing “Lean on Me” and other times to see some young man timidly poke at a few keys in a futile quest for consonance. When I walked through St Pancras last night at 1:15am, I saw one of these pianos available and for the first time in a long time, I walked through a train station that just wasn’t the same without the creative noise. Yet when I sluggishly seized the opportunity and sat down in front of the keys, my mind went blank and I couldn’t for the life of me think of what to play.
So I just played a chord. A chord that led to a sequence of chords, which soon led to the realisation that I was absent-mindedly playing “Come Thou Fount”, a hymn I’d given little thought in many months. Shrugging at the song choice, I went with it and sung the hymn in the lonely night-hour station hustle. Remembering the potency of the words, I’ll admit I got a bit lost in it and didn’t realise my eyes had been shut for the entire song. All the more surprise that when I opened them, there was an old man in a toque leaning on the top corner of the piano, his eyes watering and his face uneasy.
He said, almost bleakly: “I gave my life to the Lord the first time I heard that song over 50 years ago.”
He told me he had been absolutely in love with Jesus and tried to live a righteous life for so many years but inevitably walked away and became disinterested. He said his friends and church lost their passion and he couldn’t help but follow suit. He said he must have been subconsciously waiting for a reminder because when he heard the words “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”, he said he felt an emptiness he hadn’t felt in a long, long time. He said he missed God and was done wandering.
I asked him if he wanted to sing the hymn once more with me and have tonight be a night to start anew – his face became curious before breaking into a relieved smile. When we sang the last stanza of “here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above”, both of us offered up ourselves unto God and surrendered what little energy we had that night. As strangers and brothers, all at once. With that, I knew the train I was boarding would arrive in a minute’s time – our goodbyes were exchanged and a heartfelt but incredibly awkward hug was too. It was a brief, powerful encounter.
I am praying for him. He is praying for me.