I saw The Rolling Stones live for the first time at age eleven. Certain details, to this day, remain vivid: the crowd rising as the lights dimmed. The heat of a pyrotechnic explosion at the beginning of “Sympathy for the Devil.” The ground beneath my feet, sticky with beer.
One bit in particular stands out above the rest, however.
Returning home later that night, I was greeted on the front porch by sleepy-eyed parents. Buzzing, high on color and flash bulbs and drumbeats and leather jackets, I hopped back and forth in my tennis shoes and blithely declared, “I’m in love!”
My parents smiled. Music was a part of their history. I imagine it meant a lot for them to know it would be a part of mine, as well.
“I’m in love,” I repeated, “with Keith Richards.”
I referenced this moment once as part of a free-writing exercise in a college creative writing course. The prompt? Tell us about your first love.
The class laughed when I read my response, which was, of course, completely understandable.
But what I’d written was also the truth. I’d fallen in love.
To be clear, the object of my affection was not really Keith Richards (though he does still occupy a special place in my heart). I’d fallen in love with music---more specifically, rock and roll. The music of my parents’ generation. To employ half a cliché, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship---and over a decade later, we’re still very happy together.
Not all meaningful relationships occur between people. Family members, friends, and romances aside, some of the greatest loves of my life have been places, experiences, interests, activities. After all, what constitutes a great love? Is it heart-stopping? All-consuming? Is it deep, complicated, emotional, electrifying?
I’ve certainly experienced music in this way. Towns, cities, and neighborhoods, too: Tokyo comes to mind; so does the dusty, cacophonous stretch of street that was my home for a month in India. And writing? Don’t even get me started. It’s been the greatest love/hate relationship of my life.
These are things I’ve loved so intensely that they’ve not only become a part of my life, but a part of me. Along with a hodgepodge of other experiences, memories, destinations, and, of course people, they add depth, shape, color, meaning. They’re building blocks. Puzzle pieces.
They're not just a part of my story. In many ways, they are the story.