“Ah, it must be Elizabeth! Send her up.”
Well, I thought, at least he still sounds the same.
“The elevator is right down that hall and to the left, miss,” said the kind face
behind the counter.
I repeated the floor and room number over again in my head. As the floors of the elevator flashed before my eyes, I readied (or worried) myself to meet the banker.
Is he sure this isn’t bad timing? I hope he knows he can go into the office if a client needs him. Maybe I should have come during a longer holiday instead. Why did I wear sweats? Should I be wearing nicer cloths? He is probably used to people wearing suits by now.
I actually had met the banker almost four years ago, when my sister was a freshman at Brown University, and I was still a junior in high school. Two years later, when I joined her at Brown, it was not long before some of her best friends became some of mine. And a few became more like family, the banker being one of them. We would work out in the gym, eat junk food, play piano, watch movies, talk about life…
But this was the first time I was seeing him after he had graduated. Now, he was no longer “my good friend in college” he was, as students say, “in the real world.” He was a banker now, and that was what I expected.
But that is not what I found when the elevator doors opened.
Instead, I heard Lennie Tristano coming from a room down the hall. As I proceeded to the banker’s apartment, the music only grew louder and louder.
When I knocked at his door, the music stopped. A man with a shiny ponytail, a sparkling white shirt, and a wonderful accent welcomed me. He introduced himself as Enrique and explained that he was a piano instructor. At the piano sat Michael, with his old familiar smile. There was no “banker” to be seen.
The rest of my visit with Michael and his family was wonderful. We talked, ate good food, played the piano, and went to a movie. In fact, Michael and I did all the things we had always done.
As I rode the train back to Brown, I was both relieved and puzzled. The same question kept running through my mind: Why should a banker play jazz?
And then it dawned on me that there never was “a banker.” It was always Michael. The only difference is that Michael just does banking now. I realized then that Michael knew—or rather was practicing—a quality of being human that I had overlooked: it is not our job that defines us, but our joys.
Perhaps we need to change our everyday rhetoric. Maybe we take it too literally when people say “I am a clerk,” or “I am a doctor,” or “I am a lawyer.” For in fact, when we think of the people we really know—our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our best friends—what comes to mind is not simply their occupation. Rather who they are includes so much more: what they do in their leisure, in their break from the necessities of everyday work. For it is in this free space that they paint a picture of who they are as people. In other words, it is when we are most free that we are most ourselves.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to 1) make time for leisure and 2) have the capacity to fill it. We all have joys (if you are forgetting yours right now, think back to childhood). Now we have to learn how to enjoy—to partake in joy—again.
Michael reminded me of this when I had forgotten. Within his busy workweek, he makes time for jazz band, SoulCycle, movies, dinner with friends, time with family, and maybe even an old friend who comes to visit. Really, Michael is just making time for the things that make one human. Shouldn’t we all do the same?
Artwork by Elizabeth Yeh
Edited by Amber Yildizel