Tony Sorrow calls himself the “preeminent busker” for the downtown square in Denton. It didn’t take long to see why. Sitting down to talk with him recently, I heard his story first-hand from beside his acoustic guitar case. I have already described what I heard of his life in a separate piece, but something else kept me asking questions. How could this young man in the midst of such upheaval keep such a cheery attitude, dispensing kind words and smiles to every passerby? Sure, I reasoned, this could all be about making money, but I’ve seen that before in those my age. No shade of dishonesty crossed his face when he spoke about his desire to spread positivity. Yet he also talked about his probable future employment in a regular job. What, then, could help me make sense of Tony’s transitional musicianship?
The more we sat together, the more he began to explain his unease with our society. “I wouldn’t call myself a communist or an anarchist,” he chuckled, as though meaning to reassure me of some sort of philosophical purity. With sadness and resignation creeping in on his cheerful outlook, he lamented how we as a culture have let our priorities fall so far from our ideals. People throw away perfectly good food, he reminds me, enough for 40% of the total we produce as a nation to end up in landfills. In the meantime, we shudder to let the hungry eat what we would throw away, as if to say that they are undeserving of the 40% we have rejected. I tell Tony I’m writing about the discontent of young people in our modern society, and he instantly points out the failure of older systems and institutions to help them. There are no programs to help a student leave school and their parents if they want to become artists, leaving the creative to fend for themselves in a job market where skills and experience are tightly-held commodities.
I could go on writing about the conversation, but to do so would be lengthy and not especially insightful. The truth is that I share this discontented feeling with Tony, but also with so many others I have talked with in their late teens and early twenties. It’s not a question of entitlement, but of opportunity. Where is the career path for those who are thoughtful or undecided, artists and drifters? We’re not looking for a government to institute a new safety net – we’re just looking for people to care about and help one another. If the average person had Tony’s kindness, he would be remarkable indeed. I’m certainly guilty of overlooking others in my own pursuits, but such individuals are the ones who stand out and make us aspire to be better. At the risk of zealotry, I admit that I want to imitate Jesus Christ in what I do – whether in my interactions with others or in my work. Doing so means discarding popular norms for the sake of exceptional lives, service, and humanity (in other words, our souls). And Tony leaves me with the feeling that this is possible only if we risk something in that pursuit. Whether it’s the security risked in speaking to a stranger, the hunger risked by poverty, or the stress risked by anxiety, each of us sets something on the line by what we do. It’s called, in broad economic terms, a cost of opportunity. Tony makes me wonder what opportunity costs.