Does Art Keep Us Company?

Last week, I wrote about how art saves us. A reader e-mailed to share how listening to music every day kept her company during the isolation of COVID. She’s older and has health issues, so has spent much more time alone these past couple of years than she probably would have otherwise.

I asked myself whether art had ever kept me company, and this memory surfaced: I was nineteen and had unexpectedly been invited to travel across Europe for two months with someone I thought was a friend and her friend. Though I had no backpack, and no money to buy one, I said yes. I was living in London at the time, finishing up a study abroad program, and I had two small tote bags with me. I packed a few clothes and other necessary items, and off we went. Two of my essential items were my Walkman and three cassette tapes. I think they were Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston, and the soundtrack to Hello Dolly (yes, you read that right).

A couple of weeks into the trip, our threesome became a twosome. The other girls started leaving me out in various ways: going sightseeing without me, leaving me to eat alone in the youth hostels, choosing beds farther away from mine. But one of the hardest things to endure was how they ignored me on the long train rides required to get to the various cities we visited. During those rides, my company was my Walkman, and I listened to those three cassettes over and over again.

The music didn’t just fill my ears, providing the illusion of conversation. And it didn’t just distract me from the jokes they told about me behind their hands. It comforted me. The love songs reminded me there were plenty of people who cared for me and plenty more who someday would. The showstopper songs gave me courage and hope. The comic songs lifted me out of my melancholy and resentment. Sometimes the song would mirror perfectly the stunning view from outside the train window, and that was pure magic.

Looking back on life, I have loads of memories of books keeping me company during long waits or trying times. Of treasured pieces of art that have accompanied me on every move away from home. Of favorite movies that feel like a visit with an old friend every time I watch them.

Art doesn’t even need to be professional to keep us company. It can be a blanket crocheted by your grandmother that warms you when you’re ill. Or a song you wrote in high school that still brings you pleasure to play. Or a bouquet from a friend’s garden to ease your grief.

I’m grateful to my reader for the reminder of yet another way art saves us.

by Teresa R. Funke

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