The Snail, Free Advice and “Music”

The snail greeted us on the sidewalk Imageas we rounded the corner of the cemetery. I thought it was a small rock and nearly walked right by. But Lucy wasn’t fooled. Her nose took her right to the snail’s tiny little antennae. Have you ever seen a snail close up? They are really fascinating and beautiful. The way the shell circles around reminds me of the rug in my grandmother’s bedroom which had lines inside it like lanes in a mini track. As kids, my cousins and I used to run around it and call it the “roundy roundy rug.”

Anyway, the snail was enjoying the moist, sunny morning after a rare rainfall. He cast a tiny shadow and undulated along the rough sidewalk concrete. We watched him for a few minutes, listening to the silence of his slow, methodical journey and then we continued a little more peacefully on our own journey past the cemetery and back home.

Later, after the walk was long over, we left Lucy home sleeping went for a bike ride around White Rock Lake. Very few people were crazy enough to be out since the windchill had dipped into the low 30s. As we rode along the water in parkas and gloves, we passed a man and woman  dressed in ski gear sitting in lawn chairs. A black sign with white letters was propped up against a full laundry basket in front of them.

Free Advice, the sign said.

“You guys deserve a medal!” the man called out to me as we passed. I laughed, knowing that I’d have to stop by and talk to him on the way back. Because how can you not stop and talk to someone who is sitting behind a Free Advice sign when the wind chill is 35 degrees?

“Easy,” my husband said later, after waiting at the car for me for half and hour.

It turns out that Roderick MacElwain has been giving Free Advice to people at the Lake every Sunday afternoon for 17 years. It started as an experiment with a friend who was not good at talking to people. But now it’s a service to humanity. He claims that he has autistic tendencies which allow to him to have certain gifts as well as deficits (and also made teachers and doctors think he was retarded while he was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s), and he experiences everything – people included – in music. Or not actually music, sort of like rhythm and beats. But music is the best way to explain it to people, he told me.

“You give off wonderful music,” he said. “And you make those around you feel it.”

I was struck by his powerful words. Because I felt that same way about the snail I saw that morning. It, too, emitted wonderful music that no one could actually hear with their ears, but until I met the Free Advice guy, I didn’t have the words for it.

After I got home, I Googled the Free Advice guy and found out that many people have been helped by him and his friend over the years. Here’s a story about the two from several years ago. I’m not sure where there other guy was yesterday or who the woman was, but when I have more time and a pressing question or dilemma, I know where to go for advice.

After all, it’s Free!


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