Most songs are built around emotion, some deep, insistent, often incomprehensible, stirring in the soul. Singing the song well requires tapping into that emotion, or it’s merely a catalogue of words set to music.
But there is a danger in tapping into that emotion, of finding connections unacknowledged or unknown within yourself, and the music also taps into a much larger connection to humanity in general, a universal language.
Which is much at odds with the world as we have created it.
When I volunteer playing guitar at the hospital here in Gainesville on Wednesday mornings, sometimes I walk the edges of those emotions, playing softly walking the halls, poking my head into open doors, entering rooms as invited and singing to people in their own fragile shell of emotion, some recovering, some nearing the end of this life.
Today was one of those days the emotion snuck up on me and pushed my heart right out on my sleeve, raw, exposed, nearly as vulnerable as the patients to whom I sang.
In retrospect, there was really nothing remarkable about this particular Wednesday. I was in and out of rooms, trying to find the right songs for each person laying in their bed, making small talk, and I eased into a room where a woman I assumed to be the wife of the man on the edge of the bed was standing beside him, in what seemed an inexplicably tender moment, but she invited me in with her eyes.
I was strumming “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and sang that as she helped him lay back in bed. They were so caring with one another, so gentle, I chatted a bit and sang “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, as I thought they had that kind of relationship, and I told them so. They thanked me for coming in and the man said, “I was having an anxiety attack, and heard you playing in the hall, and it helped me. The music was so soothing.”
I thanked them for listening, and moved on down the hall, where a woman was in the bed, talking with her husband beside the bed, and she was animated, energetic, said she played classical piano, but also loved rock ‘n roll. As I don’t do anything resembling classical guitar, I launched into “Blue Suede Shoes,” quietly, of course. We had a great time talking music, and I headed on out again.
I played for a woman, alone in her room, who asked me in, but cried through most of my singing, wanting only to go home. I played for a man who loved blue grass, and I stumbled through part of “Dueling Banjos”, and turned out he is a banjo picker, learned it on his own some 60 years back, and knew “Dueling Banjos” quite well…
I always ask what kind of music each person likes, and it being Florida, it’s usually country, gospel or folk, so it wasn’t unusual for the next lady to mention country as her favorite. So I played a couple of Kris Kristofferson tunes, and she commented about how nice the guitar sounded.
I usually play my Bedell now, one that Aubrey’s dad Chris Hall gave me before he died of cancer. I used to sit by his recliner and pick out Lightfoot tunes, and he told me he wanted me to have it. Anyhow, I told the lady that story, then played James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain.”
I hadn’t thought about the connection of my guitar, Chris and that song until I was part way into it. That’s where the emotion came thundering in the door, and my eyes filled with tears and I could barely finish the song.
It was really, really quiet when I stopped.
She had tears in her eyes too, and thanked me for coming in. I thanked her for listening and made my exit. But I had about another 45 minutes of tunes to play. Tried best as I could to keep the emotions in check, and made it down the elevator to the hallway where a local coffee shop has a location.
As I passed, I told the gal there that I really wanted a cuppa coffee, and would come back when I got my wallet. A lady standing in front of me turned around and said, “I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee, I love your music up in the halls.” Turned out she’s a nurse up on the critical care floor. She said music is a better medicine than most drugs.
So she bought my coffee.
I really had to get outta the hospital then.
Here’s where all this is going.
Never once did I talk red or blue, white or black or Asian or Hispanic, though the hospital is chock full of all of that and more.
It’s full of people, which is ultimately what we all are.
People trying to make a living, stay alive.
It’s the same all over the world, no matter what the various leaders, and media and talking heads try to tell us. We, the people, are more alike than we are different.
I initially sent this essay out to my family and friends, and I told them that I loved them. And I do.
But I realized the idea behind the writing is larger than that, it's about people, about you and me, all of us. About living a life where we see the humanity in each of us, and respond in kind to that humanity. And it doesn't mean we all get along all the time, that there are no conflicts, because conflict is part of being human. It's that when conflicts arise, we try our best not to define the person with the conflict, not to define a person based on politics, or race, or religion, or nationality.
I see the patients lying in their beds, usually older, fighting whatever it is that laid them low, and I am aware that this probably not the person they would like to be right now, would prefer not meeting some stranger picking a guitar, yet they are usually gracious and generous with their time, and as we talk, I realize how little I know about 30 or 60 or 70 years they've knocked around the world, the connections they have made, the things they've done. And I realize that I do love them.
That's the short answer to making the world a better place; lead with love.
And as trite as it might sound, it's the only way we'll heal what's broken.
It's that simple, and that hard.
You don’t have to send this to 13 people and then receive some prize.
You don’t have to respond.
You don’t have to change your opinion on anything.
I just want you to know
I love you.