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What an interesting community this was! Independent living, assisted living, memory care, all housed in connected buildings on a community campus. I was invited to perform at their annual Christmas party, where all residents and their families would dine in the large, common dining hall. When I arrived to set up, the party was already bustling pretty well. The staff had prepared quite a spread of food and drink to accommodate a variety of tastes. Relatives strolled from table to table, happy to see each other once again after a year-long separation. I set up in the lounge area next to the dining hall, so as not to disturb those wishing to eat and talk without the intrusion of any musical distractions.
I began my performance in a different way, by necessity. Since all the residents and guests were by then seated in the dining hall, there was no one to tell corny jokes to in the lounge! So, when the clock ticked 6 PM, I just began. By myself. As you might expect, it didn’t take more than a song or two for stragglers to migrate over to the lounge, where they seated themselves comfortably. One gentleman caught my attention right away. Frankly, he didn’t look as old as the others. And he was dressed to the nines, as they say. My first thought was that he was a business owner, here to spend the evening with friends and relatives.
Soon, there were a few dozen people in the lounge. Listening. Watching. Smiling. Talking. A few even danced. A good time for all. The gentleman suddenly got up from his seat and started looking around the room. Frantically. Looking for someone. Or, something. He wandered away. Followed, I noticed, by a nurse’s aide in uniform. As more and more people ventured into the lounge, I used the opportunity to pause my performance. A perfect time to finally begin with my usual introduction! You know the routine by now, right? Who I am. What I’m doing here. What music I’m playing. What instruments I’m playing. Better late than never. As I returned to the music, the gentleman reappeared, still accompanied by the nurse’s aide. He sat back down. Still looking around. Eventually, he was again captivated by the music.
Sometimes, people have a tendency to tell the musician: “It’s too loud! Turn it down!” But not this night. “Turn it up! We can’t hear you!” Wow. That’s a pleasant surprise. Then again, more than half the audience was probably deaf! As the hour progressed, the gentleman disappeared and reappeared several more times. Always looking around. Always accompanied by the uniformed aide. By the end of the show, the dance floor was full. As were the all the seats in the lounge. The gentleman now sat, enraptured, despite his obvious confusion. Once finished with my performance, I decided to leave my equipment set up. I just had a funny feeling that I needed to talk with the man. And that he needed to talk with me.
“Hi, I’m Jeff,” I announced as I held out my hand. He offered his hand in return. “I hope you enjoyed the party tonight.”
“Yes, yes, I did. But...well, I’m afraid I’m a little confused.”
“Oh, don’t feel bad. We’re all a little confused!” I laughed.
“Yes, yes, but . . . well, I can’t seem to remember anything. I’m not even sure where I am right now.”
“That’s funny,” I encouraged. “I’m not too sure where I am either! But at least we know we’re confused, right? That’s more than some people can say.”
He just sat there, looking into my eyes, not sure how to respond. The nurse’s aide had a most unusual look on her face as she listened to our conversation.
“Are you a preacher?” she asked politely. Her question caught me off guard.
“No, I’m not,” I replied tentatively, searching her eyes for a clue.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. But in church this past Sunday morning, our preacher delivered a wonderful sermon. And what he said was almost exactly what you just said.”
“Really?” I asked, looking for further explanation with my raised eyebrows.
“Yes,” she answered. “He told the congregation that all people on this earth are damaged. Some of us know we’re damaged. Others, don’t. But we’re all damaged. We all need help.”
I was speechless. Unusual for me, I’m afraid. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my experiences performing had taught me that same lesson, though in different words.
“You know,” I told her, “your pastor is so right. Hearing his words, spoken by you, I’m reminded why I enjoy these performances so much. They’re very therapeutic. For everyone. Including me.”
At that, she smiled, took the gentleman by the hand, and walked him back to his room. Perfect time for me to pack up my gear and head home. Before I could, though, she walked back to speak with me, this time without the gentleman at her side.
“Your music helped him immensely tonight,” she confided.
“I’m glad. Thank you.”
“You see,” she continued, “this is his first night alone. His first night here. But sharing your gift was so important for him. As you saw, he’s very confused. But at least he knows he confused. He just doesn’t know why. Yet.”
She hugged me gently before returning to her duties. I had so many questions flooding my thoughts. Had his wife just recently died? Or, had she placed him here, knowing she could no longer care for him alone? Then again, did the answer really matter. In the scheme of things?
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