I regularly unpack that Goya guitar bought back in 1968, pin on my Certified Music Practitioner badge and head down some hallway to offer the ministry of music to critically and chronically ill, elderly and dying patients.
By the title of this new story I hope you will be as surprised as I was by what occurred with me and Len. Any ideas? Go ahead, use your imagination.
I noted that Len's door was still closed as it had been every time I came to the Hospice House. I asked about him.
I cannot fully explain the "something" that made me want to give music to the very ill, the very private Len.
Have you had similar unexplained "somethings" urge you on? What happened?
Later that day, I caught my first glimpse of Len as he sat, door ajar, in his recliner in his room, huddled up under several blankets, watching an old movie on television.
Why do you think Len has the television volume turned off? Guesses welcome.
I could tell my guitar caught Len's eye. He didn't wave back to me or look me in the face, but followed the Goya, turning his head to keep it in his sight as I passed his door.
Why do you think my guitar interested Len? Guitars are pretty common instruments. Your thoughts?
I learned on my next visit to Hospice House that Len had asked a nurse about me after I left the week earlier.
I was surprised about the nurse's information about Len. I had no idea that the music could be heard through his closed door, especially with the tv going. Televisions in patient rooms often go non-stop. Do you think tv is a good idea for the ill and dying? Why or why not?
When I saw Len again he was walking at a slow pace in the patient wing of the Hospice House, dragging his oxygen tank behind him.
Why did Len hesitate?
After playing and singing for other patients, I moved on to Len's room.
What are your feelings for Len at this point? Describe.
Remembering Len's words about liking country and guitar and assuming his age was close to mine, I began with an Elvis number, an easy mix of soft and gentle early rock and the homegrown voice of The King.
Where do you think Len is looking, besides out his window? Gestures told me a lot about Len in this setting. What do they tell you?
Len stared off, into the open space out his window while I sang through to the end of "Love Me Tender."
So few words, but so much information. What is beginning to happen in this scene? Ideas?
I felt okay about asking Len a personal question.
My role was to offer music to Len, but I asked him a personal question. Was that okay? Why or why not?
I couldn't imagine this tiny man climbing up into the cab of an eighteen wheeler and piloting that monstrosity at high speeds back and forth the asphalt and cement byways of the US.
Ironic that Len's hard living lands him at Hospice House, possibly the nicest place he ever lived. I made a lot of assumptions about Len's lifestyle, his living arrangements. Am I off the mark? Comments.
But Len was gentle.
Len's hard living, his occupation as a long-haul truck driver, were not who he was. Have you made assumptions about people you meet based on their lifestyle, their occupation? Did your opinions change? How?
The next week and the next, there was no question about my entering Len's room.
I took a risk when I asked patients for their musical preferences. Was this risk worth taking? Why? Or why not?
On we went through the long winter with those sessions of country music. Twenty minutes was usually enough. I could tell when Len got tired.
Paying attention to a sick a person's body language is so important. I have seen well-meaning visitors miss the clues and stay too long. What signs other than the ones Len gave off, might you pay attention to as a visitor to an ill or dying person? Your input is valued.
"You play that guitar real good," Len said one day as I began to pack up.
Where do you think Len's statement will take me? Where would you go with it?
Len's words about always wanting to play the guitar rang in my ears. I could give him lessons on my own time as a volunteer.
What idea do you think I'm cooking?
On the way home from Hospice, I stopped at Dad's Music Store, a kind of roadside shack, patched up and painted on the outside, very unlike Darby or Alexandria Music Stores, but like them on the inside, a feast of music and instruments crammed into a small space.
Never judge a book by its cover. This applies to people, but also places! Where have you seen this play out? Comment below?
Dad's Music Store was owned by a man who resembled Len.
Dad was very interested in my work at Hospice. I find that most people are drawn in by conversation about music and healing. Why do you think this is?
"Could you offer me a good deal on a guitar?" I asked Dad, the owner of the music store.
Was I too pushy to ask about a "good deal" on a guitar for Len? I could tell that Dad's Music Store didn't enjoy a lot of business. There was hardly ever a car parked in its lot. Your thoughts?
Dad eyed his guitars, then looked back at me.
Did you see this coming? I surely did not.
I was stunned. Dad's Music was no fancy, city music shop. I wondered how Dad even made it up in this rural Adirondack area of New York.
Generosity can truly be stunning. When have you experienced gifts of any sort as giver or receiver?
I could hardly contain myself over the prospect of giving Len his own instrument along with the promise for lessons.
Dad's gift-giving was instructive to me. What do you take away from his actions, his words, his gestures?
After I loaded the guitar and all the gear for Len into my car, I called Hospice to relate the great news.
Celebration, relishing the moments in life are hallmarks of Hospice. What can we learn from this practice?
As I drove home with the car full of Len's guitar and all its accoutrements, my only regret was that Len wasn't with me at the music store. I imagined that his intrigue with all the instruments, at least the guitars, matched mine.
Later I wondered if Len had ever been in a music store? What do you think?
Then Len became very ill. His door remained closed once again.
A saying goes like this, "You can plan the plans, but you can't plan the outcome." True? When? Share an experience where this was true for you.
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Award Finalist in the "Health: Alternative Medicine" category of the 2017 Best Book Awards