A Piano and a Man Named Samuel

March 29, 2013

I sang a heck of an Ain’t Misbehavin’ Thursday morning, in the 2-story Mayo Clinic foyer, where the grand piano is. It felt fabulous. What a present and delighted audience. No singing I have ever done comes close to the experience of singing here, as a patient, for patients. It is a communion through music.

A healing communion. Joy blooming in dark and treacherous reaches of the heart.


This sits atop the piano:


Isn’t that something?


This is the piano from the balcony above:



And here I am with Jane and Anthony.

Jane plays every Monday & Thursday from 10 to 12, for anyone who wants to sing.



Audience On the Balcony Above



Audience Below



Community Gathering Around the Piano


This piano—the advent of unexpected music, my shy approach to the sounds and companionship unfolding there, eventually coming close enough to start meeting the people who congregate there—was my only lifeline when I first got here. Hearing an angel’s voice as I stepped from an elevator onto the overlook; passing the passions of Brahms played with elegant fervor; approaching the circle surrounding; joining others in singing hymns, while two women eloquently interpreted them into sign language; sitting near and hearing my first stories from other patients; eventually daring to sing on my own​…

these are the moments that first kept my heart alive. That brought color and sunlight back to the world when I thought they’d been sucked out of everything forever. These are the moments in which I first experienced belonging, company, delight.



To see the eyes of elders come to life and sparkle… To see a smile where there had been only weariness and pain… This moved me newly, day after day, as I watched people listen, pause, beam, sing along.

And then to sing—at first it was too much for me; too much was open and roiling in me, and the pure joy of putting voice to melody was almost unbearably expressive, healing, rekindling… connecting.

And finally, to have such people thank me for sharing, with them, what brings me joy… Sometimes I could barely sing for the tears that choked me; it was beyond words.

•        •        •



This is my buddy, Samuel.

I adore him. He’s funny and flirtatious and plays Sentimental Journey, which I sang with him today. He played his favorite Lutheran hymn and told me how all of God’s pain, and all beauty too, were in that song; a certain chord in particular made him seem to nearly swoon. He said, “If I were playing this right, I’d probably be crying by now.”


Yesterday, when I first saw Samuel, he was wearing the same gorgeous sweater he wore today.

One of the women remarked on it, and asked him if someone had made it for him. He said yes, his wife.

“Oh, is she here?”

“No, she… She’s… up.”

Someone asked how long, and he said 7 months.

“So I can’t wear this sweater because it makes me think of her,” he said, sorrow filling his eyes. “But…​ it makes me think of her…​ and… I think… that’s… OK.”

His face moved my heart so deeply, I felt grief and love in my chest and throat. Another woman patted his shoulder, saying, “Well, you know she’s watching you wear it.” He replied, “Yeah, and she’s still saying, ‘It’s too big on you!'”

7 months.

And he’s playing piano, making people laugh and sing.

•        •        •

I emerged from an elevator onto the upper balcony this morning, looked down, and saw him playing. (I hadn’t, till that moment, known he played.) Although we’d not yet spoken, I smiled & waved; he saw me and smiled. I put my hand on my heart.

He lifted his hand from the keys

and placed it over his.


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