Wednesday, April 03, 2013

WSWK Update: "Could You Play Something Older?" and "Honoring a P-38 Mechanic"

I was holding M____'s hands after a "When Swing Was King" presentation, our very first at this facility. (It won't be our last, however. We were asked by the activities director if we might consider putting it on our regular monthly rota -- and we said yes. That now makes 13. The schedule, by the way, is right here.)

Anyway, Claire and I had already visited with several residents and Claire was on the other side of the room even now talking with a few ladies but M_____ wanted me to stay for awhile. She told me she wanted to chat a bit because I had interesting things to say...and because my hands were so warm!  M____ is mostly blind and seemed pretty fragile (she is, after all, 97-years old) but her mind and spirit were active, her smile was infectious, and she chuckled frequently as we talked.  In conversation, she leaned forward and turned her best ear towards me.

M____ was very enthusiastic about our program. "Oh, the music was so lovely and, even though I couldn't see the pictures, the things you talked about were so interesting. I've always loved music. From the days when we first got a piano, I've loved music and this was so nice to listen to today. Thank you so much for bringing it to us."

But M____ did have a request. "Is it possible you could play some music that isn't so modern? Maybe some music from the old days?" I laughed. With our musical offerings being from the 30s and 40s (with a few that slip into the 50s -- Jimmy Dorsey's "So Rare" from 1957 is the newest number in our collection), I had never been asked that question. And I wasn't quite sure how to handle it.

"Something not so modern, huh? Do you mean you'd like some ragtime or folk songs?" No, that wasn't exactly it, she said.  I tried again. "Do you mean songs like Sweet Adeline and By the Light of Silvery Moon?" She squeezed my hands and sat up, "There you are. Those would be wonderful to hear again!" Then, with a gracious sense of courtesy, she reassured me, "But I loved this music too. So anything you have to bring along, I know it will be just wonderful!"

Another very touching moment came when I stopped to talk with R____ and his daughter who had stopped in to visit him. Normally, R____ doesn't communicate much nor does he seem to be aware of a lot of what's going on around him. But, boy, did the music trigger something in him that afternoon and it was something that deeply moved his daughter and the activities director who had never seen him make such an attempt to talk.

The music had taken R___ back to the days of World War II and so, as I bent down besides his wheelchair, he struggled to tell me about being a mechanic on P-38 fighter planes while stationed in the Aleutian Islands. It was clearly hard for him to remember details and there were long pauses followed by repetitions but he did understand some of my questions and answered them the best he could. I let him know how impressed I was and how grateful I was for his service to our country and how honored I felt to meet him.

"R___, you know, to the boys of my generation the P-38 was such a heroic plane. We had heard so much about it and we knew how important it was in winning the war. Man, when we looked for model kits to put together, it was always the P-38 and the B-29 that we most wanted. And now, here I am shaking the hands of one of the guys who put that plane in the air and kept it flying! Wow, this is such an honor and I'm really thrilled to shake your hand." There was a smile and then a couple of tears -- first from him and then, in response, from me. But there were more than a few from R____'s daughter. Indeed, it was from her reaction that I saw how rare a moment this was, a moment for which I will be forever grateful.

When we started taking "When Swing Was King" into the nursing homes and other senior living facilities, we had little idea of the ministry that was going to flower. But we now know that music is more powerful than we had ever imagined. And so too are memories, visuals, touch, conversation, prayers, respect, time, and caring. Put these all together by the Spirit of God and you've really got something special. Thank you, Lord.