Never underestimate the importance of who you are. It Matters! Don’t lose sight of your life and how you affect other people. It Matters! I sit here at 50 years old and I’m still greatly affected and changed by something that happened to me at least a dozen years ago. It constantly reminds me of the fact that “what we do” - matters.
When our kids were in grade school, Libby and I were busy parenting and working. I taught as a volunteer once a week at the kid’s school and was an adjunct lecturer at Shepherd University. I was also working on my Doctorate of Musical Arts Degree in Classical Guitar at Shenandoah Conservatory. My life was a true and glorious magnification of everything that I loved - it was incredible.
But somehow, it wasn’t enough. I remember wondering if anyone was really listening to my music. I had spent three years performing 5 nights a week at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The main point of that gig was for me to provide background music for dinner. I had some great fans at the hotel. I knew people really enjoyed my playing, but it wasn’t uncommon for me to second-guess their compliments assuming that they were just being nice. Maybe they really didn’t care if they heard my guitar playing, or not. I was also playing classical guitar at my church on Sunday mornings. I made a point of playing preludes before mass. It was a great way for me to gain performance experience for upcoming recitals. Even with all of that, I was really grinding and feeling somewhat uninspired about my music. I felt like I was just going through the motions. Was my music making a difference to anyone? Should I keep going? Maybe I was just too self absorbed to see past my own issues. I wasn’t sure what to think. Well, I was about to get an answer.
Libby and I were asked, by one of our friends, to come to the cancer wing of our local hospital to sing Christmas carols. Libby and I have a special place in our hearts for cancer patients. My mom died of breast cancer when I was in high school and Libby battled cancer in her mid-thirties for three years. She survived – thank God! We were happy to accept the invitation and we headed out as a family to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital to sing carols.
I made sure to hang around the back of the group so I could goof off a little bit with my son David. Hospitals made me a little queasy since my mom’s death. I associated hospitals with my mom’s cancer and with taking Libby to her cancer surgery, to her chemotherapy, and for her radiation treatments. I wanted to keep the mood fun and light as possible, hence my propensity to hang in the back and act just a little bit like a class clown. We went from room to room singing with enthusiasm. Some patients were very happy to see us while others seemed to be too sick to enjoy – quite understandable.
We were moving at a pretty good pace. I was cruising along, grooving on the carols when I heard someone call out my name. “Hey Dave!” “Is that you?” I wondered if they were talking to me. Na, it couldn’t be me. There were always lots of Dave’s around. I looked up for a second and didn’t hear my name called again so I continued on. Then it happened again. Everyone was getting settled in the room when I heard someone call out my name. “Hey Dave.” They were talking to me. I was being summonsed. Everyone scooted out of the way so I could get through, and make my way to the bedside. There was a middle-aged man in the bed. His wife was sitting next to him. It was obvious that they knew me. But I didn’t recognize either one of them! Who were they? What did they want?
The man in the bed was deathly ill. His wife began to tell me that they both attended the church where I played guitar. She told me that her husband made sure to show up early every week in hopes that I would play a prelude. His wife told me that my music was quite therapeutic for her husband. I was completely blown away by the fact that they came to church to hear me perform, much less finding out that they found solace and peace in my music – wow! I was honored, but not sure what to think. I asked the gentlemen if he would like to listen to my “Live At The Mayflower Hotel” record while he was in the hospital. He said that he did. I promised to drop the cd off at his hospital room the next day, and I did.
Looking back now, I realize that I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of that encounter as it was happening. In fact, I went right back to my daily grind the minute after I dropped off that CD. I was jaded and cynical back then. I didn’t view that encounter as being anything special at all. It was just another day. I quickly turned my focus back inward, back on myself wondering where my accolades were. After all I had dedicated so much of my life to my music – where were my rewards? I’m sure God was wondering why I couldn’t recognize the beauty, and grace of what had occurred. I was being rewarded in a loving and awesome way but I couldn’t see it because I was equating blessings with hard cold cash and public recognition.
The holidays had passed and winter was in full swing. It was a cold, wintry Sunday morning. I was walking up from the basement of the church where the choir rehearsed every Sunday morning before mass. I was in a stairwell all by myself – at least I thought I was. I was focusing on navigating the steps so as to not trip and fall with my guitar when I heard a voice echoing around the concrete, hollow walls. The voice said “Hey Dave.” I held onto my guitar with a tight grip and turned my neck. I didn’t recognize the voice. Lo and behold, it was the gentlemen’s wife that I had met at the hospital over the Christmas holiday. She stopped to thank me for being so kind to her husband. She went on to reiterate how much her husband had enjoyed my music. He had been listening to the CD that I dropped off - it was special to him. It comforted him immensely. Then she told me – “my husband passed, but I needed to let you know how much your music meant to him.” It was important that she let me know. I was taken back. I was clearly startled. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t remember having any response. It freaked me out. I just wanted to get upstairs. I remember thinking that I was glad that she located me and she was able to get that off her chest. I was being a dummy. I didn’t realize at the time that the message was for me. It wasn’t for her, and it wasn’t for her husband. Yes, they enjoyed my music, but they were moving on with their lives, hers on earth, and his in heaven. I was being given important information for my journey and about my life’s work as a musician but I couldn’t’ see it. I was blind.
It was after I got home and told Libby the story that it dawned on me as to how profound that experience was. Here I was thinking that my music wasn’t making a difference to anyone in the world and I was being shown that it in fact it had made a huge difference in someone’s life. Not just in someone’s life, but in the life of a person that I didn’t even know. Our paths were brought together for a reason, but I was too self absorbed to notice what was happening. I had no idea that I had made a dying persons load lighter, a little easier, a little less burdensome, slightly more awesome in fact! Maybe I didn’t need to know. I just needed to have faith in knowing that I was making a difference in the world and that was it – that was the lesson. I needed to stop thinking about myself, and put my focus on others. I needed to extend my hand to make sure that other people’s days were brighter instead of extending my hand expecting personal gain.
Every time I got down on my music, or considered giving up, Libby would remind me of how much my music had meant to that husband and wife. She would remind me that my music had helped ease someone’s pain as they prepared to leave the physical world. I’ve never doubted, since that Christmas, the impact that my music might be having on people regardless of whether or not I’m aware of it. It’s not about me getting accolades, or getting high fives for my music, it’s about continuing to do my life’s work and having faith and knowing that I’m making a difference even when I’m not getting recognition. It’s not about me.
I sometimes ask – what’s in it for me? And I hear those familiar words “it’s not about you. Just keep playing, keep teaching, keep mentoring, and keep volunteering. You’ll have everything that you need for your journey. You’ll be supplied with ample food, shelter, clothes and more!!! All of your needs, and desires will be fulfilled – just have faith and know that you’re making a difference in people’s lives each and every day!” Keep Going – It Matters, You Matter!!
We all play very special roles in someone’s life! Don’t take it for granted. Someone is counting on you, they appreciate you, and they really need you. Don’t look for someone else to help, someone who’s famous, or someone that’s rich, or someone that lives across town. Realize that your life’s work and contribution is directly under your nose. Stop looking for what you need, you already have it, you’re doing it, you’re living it right now – you matter and the world needs you to know that!
Until next time – Surf it Mellow my brothers and sisters – the MD