Song and Connection

We finished our final days of summer 2016's camp last week with a flurry of service projects. Our dedication of a Peace Pole at Hendrick Medical Center here in the College Heights neighborhood was a high profile example of how our work over the summer had an impact on our community. I was especially proud of our counselors as they read poems and prayers that advocated for peace, like the Prayer of St. Francis and Maya Angelou's "Human Family." We also planted a Peace pole at the Alameda Community Center, gathered and delivered school supplies to the International Rescue Committee for incoming refugees, and cleaned up yards for elderly and disabled neighbors. But my favorite project was the least difficult to coordinate and possibly the most meaningful. On Monday afternoon, we loaded our crew of counselors into vehicles and drove to the Coronado Nursing Center. We arrived just as some of the residents were finishing a rousing game of Bingo, but we were more than ready to keep the party going. With dominos in hand and enough teens and adults to gab with all the folks sitting in the main activity area, we began meeting and greeting. Our kids were a little bit shy at first, but the residents we met were anything but hesitant. They were quickly learning our names, inviting us to sit, and preparing for the near-certain domino beatdown they would soon inflict upon us.

I sat down at what quickly became known as "the rowdy table." My three new friends seated around me introduced themselves, as did I. They were each at different levels of health and cognition, but time and illness had done nothing to dampen their spirits. Margaret, in particular, was a firecracker.

We hit it off right away when I commented on her Walk for Alzheimer's shirt. I told her that it reminded me of the untold millions of people and dollars working to help folks like my grandmother, who was diagnosed more than ten years ago. The advances in medicine and treatment have helped my Grams to retain more memory and health than we could have ever anticipated. Not only does she still remember me nine years after doctors said she would have lost most of her memory, but she even remembers my wife, whom she met well after being diagnosed. Margaret, in turn, explained that she was in the early stages of the disease herself. We bonded instantly.

What none of our CCC group anticipated was that a nurse would wheel in a speaker, iPad, and microphone. Apparently, they have been trying to get residents and staff to participate in a little karaoke to provide entertainment and fun. Unfortunately, there was a little reticence on the part of both groups to get things kicked off. Luckily for us, Janet was not shy about volunteering.

To be fair, she volunteered me, which some might say was ever so slightly less impressive of a selfless act, but I digress...

I am not one who worries too much about embarrassing myself in public, especially if I can rationalize such behavior as benefitting others. As you may recall from my previous blog post, I have been a part of some blush-inducing situations in the past. For my part, I decided that breaking the ice was worth a little embarrassment, and if I could parlay the moment into gaining a little bit of street cred with our counselors, it'd be even better. I was unsure how the residents would react to my choice of songs, but decided to plow forward regardless.

When given the opportunity, Amanda and I have one song that we've rehearsed on many long drives to Houston and back. Titled "Where is the Love?" it's a song that brings together many of the themes we taught this summer, including seeking peace, racial reconciliation, and striving for unity. It's also a mixture of pop and rap music.

I'm not sure how many of our youth were impressed with my ability to drop the lyrics on time and in rhythm. Truth be told, I'm not sure how many of the residents were even listening, as many seemed completely engrossed in their domino games. But my rowdy table absolutely ate it up. They were clapping, cheering, and swaying. They put their hands in the air, as if they just didn't care.

After completing the song, I rejoined my table, who all acted quite impressed. Soon, nurses were singing "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Sold (The Grundy County Auction)" as well as other tunes. Some of our counselors took to the mic, and there was much joy to be had by all parties. I even coerced Janet into a duet of "Sweet Caroline."

As our time was winding down, Margaret got up and walked up to one of our counselors and asked him to dance. In typical middle-school boy fashion, he blushed and said he didn't dance. Margaret wasn't phased, and sauntered on back to our table. Before she could get settled in, another of our counselors, a little older and a little less self-conscious, made his way over to her and politely extended his hand. She beamed.

There wasn't too much time left in the song, but you could tell she enjoyed every second of dancing with him.

Finally, as we were preparing to leave, another counselor suggested that we all sing "Amazing Grace" together. It doesn't matter how schedule-conscious you are, when kids want to sing an old hymn with folks in a nursing home, you make time. It was a great way to cap off the afternoon.

As I reflect on our time there, I'm reminded of how much our visit clearly impacted Margaret and the rest of the folks with whom we spent time.I am struck by how something as small as a visit by folks they did not know brightened their day. There are folks like Margaret in all of our neighborhoods. Some live in places like Coronado, while others live at home. But there is a near universal need for connection. May we seek out the Margarets of the world, listen to them for the wisdom and love they hold, and in turn give of ourselves.