Directed by the quiet girl at the front desk I made my way down the sterile hallway, past the residents’ rooms and the beauty parlor, and turned right at the activity room. I plunked my gig bag on the counter next to the popcorn maker and while I unzipped it I was greeted by the activities director, a pleasant and caring gal whose name, I am sorry to admit, I could not remember two minutes after she told me. I lifted my instrument from its case and unrolled my beaded guitar strap, instinctively threading the pegs through the strap holes and binding my guitar to my body like she was a natural born appendage. Clicking the code on my iPhone I chose my guitar tuner app and turned the tuning pegs, compelling the tones of the strings to align themselves. As I did this, various aides were wheeling the audience into the activities center, so that by the time I started singing there were maybe four dozen beautiful eyes set on me. Four dozen eyes, and four dozen lovely wrinkled hands, and a few less than two dozen heads of snowy white hair, the rest of them having lost their covering altogether or having visited the beauty parlor and a bottle of dye.
“Hi. My name is Cori and I have come today as part of Heart and Soul. We want to bring good music to you, so is it OK if I sing for you?”
Usually they’ll answer yes, though there is always someone in every group who grumbles something that looks like it might be no.
At least twice a month I visit various nursing homes, rehab centers, schools or hospital units on assignment with a non-profit organization called Heart and Soul. I’ve been doing this for years, and I have done well over 100 shows for them. Their objective is to take quality music to people who are not able to get out to it. Often the people I sing to do not understand the words I am singing, either because their ears don’t work like they used to, or their brains don’t work like they used to. It’s fine either way, because music is a universal language, and so is presence.
I have had to reschedule twice in the recent past, and so today, when I woke again with a wet pillow and achy body, I forced myself to rise and dress despite my condition. My throat is not sick. I’m certain it is an internal infection and not anything contagious.
Standing there, before the rows of well blessed wheelchairs, I began. My left hand found the position of a C chord on the neck of the guitar, and my right hand plucked in 4/4 time. The words of an old love song, one of my mother’s favorites, fell from my lips:
See the pyramids along the NileWatch the sunrise from a tropic isle
Just remember darlin’ all the while
You belong to me….
I sing so often the words come naturally, like breath. I offered a combination of tunes, some sacred, some old time romantic, and some original. Every one of those songs I sang today were sung at my mother’s bedside in the waning days of her life. I always see my mom when I give Heart and Soul service. I caressed the notes, gazing at the hands of those lovely aged bodies, looking into their cloudy sparkly eyes, at their legs and slippered feet cradled by their trusted wheelchairs. They smiled, some of them, because they are gracious and wanted me to feel appreciated. I see my mom in that. I stood before them, my hair all disheveled with the evidence of riding the roller coaster of chills and sweats. I wiped my brow, walking the thin tightrope of thinking of Mom and thinking of Mom too much so that I can’t function, and I begin anew:
Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonderConsider all the worlds thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee
How Great Thou art….
In the back of the room a tall slender gentleman sang along. Every word of every verse. The tiny Hispanic woman with the never ending smile over by the door closed her eyes and rocked back and forth. The Native American fellow on the front row, just in front of me, tapped his cane in time. He is blind and I imagine the pictures the lyrics paint for him. Because I know these songs so well I can perform and carry another whole train of thought at the same time. I am blessed by this, because I can witness the results of my ministry immediately. And I can, and do, offer up silent prayers for each individual in that room as my eyes fasten on them. I acknowledge this as a tender mercy gift from the Lord. I know they are not all believers, but I hope they don’t mind good thoughts about them rising heavenward.
I am touched, always, by the tender care I see staff give to those in their stewardship. The girl whose name I cannot remember noticed a younger woman who seemed agitated. She quietly slipped over toward her, pulled her wheelchair back out of the group and tucked her in next to where she was sitting, patting her jittery hand and looking her in the eye with great affection. I scanned the room as I sang, pondering the stories behind those aged bodies. These were the people who paved the highways we drive on today. They led Brownie troops and Boy Scout troops and taught restless children in summertime Bible School. They fought in wars and supported fighters in wars and peacefully resisted wars. They dropped their hard earned money in the Salvation Army buckets at Christmastime. They made mistakes and we learned from their mistakes, and they did much good and we grew from the good. And now they are old. They have earned old, it did not just fall upon them.
By the time I finished my performance today my hair had dried, and my fever was gone, and I felt much better. I think I needed a dose of geriatrics. I am quite sure of it, actually. I receive far more than I could ever give. My body speaks, in a setting like this, that universal language of music and presence. But it hears the universal language of love.
For more information about Heart & Soul click HERE.