Friday, April 10, 2009

The Winding Path-Life Lessons

Wednesday and Thursday afternoon Mckenna had the opportunity to perform at a senior center during the scheduled lunchtime meal. As a young musician, I thought this would be a perfect setting for her to gain some experience and confidence playing for an audience and to use her talent to serve others.

While the volunteer coordinator gave us a tour of the facility, I realized that in my life, I have not had much interaction with seniors. I have this imprint in my memory of my grandma, a sweet and giving lady, which I associate with all elderly people.

In the two days we spent at the center, I observed a key characteristic of growing old. The range of temperment shortens with age. There are those seniors whose life experiences have made them kind and gracious and then there are the polar opposites-those who are hardened and bitter.

Day 1
On Tour: Met Jack, another volunteer. He's a retired engineer and spends his free time at the computer center fulfilling requests for projects like voice activated software and braille touch pad displays. He refers to Mckenna and I as the young ones. His smile is like a ray of sunshine streaming right into your heart. I'm amazed at how much he accomplishes through sheer enjoyment.

Lunch begins: a woman arrives at the cafeteria counter and begins to shout through the little window into the kitchen. She demands to know why a specific sandwich meat was not available. Apparently, she called ahead to inform the kitchen, but no one in the kitchen received the message. The kitchen staff are all volunteers. Imagine being yelled at while you are offering your time in service. I feel so sorry for people who can't just be thankful.

The show must go on: I could tell Mckenna was a bit shaken by the shouting match at the counter. We are the same in that way-conflict is not a strong point and yelling makes our tummies hurt. But I sat next to her and as she began to play, I could feel the tension ease up. I know for certain Mckenna will succeed in music. It's part of her soul and her energy.

In Conversation: Two ladies discuss paintings around the room. The art is from the community; seniors who attend classes there. One lady points to a painting and calls it a work of no talent. The other lady comments on the uniqueness of the colors. A man named Mac has a perpetual scowl. His hobby seems to be knowing the most names of people who died this week. Another woman complains about the soup while her neighbor is talking about the sinking newspaper industry.

Day 2
Rave reviews and critics too: We started day two with requests for Lawrence Welk music. I have no idea who that is, so I asked the coordinator if he could tell us some song titles. Mckenna is great at finding a song on-line, listening to it and then playing it. He just said 40s and 50s type music. I have since Googled Lawrence Welk and he's a guy who had a variety show-oops. Lesson 1-know your audience.

Initially, when we made arrangements to play during lunch, it was stated the music should be soft and in the background because the patrons wanted to have conversation during lunch. On day two, the requirement changed to songs they could sing along to. Lesson 2-define the scope of requirements

I think this last interaction illustrates how mean a person can become. Mckenna was playing a light piece with some base chords and a woman walks up to her while she is playing and says, "I wish you wouldn't play those notes-it drills right through my hearing aid." Although I thought this was very rude, I started to suggest a different song to Mckenna, but the woman's friends told her to take out her hearing aid and to not spoil it for the rest of them. Lesson 3-roll with everything and anything.
Mckenna and I joked later that when she plays at Madison Square Garden someday, we will put a sign out front that says, "For the optimal music experience, please remove your hearing aid."

Overall, I'm glad we took the chance. There's always going to be critics (i.e., tabloids and Simon of American Idol).
The life lesson is this- I want Mckenna to do music for her enjoyment in the way Jack works on computer projects and it makes him shine from the inside out. Also, I write this entry to remind myself to let my life experience and how I relate to others, be kind and gracious.


  1. What a wonderful trait to teach your daughter. Being kind and gracious is something we all could do more of. Thanks for the interesting story, I am sure your daughter will have these memories for a long time.

  2. The adage that life sucks and then you die is not always correct; for some life sucks, you live a long time and you spend it in a retirement home arguing about lunch meat.