The sunshine was streaming through the many windows as he made his way to the piano. When he sat down and set his fingers to the keys I stopped what I was doing and looked his way. He smiled at those of us there and asked if anyone had a favorite song.
My cousin translated and asked my aunt in Spanish for a favorite tune. She responded in her sometimes nonsensical way since early Alzheimer’s set in. We told the Piano Man she didn’t have a favorite and anything he played would be fine. He smiled again and started off with the classic “It’s Impossible.”
We had been the only ones in the sunroom until his music started. The song, expertly played, let the regulars know it was time. Slowly the room filled. Some were pushed in on their wheelchairs. Others walked in assisted by their walkers. They all came in with a purpose: to sit and enjoy what was a regular part of their routine at the facility.
My cousin pointed folks out to me as the beautiful music continued. There was the woman who hung her head low and never looked up. At first I thought she was sleeping but when she reached up to scratch her chin it became evident to me that she wasn’t. Did she no longer care what went on around her? Her aide sat beside her protectively, like a guardian angel.
Then my cousin pointed out the elderly man making his way to the front seat right next to the piano. He wasn’t the patient. His daughter whom he pushed in a wheelchair was. The irony tugged at my heart. My cousin explained that he would soon start singing along to all the tunes Piano Man was playing. Sure enough, in no time they both were.
When “New York, New York,” started we all sang along. There were at least seven of us there who considered ourselves New Yorkers, even though fate had led us south many years ago.
For over an hour he kept us enthralled with his music. When he started playing some classic Cuban ballads almost all of us joined in, my Dad surprising my cousin with his quite melodious voice. There were a few I had assumed were anglos who joyfully sang “Cielito Lindo,” and proved me wrong.
Even my teenagers, whom had asked how long we were going to stay, didn’t seem to mind that our planned hour had passed long ago. The camaraderie continued along with singing, sometimes off key, laughing, clapping and an occasional tear.
It occurred to me that the man playing the piano wasn’t paid. He did this because he enjoyed it. He actually lived in the facility. It wasn’t just an “old folk’s home.” There were some who were terminally ill in one wing. Others, like my aunt, were just there for rehab therapy after surgery. And others, like Piano Man, could take care of themselves but preferred to do it in a place like this and lived in their own little apartments upstairs.
I looked around and saw the many residents who were accompanied by their loved ones. It was heartwarming to see. A room full of strangers brought together for 90 minutes by someone who used his special gift to bring joy to people. We figured he must have been a professional in his day. He was that good.
As dinner trays started rolling by, guests started leaving. Piano man wasn’t offended. He did this every day and expected it. We chatted with him for a bit and then went to say our goodbyes to my aunt in her room. As we were leaving the girls let me know that they were disappointed that I had never pushed them to learn the piano.
We have a saying in Spanish. “Nunca es tarde, cuando la dicha es buena.” It boils down to “it’s never too late.” I guess I better start looking for a music teacher.
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