I wish I could recall the name of the harmonica player, but the truth is, he slipped into our lives one day without an introduction and slipped away just as quickly.
At my 83 year old mom's urging, we had agreed to play a concert for an adult day care program located in the basement of a moss covered local church tucked under a tangle of trees. As we descended the steps into the musty basement, we were greeted warmly not just by the volunteers, but also by a small group of differently-abled adults who were assisting them in serving meals to several of the seniors also in attendance.
Since we had anticipated only seniors, we had prepared an hour's worth of oldies but goodies, including the closing sing-a-long "Good Night Irene" in honor of my mom. As we began our set, one of these differently-abled adult helpers pulled out his harmonica. In a child like voice, he yelled out a request to play along, a request we quickly granted in the casual environment of our basement lunch concert.
He jumped out of his chair and bounded over next to me. As we led the group in some Pete Seeger song, he began to robustly play along, his harmonica in a completely different key and his skills somewhat less than stellar. But as the song ended, he looked up at me, his eyes shining, and he announced with a wide, toothless grin, his voice heavy with a lisp,
…rock and roll...we did that really good...rock and roll..
For the rest of our time, he bounced between his role as lead harmonica player in the band and lead dancer for any unpartnered lunch guest. He worked the room like a seasoned Vegas showman, and when it was all over, he sidled up one last time as we were packing up.
There was a swagger in his step as he took my guitar from my hand. "I want to carry your guitar," he said, smiling his toothless grin. "I will help you with the equipment." We walked out a side door and down a small concrete path wide enough for only one person at a time. He led.
"See the gray van towards the end?" I called up to him. "That's mine." I expected him to cross the gravel lot and meet me at the van, but he stopped cold at the end of the sidewalk and waited. When I caught up, I stepped off the curb, expecting him to follow.
But the only footsteps on the gravel were mine.
A host of thoughts crowded into my mind. Perhaps he liked my guitar. How would I let him know that he couldn't take it home? What if he dropped it? As I walked back to him, I noticed his face had changed. It seemed younger, less confident. I stood next to him awaiting his declaration. Suddenly I felt his touch. He had reached down and taken my hand in his.
I can't cross the street unless I hold someone's hand….
We walked across the lot and loaded the guitar, and then, holding his hand, I walked him back to the safety of the concrete sidewalk. Back on solid ground, he resumed his rock star demeanor and reclaimed his confidence.
"We need to play music again," he called out, " rock and roll..." As I looked back from the car, he was flashing the universal rock star sign.
I want to be like him, I thought, full of life and confidence, able to dance and sing unconcerned about my lack of coordination or my inability to carry a tune. I want to launch into good deeds with strangers and help carry the burdens of others.
But more than anything, when I face any obstacle, any fear, I want to simply reach out and take the hand of a fellow human being and trust with all my heart that I will be kept safe from the dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the well kept path.
The harmonica player gets it.
Someday, I hope to follow in his steps.