I was recently blown away by an example of giving, in the form of paying it forward. It started with the concept of saying “thanks” and then moved on to “giving,” which makes it the perfect tale for this time of year.
I’ve played music as long as I can remember. I was drawn to the family piano, messing around on it until my Mom began teaching me how to play when I was around four. Then, when I was eight, my Aunt Sara in Philadelphia found an old, beat up violin in her attic, sent it to me, and I began lessons.
I was always acutely aware of where I fit in on the musical totem pole: I was in awe of other people’s genius and my own shortcomings as a violinist. I viewed playing as something I did for gigs, for money, for a job — until my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
My mom was also a musician and music was the one thing that could always soothe her in her illness. Her eyes would light up in recognition and she would smile and be happy for that moment. As the disease progressed and she lost the ability to speak, I could still reach her with my violin, by playing all the pieces she and I had played together my whole life. I played my violin for my Mom everywhere during her illness: at her home, at the hospital, and I played at her funeral.
What I learned from that experience was this: playing my violin didn’t only help her, it helped me, my Dad, the doctors, nurses, caregivers, my kids—everyone who was within earshot. This isn’t because I am some amazing violinist: I believe it’s because I played with intention. The Prayer of St. Francis begins with, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace” and I silently prayed that every time before I started playing. And every single time, I calmed down, I focused, my grief subsided, the music flowed, the energy shifted. That’s how I discovered what I call my secret super power.
What came next was very surprising. I found I wanted to continue doing this for other people. I feel I have been given a gift, one that I am not wholly responsible for. I used to think I was given the gift of music, full stop. Now, I think I have been given the gift of using music to heal, comfort, support, reach, communicate, calm, broker peace, find love. And when you have been given a gift, what do you say? You say thank you. I am thankful for this gift that I have been given and I say thank you every time I play.
I have since weeded out the playing that made me grumpy, irritated, annoyed, anxious. I quit. I resigned. Now, I only play with musicians and orchestras that have the same approach to music: gratitude, love, purpose (that is my beloved Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, in case you are wondering) and I am so much happier. Now, I say “Thanks” for my music and then, my music becomes about “Giving.” I love playing for people who need it, just like my Mom did. Friends and their family members- in homes, hospitals, nursing facilities, hospice centers, church.
I do all this for very selfish reasons: because it feels soooooo gooooood.
I have a very busy life but when I play for someone intentionally, I slow down. My heart rate slows, my brain slows, my thoughts slow. I get into my “zone” and it’s like getting a full body massage. I love it. My friend Beth wrote about a time I played for her here on her wonderful blog.
Last year, my husband’s cousin had a terrible accident on her bicycle: broken bones, a major concussion and a brain bleed. I brought my violin over to play for her during her long and painful (though complete!) recovery. A friend of hers happened to stop by while I was playing and later, reached out to me: she wanted to know if she could hire me to play for her friend who had a brain tumor.
I told her I wasn’t for hire like that, but if she wanted, I’d be happy to do it for free. I explained to her that this is something I can do, like a weird parlor trick. It was a gift given to me and I like to share it with others as a way of saying thank you. She found a time when her friend was out of the hospital and recovering at home in the city, and I went to play for her.
It was a lovely afternoon spent playing for this young woman who was going through something I couldn’t imagine. I set up my music stand in her bedroom and played softly, as she lay in her bed. I find I always leave a changed person than who I was when I arrive: I am grateful, filled up, happy. Again, I do this because it feels sooooo gooooood!
The friend who set facilitated my playing sent me a thank note with a gift card to treat myself to her favorite treat, a Starbucks latte, from one busy Mom to another. She also wrote that she was going to “pay it forward” as a way of saying thank you. I didn’t understand how sincerely she meant that until this past weekend, when I received a text from her. With her permission, I am sharing it here:
“Hi Lynn! I just wanted to reach out to you and let you know that I have been so inspired by the good deed that you did for *****. I promised to pay it forward and so this month I have: donated 4 boxes of food to a local food pantry, made a homemade meal for a local Mom who just gave birth to her third child, and put in extra pumping sessions so that I could donate breast milk to a local adopted baby who was born addicted to crack. I did all these things because of you. You are very inspiring and I let each recipient know that the reason for this was you. Thank you again.”
Okay, now I’m crying once more. I showed this text to my teenage son and he said, “Wow, it’s like a ripple effect!”
I think it’s more like a tsunami effect. I mean, she gave back tenfold for what I did! She gave generously and thoughtfully of her time, her energy, her BODY! I am blown away. I am in awe. I am humbled.
I am not telling this story to toot my own horn (pluck my own string? We need a better analogy for string players!), but to highlight what a little bit of Giving creates. I did something that I enjoy doing, something that brings me joy and peace, that is my way of saying Thanks for the gifts that I have been given. And for someone to say, “I’ll see your good deed and I’ll raise it by one hundred,” is just amazing. Imagine if we all did this? Imagine if we taught our kids to do this?
I am not often at a loss for words, but this has me gobsmacked. From now on, I am going to think of our upcoming holiday in terms of Thanks + Giving and start new traditions based upon this philosophy. If you have any good ideas of how you can do the same, please share in the comments. Every single one of us has a “secret super power” – what’s yours?