When the man approached to ask for directions to the performers lounge, it was obvious he wasn’t part of the expectant audience who had happily flooded into the cool theater, seeking a free respite from the desert’s afternoon heat. His snowy hair was a bit too long, but rather than a statement of independence, I suspected a shortage of funds. The sheen on his tuxedo was no doubt from age and frequent ironing. There was a losing battle going on between his girth and his cumerbund which strained above the buttons on his jacket. His demeanor was decidedly less than celebrity as he shuffled towards the stage door.
It was easy to dismiss him — this this seemingly unkempt fossil of an earlier time, who had been rounded up with the has-beens and wannabes who are always too eager to elbow their way to any microphone at any venue. Yes, it was too easy, until he took the stage.
He positioned himself comfortably at the grand piano – familiar territory. When the Master of Ceremonies ticked off his impressive credentials, his posture straightened. He tugged at his shirt sleeves and ran his fingers through his hair. It was a graceful gesture of habitual preparation. As his swollen fingers effortlessly caressed the piano keys, time faded. He was a lover wooing his audience, then commanding us to respect and admire the flawless ruffles and flourishes of his Chopin Prelude. The notes flew from his fingers like a shower of twinkling stars, falling upon our straining ears. Suddenly we were hungry to devour every morsel of this banquet he had so willingly shared with us.
His contribution to this musical showcase was over too quickly and with modestly he accepted the enthusiastic applause, then quietly stepped from the spotlight and exited the makeshift stage. I didn’t see him leave, but months later, his memory still haunts me. I see him clearly in my mind, and I’m ashamed to have dismissed him so quickly. I sincerely regret not telling him how much I admired his lovely spirit and his ageless talent.
There are no random events in life. Everything happens for a reason. Our job is to find the meaning, so perhaps this random encounter was simply to remind me to think about what happens when (if) we are suddenly viewed as past our prime and how to counter that assumption.
The question looms large in my mind as I ponder what the future holds for me and others who face the game changing events of retirement and aging. How does one stay relevant when our entire culture is focused on youth and the next new thing; when we’ve lost our place and no longer carry that title or credential which automatically opens the door of acceptance. How does one embrace a new challenge when the overriding questions are:
- what if I can’t cut it;
- what if I don’t know how to be current;
- what if I am unable to find something new that engages me?
- what if my mental and physical capacities fail me?
Does any of it matter? I think it does. It’s part and parcel of what makes us who we are. Did any of this matter to this lovely man who so graciously offered his talents unconditionally to anyone who was willing to hear? I don’t know, but I wish I could ask him.