Bocelli: Amazing grace

Last night a concert by tenor Andrea Bocelli was televised. He wanted to offer a message of hope to the world; his own country has been ravaged by COVID-19. And so he was recorded with only an organist on Easter Sunday in the Duomo di Milan, resplendent and empty … when he walked outside, alone, to sing “Amazing Grace” on the cathedral porch, the screen displayed the empty streets of major cities around the world.

Listening, watching, I thought this is one of the most abiding images of our time.

A golden shovel today, in honor of Bocelli, his gift, the wounded world-in-waiting, the healing power of music, prayer, and hope:

How amazing
this lone figure of grace
standing on the church steps singing of how
prayer and hope turn bitter times sweet

while in the deserted streets his angel-voice is the
only sound.

Photo: Andrea Bocelli. laurentius87. CC BY-SA. Edited with Cartoona Sketch.

Service

The restaurant was packed with the after-church crowd on Sunday. The boy halfway wondered if he should have chosen a different place for lunch, but he had a hankering for a steak today. 

The waitress took a long time getting to him for his order; he suspected it might take forever before his food actually arrived. Well, I’m really in no hurry, he told himself. That steak better be good, though.

The noise got to him a bit. Clinking glass at tables where busboys hurried, a screaming toddler, the hum of conversations, bursts of laughter, too-loud music. Why do restaurants continually raise the volume of the music above the volume of conversation? thought the boy. People are just about shouting to each other! 

The host passed his table, followed by an elderly woman with a walker who gingerly navigated the tables and chairs to be seated a short distance away from the boy. He sipped his sweet tea, wondering if he should make it last, as a refill any time soon did not seem like a remote possibility. The restaurant must be short-staffed today, or something.

The woman with the walker was alone. I wonder why? mused the boy. Is she a widow? Maybe she doesn’t have children. Maybe her husband is in the hospital. Or maybe a nursing home. It’s Sunday; maybe she’s been to see him, or maybe she’s going to see him after lunch.

It bothered him that this woman was alone.

It did not bother him that he was alone. Sometimes he ate with friends after church and sometimes he just enjoyed solitude. I am young, though, he thought. She is old. She should be with someone.

Maybe someone is meeting her here.

No one did.

The woman’s long wait jangled his nerves. He forgot that he, too, was receiving terrible service today; this old woman deserved better treatment. 

His steak eventually arrived. It was good. He savored every bite. When the bill came, he asked the waitress:

“Do you see that woman over there,  by herself?”

“The one with the walker?”

“Yes. Bring me her bill, too, please. I am buying her lunch today.”

And so he did. He left the restaurant feeling peaceful inside, before the woman knew her lunch was paid for.

His story brought tears to my eyes. The boy is just nineteen, a college student, working his first steady part-time job.

“You have one of the best hearts of anyone I’ve ever known,” I told him. “You truly do.”

He half-smiled like my father used to, sometimes.

“It was the only thing I could do for her, Mom.”

And, sated with steak, he went upstairs to the quiet sanctuary of his room, humming his favorite tune, the first one he ever learned.

Amazing Grace.

slice-of-life_individual

Born musician

piano-window

Piano & window. Alan Mayers. CC BY-SA

Years ago, a woman – tired, seven months pregnant – sat in the front row of a church. The morning sun shone through the stained glass windows, casting jewel-tone light on the baby grand piano, a soothing sight to the weary woman whose busy child was churning her insides. The pianist took a seat and began to play the prelude.

The baby stopped moving. He or she didn’t move again until the prelude ended. After the final notes, the child resumed the high activity.

The baby hears the music, thought the mother, marveling. It was the first of many times she would notice the unborn child’s response.

Around age three, the boy frequently hummed a tune to himself. His mother recognized it: “Amazing Grace.” When he was four, the child started playing cassette tapes of gospel music that had belonged to his great-grandfather. After his fifth birthday, his mother stood in the doorway of his bedroom, watching the boy making tally marks with a dry erase marker on a whiteboard easel.

“What are you doing?” she finally asked.

“I’m counting the syllables,” her boy replied, with a serious expression on his little face. He continued his business, listening to the tape, steadily making marks.

It’s the beats, the mother thought. He’s counting the beats.

When he brought home his “All About Me” book on finishing kindergarten, his parents smiled at this page:

when-i-grow-up

“When I grow up, I will be a qiur drekctr (choir director).”

When he was seven, watching him tinker occasionally on his great-grandmother’s upright piano in the living room,  his mother said, “You love music so much – why don’t you take piano lessons?”

The boy shrugged, something of a disappointment to his mother, who expected he’d be excited. She took him to lessons anyway.

He wouldn’t practice. The lessons were abandoned before long.

His mother was sad.

In middle school, the boy decided to play alto sax in band. He began tinkering with the piano a little more. Then one day, when he was fourteen, he said, “Hey, Mom, listen to this.” And he played a medley of Christmas songs on the piano – both hands, all the parts – as if he’d been doing so all of his life.

His mother stood marveling, knowing, tears in her eyes.

The boy played the medley on the baby grand piano for the prelude at church on Christmas Day, to the astonishment of the congregation.

He played alto and bari sax for marching band throughout high school; he developed a love for jazz. Few of his friends knew he could play the piano as well. None knew he could sing. One of his teachers did, however. She sought him out when she couldn’t find sheet music for a song she planned to perform at Senior Awards Day.

“This is a version of ‘Perfect’ by Pink – do you think you can play it?” she asked the boy.

“I think so,” replied the boy.

He had two days to prepare.

The result:

One week after graduation, he was hired as the director of music programs at a church, fulfilling his childhood desire of being a choir director.

The rest of the story remains to be written, as it is still unfolding.

I am excited to see where the music takes you throughout your life, Son. Keep learning and reaching.

Much love –

Your infinitely proud mom.

Reflect: Few of us know what we are meant to do so early in life. It’s never too late to find out. What are your dreams, the things that bring you the most fulfillment? Pursue them! What are your gifts? Use them to benefit others. Encourage them to do the same.