I know most people go to old folks’ homes or cancer centers to volunteer, but I decided to play my violin at an inpatient behavioral health unit.
I heard rumors that a woman actually killed herself there. She’s done it with a sack from the garbage can. Now they don’t allow sacks…or scissors…or gowns with long strings….
“Follow me,” the leader of “music day” said. It seemed weird watching patients who are physically healthy, walking around in hospital gowns. But of course, they weren’t there for physical ailments—they’d been admitted for something else. And unfortunately I’ve had moments in my life when I’ve understood this all too well. Long before my cancer diagnosis I’d get sad from things a man had told me. He made me feel like a burden to everyone who knew me. Or I’d feel bad, thinking about my son who died. It did get better with counseling. And years after my divorce, the thoughts only occasionally came back.
The irony is that, since my first melanoma diagnosis in 2018, I haven’t been plagued by that at all. Facing a terminal illness has given me true perspective and ignited my will to live. What a dichotomy.
A director announced that musicians had arrived, so masked patients started pouring from their rooms, coming to a large area where they could hear songs that I played with the guitarist.
Then a tiny girl raised her frail hand. “Excuse me.” She practically squeaked, seeming so nervous about talking. “Can we hear the violin…umm…alone?”
“Well?” The guitarist looked to me for confirmation. “Do you feel comfortable with that?” he whispered.
“Absolutely!” I said. I remained still for a minute and closed my eyes. I honestly didn’t know what to play.
I didn’t want to make them cry—or feel worse than they already did. And then it came to me, something I just had to play.
The strange thing about me and the fiddle is that we’re one—like the two of us were always meant to be together. I swear God created me so that I always knew how to play. I remember the first time I held a violin in my hand; it felt like greeting an old friend. So…I played “The Ashokan Farewell.” Rich, low tones swirled up and around, coming from deep in my soul. Tears poured for my eyes, and I couldn’t believe the emotion flowing from me.
I prayed the whole time, pleading with God. “Please hear me! Whatever is good in me—no matter how big or small it is—please give it to the people in this room.”
By the end of the song it had turned into something else, a song I’ve never heard of. Irish melodies came to me. And as fast as they had come, the song came to a sweet…stop. And I could’ve fallen to my knees because I’m so weak from the cancer. It’s hard to stand for too long. After a while my back starts bending oddly, and it’s hard to stand up straight.
All of my problems seemed so small then, insignificant when I opened my tear-filled eyes and looked at everyone who just stared at me, almost gaping.
“That was…” one girl gasped, “beautiful. But…what’s wrong with you?” She lost all couth. “Are you okay?”
I’m still not sure why, but I told them everything how I’m fighting cancer and doctors told me I’m going to die. The guitarist looked genuinely shocked because he hadn’t known either. And for some reason I think something settled in that room, something I’ve been dealing with since my diagnosis—I think it was perspective.
A girl came up and hugged me before medical staff told her we should stay 6 feet apart. I hugged her really hard before they pulled her away. “That last bit…that song…my mom used to sing it to me.”
A sob stuck in my throat. I didn’t even know what I’d been playing. It literally just came to me.
As I hobbled from the hospital I looked up into the sky and thought that it was the greatest, most beautiful day in the whole wide world.
I sure hope that all of my love will stay with those people who have fallen on hard time and are so sad. I’ll be thinking about this for weeks, months…years. It’s the day I got to play for a behavioral health unit, where I saw some light come back into a young woman’s eyes.