For over a month, I had been trying to organise for a musician to come to the aged care centre I volunteer at.
Finally, a saxophonist put his hand up for a free, one hour show. All was set for the big day. The volunteers had been informed, ready to wheel in the residents to the leisure room.
Just a week before the show, the saxophonist pulled out.
I was devastated.
The saxophonist assured me he’d try to find someone to replace him. I wasn’t so sure. The event was on a Saturday, prime time for gigs and shows.
Resisting my control-freak urges, I decided for once in my life to take a step back and see what life offered up.
That week, I went to the Slamalama Jam Slam (Stripped Back). Rather than the usual slam poetry, poets were going to be teamed up with random musicians. They needed to select a poem (3 minutes max) and collaborate with the musician, matching sound to spoken word.
I decided to duck in early to get my tickets and go grab a bite to eat. But life had other plans. Instead, I found myself agreeing to put my name down for a jam slot; a mass flu outbreak had left Slamamama Michelle short on poets for the jam and she desperately needed my help.
So I said yes.
And karma was like: hell yes!
Lo and behold, not only did I get paired with the amazing Jimmy Davis, but Jimmy lived one street down from the aged care centre and was happy to help out.
We arrive early to set up.
Jimmy is uncharacteristically nervous. He has never performed in front of old people before so has no idea what to expect.
I could understand why. From my experience working with the aged, they had no qualms telling you they hated your work. It was like they’d dealt with enough shit in their lives to finally speak their minds. Others were lost in their own worlds and were greatly disturbed when there was any change to their daily routine.
So it came as no surprise to me when halfway into one of Jimmy’s songs, a lady screamed out: ‘That is a stupid song’. She made a great show of it, leaning in and repeating it at the start of every new song. Another lady kept asking about her ice cream.
Still, the other residents were engrossed by my red-haired friend. Wheelchairs lined up in straight rows, they smiled and clapped as Jimmy tried his best to woo them with his renditions of old school classics.
Louis Armstrong, The Beatles and Janis Joplin reverberated through the centre, as did Jimmy’s own stunning originals (Say Ya Coming Home and Be Kind have me utterly besotted, while Eggs No More makes me want to defend the rights of eggs to be eaten!).
One man in particular watched attentively, tapping his fingers to the rhythm of the music.
Mario, a volunteer, whispered to me that Norm was a pianist who had until recently played in a band.
At the end of every song, we asked Norm what he was going to play for us. Without fail, Norm would chuckle and reply: ‘Heck I don’t know, you’ve put me on the spot’.
As we approached the end of our time at the centre, I whispered to Jimmy: ‘Follow me’.
I made my way to the piano, Jimmy closely behind.
Turning my head towards Norm, I yelled: ‘Norm! Look what kind of horrible music I am playing. The poor people at this centre, are you really going to make them suffer through this atrocity?’ With that, I pounded at the piano. Jimmy played along as everyone laughed, egging Norm to save them from their misery.
Norm, a born entertainer, could not resist.
Half paralysed, his fingers wade and bop along the long pearly whites, breathing life into his beloved piano. Jazz notes float throughout the warm corridors of the aged care centre. Volunteers, residents, their sons and daughters, sing along to the old familiars.
Norm does not remember that his wife has passed away, but he has not forgotten the joy and laughter his voice and music bring.
I grin from ear to ear as I watch this old gentleman grab centre stage once more.
Once he is done, I sit next to him. Norm winks, wagging his finger. I wink back with just as much cheek.
My time up, I lean over, thanking him for his music and telling him I hoped to see him again soon.
He brings my hand to his lips, kissing it gently, thanking me in return.
I leave the centre, happily walking in the light rain towards my tram stop. Despite the gloomy weather, I was on cloud nine.
It took me a few moments to realise why I was so happy.
That day, I had been taught an important lesson that some people take a lifetime to learn:
Life rewards those who are open