I got to spend a lot of time with my beloved stroke-patient relative today. He is making such fast recovery that even the hospital staff seem genuinely amazed. The stroke happened not quite four weeks ago; it was massive and the result of a split in a major artery. That he survived is, perhaps, a miracle, and the prognosis at first was most uncertain. Actually, the prognosis for recovering the use of his left side was initially quite certain: he wouldn’t. But he’s now able to stand up unassisted, to walk with a cane, and was even negotiating stairs in his therapy today. His ability to carry on a conversation is quite normal, and he’s making great progress with his speech therapist on reasoning and analysis tasks that involve the parts of his brain that are recovering. In his early forties, he’s a brilliant and increasingly well-known research physician, a leader in his field. Each day the probability that he’ll be able to fully resume this important work increases.
My role while visiting this week (while on fall break) has been to help with the kids, be a moral support to his wife, and to just hang out with and play cello for him. The just being there is the most important thing, it seems to me.
This evening, our last, was perhaps our most intimate. After his wife and their four-year-old twins had gone home, I sat by his bed and we talked of various things until he was sleepy. And then he asked if I would be willing to play him a lullaby and if I would mind if he fell asleep. I joked that audiences do that all the time at my concerts, so I’m used to it. (At first he thought I was serious, so I reassured him that this was not the case and I’d be happy to play him to sleep.)
I softly improvised, mostly pizzicato, for a while. He was sleeping, perhaps lightly, I thought. I played the Sarabande of the Bach C Major Suite and the Allemande of the G major, both pizzicato, as gently as I could, until I was sure he was asleep. Then I put the cello in its case as softly as possible, turned out the one light in the room, and crept out as quietly as I could.
It was a uniquely beautiful moment for me. It was such an open and trusting request for him to make.
I hesitated to write about it here, because it was so personal. But I want to remember it. And for those musicians who still read this blog despite my recent political rants, perhaps reading this story will affirm an inner sense that there are many possibilities for making music beyond traditional concerts. I used to play quite often in hospitals and nursing homes, and then got preoccupied with other things. I’m going to do more of it. What better thing is there to do as a musician?